In June, the Department of Prints, Drawing & Photographs (PDP) at the BMA launched its first social media account with a Tumblr dedicated to highlighting captivating works on paper from the collection. With the Museum’s online collection constantly growing, this new space offers PDP a chance to give a more intimate glimpse into the Department’s daily meanderings through the collection. It is also a place for interaction and research where you can ask questions about the works you see on the site, or other works on paper from the BMA collection. What do you want to know?
To find out more about this new project, we spoke to Benjamin Levy, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs:
Ben, the BMA has more than 65,000 works on paper in the collection. What are some of the highlights of this collection? What might surprise me about the collection?
The size is normally the first thing that surprises people; works on paper make up about 70% of the collection. The works on paper collection ranges from the 15th century to yesterday. It is really a hidden gem. Every box and drawer has something unexpected, and that discovery is what is so exciting and surprising on a daily basis.
The core of the print collection, which you will see as the Tumblr chugs along, is made up of two collections – the Garrett and Lucas collections, both of which contain between 15,000 and 20,000 prints. They came to us in the 1930s. We are strong in Old Master, 19th century French, Modern and Contemporary works of art.
You’ve just started a Tumblr to share some of these works with the public. What can people expect from the Tumblr?
Because works on paper are sensitive to light they can’t be out in the galleries for extended periods of time. The way the public, classes, and scholars get access to the collection is through our Study Room. People can expect a parallel experience, showcasing works from the collection that are not regularly on display in the galleries for a personal viewing.
You can also expect to see the collection through my eyes, as an artist going through the boxes. Sometimes there is a visual theme that seems to come up often, like death and skulls, shipwrecks through the centuries, or just scrumpy mark making!
Have you been surprised by anything that you’ve found so far when choosing works to appear on the Tumblr?
My colleagues and I are surprised by the depth and variety of the collection daily, as we go about caring for it. This is exactly what we would like to share with a larger audience – a peek into what we see every day – the beautiful and the strange, and everything in between.
It’s probably the strange that catches my attention more than anything. Since prints are “The People’s Medium”, you can really get a sense of the popular culture and the sociopolitical currents of a place and time so far removed. Some things translate well, but others come off as completely alien, especially those involving scenes of everyday life, like Callot’s etchings of Italian street performers or Daumier’s lithographs caricaturing the people of 19th century Paris.
In the opening post for the Tumblr, you mention that you want the Tumblr to be a daily dose of inspiration, but I’d like to know what inspires you. What catches your attention and inspires you, online and offline?
What jumps out of the boxes and drawers most of the time will land on the Tumblr. The selection process is more or less visual, and while the works on the Tumblr are things that stand out for one reason or another, very few of them were specifically sought out for research.
What is inspiring is the amazing stories that arise when we go into research. It is so exciting learning about small moments in history, bits of biographies, myths and lore – not to mention the amazing diversity of artistic expression over the last 500 years or so.
The inspiration comes full circle when classes, especially studio art classes, come to the Study Room and that inspiration is shared and utilized to make new work. This is a working collection; not works entombed, but a vibrant place for learning and education that will inform the next generation of artists, art historians, and anyone who has a passing interest. We also get to make connections between historic works in the collection and contemporary works, and there is no better place to do that than the biennial Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair, scheduled for March 28-29, 2015.
What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see on PDP’s new Tumblr? What kinds of works on paper inspire you?
Benjamin Levy is a native Baltimorian, printmaker, critic, and curator. He is a 2009 graduate of MICA and since then has been at the BMA in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. At the Museum he works with the works on paper collection, teaching in the department’s study room and is also the co-organizer of the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair with Associate Curator Ann Shafer.