Tag Archives: Levi Sculpture Garden

Summer in the BMA gardens

June 21 marks the first official day of summer, and a good time to explore the BMA’s Sculpture Gardens. Here in the Archives, the Photograph Collection holds images of many outdoor BMA events, from groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum’s John Russell Pope building to children’s tours to the 1998 Caribbean Festival complete with steel drum band.

Maybe it’s the sunshine and trees, but as I’ve archived photos of these events I’ve noticed that people seem a little more at ease, and a little more willing to participate in activities than they might be in a traditional gallery setting. These two East Garden events from the early 1970s embody the spirit of the time:

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Meanwhile, Janet and Alan Wurtzburger, at that time already major BMA donors of African and Pacific Islands art, were amassing a collection of sculpture at their Baltimore County estate, Timberlane. This collection was realized in the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden, which opened thirty-five years ago this month.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Eight years later, in June of 1988, the Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden opened to the public. The garden showcases works from the second half of the 20th century, and as BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood has blogged, the installation of large-scale sculptures has often provided quite the challenge for BMA staff. Thankfully, the rest of us are free to simply enjoy the gardens, whether on a reflective solo stroll or during one of the BMA’s many festive events, such as the Jazz in the Sculpture Garden summer concerts, which have been held since the 1980s.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

BMA Photographs Collections are being processed through generous support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). The BMA Sculpture Gardens are free to the public and open Wednesday-Friday 10am to dusk, and Saturday-Sunday 11am to dusk.

BMA Voices: Sweet Pea

Ellsworth Kelly. Sweet Pea. 1960. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.4.20. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Sweet Pea. 1960. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.4.20. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

Ellsworth Kelly has called his plant drawings “a kind of bridge to a way of seeing that was the basis of the very first abstract paintings.” He is better known for the large abstract works to which he refers, such as the BMA’s Diagonal with Curve II (1978), or Untitled, the steel sculpture in the Levi Garden. They are large flat planes of canvas and metal with very defined edges. Kelly’s drawings of leaves, branches and flowers are not large, but they are comprised of white shapes whose contours are drawn in spare and elegant lines. The drawings are not abstractions of shapes in nature as each one is a very identifiable plant. Kelly has managed to convey shape, substance and even a sense of motion using little more than a thin outline. I’ve always loved sweet peas and find this drawing astonishing as it captures the delicacy and beauty of these flowers with absolutely no color or shading and only minimal line. He has reduced the plant to its intrinsic form and although detail is removed, the essence is there.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: The return of Joel Shapiro’s “Untitled”, 1985, to the BMA

Joel Shapiro. Untitled. 1985. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1987.3. © 2014 Joel Shapiro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Joel Shapiro. Untitled. 1985. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1987.3. © 2014 Joel Shapiro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

I hadn’t really given Joel Shapiro’s work much thought until I was asked to write a label for his sculpture Untitled, 1985, which returned to the BMA this November after a lengthy period of absence due to ice damage. I had only seen the piece in old photographs taken when it stood in the Levi Sculpture Garden, and then in pieces at the Polich Tallix Foundry in Rock Tavern, New York, where the work has been skillfully restored. So for my label I needed to do some research.

Shapiro’s work was influenced by the geometric sculpture associated with Minimal Art of the 1960s and 70s and shares a vocabulary of hard-edged, industrial forms employed by artists such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris. Shapiro fundamentally challenged the pure abstraction of Minimalism, however, through the re-introduction of figurative qualities that convey a sense of human vitality. Combining beam-like elements and rectangular box shapes (originally of milled wood and later cast in bronze), Shapiro’s works evoke arms, legs, and torsos. These are often arranged in teetering compositions, as is the case with the BMA’s figure, which appears to be falling backwards like a dancer with a dramatic alignment of one raised and one supporting arm. This expressive tendency became especially pronounced in works like the BMA’s, produced shortly after Shapiro spent time at the American Academy in Rome studying sculpture created by the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

What I have come to admire most in Shapiro’s work is the way he imposed the strictest of limitations on himself, working only with hard-edged right angled units, and yet, by letting the joins and junctures of these elements be angled, a whole universe of possibilities and expressive reconfigurations opened up. Shapiro imbued industrial forms with biological motility and expressive gesture to create a new species of completely hybrid humanoid things. It is hard to limit one’s attention to a single sculpture as his entire body of work becomes an almost infinite series of fascinating relational variations based on a single idea. What you’d think would become stale instead constitutes a creative tour de force.

Now that Untitled, 1985, has returned to the BMA it occupies a very conspicuous spot in the center of a round, elevated, newly constructed island directly in front of the Museum’s reconfigured Zamoiski east entrance.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BMA Voices: The five artworks you can touch at the BMA!

Touching objects in a Museum can cause irreversible damage, even if you’re very careful. Because of this, most objects at the BMA cannot be handled. However, there are five works of art that you can touch: “Untitled” (Water) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zinc-Magnesium Plain by Carl Andre, Scott Burton’s Rock Chair (located in the Levi Sculpture Garden), and Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses, both by Franz West. In each case, the artist clearly indicated that they wished these objects to be available for people to interact with physically.

Scott Burton. Rock Chair. 1986/1987. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1988.1

Scott Burton. Rock Chair. 1986/1987. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1988.1

You might expect this to be a nightmare for museum staff. How can we protect the works of art and honor the intentions of the artists? With the five pieces at the BMA it is a challenge but not as horrifying as one might think. For example, “Untitled” (Water) by Gonzalez-Torres (below) is a beaded curtain that one has to move through in order to go from one gallery to another. Occasionally one of the strings gets tangled in a stroller or pulled down by an enthusiastic child, but people are generally very gentle with it. When one of the bead strings is broken the BMA installation team replaces the string. The staff has become adept at keeping the artwork as the artist intended.*

Felix Gonzalez Torres. "Untitled" (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

The Carl Andre sculpture Zinc-Magnesium Plain (not pictured) is of more concern. Because the piece lies on the floor and people are allowed to walk on it, there is a good chance that a sharp high heel or gravel caught in a shoe will scratch the piece. Interestingly, despite the encouragement of the artist most people walk around the work.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West

The Franz West sculptures Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses (pictured above) have been bigger challenges in every sense of the word. They arrived on loan to the BMA in 2008 as part of the major Franz West retrospective To Build a House You Start with the Roof. West was known for encouraging human interaction with his art. These pieces were two of many artworks in the exhibition that the artist stipulated could be touched. They were also supposed to be displayed outside. It is hard to imagine an artwork being touched by thousands of people without it being scratched, stained or, worse still, broken. Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses are painted sculptures made of epoxy and Fiberglass and – unlike the strings of beads – cannot easily be replaced. They also look like lots of fun to climb. During the retrospective exhibition and the traveling exhibition at LACMA there were surprisingly few incidences although some of the smaller pieces were handled a great deal and damaged. Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses received lots of shoe scuffs but survived.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West Franz West. Swimmer. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund; and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.16. © Franz West Both sculptures located on the BMA West lawn, 2008. You can now find them in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West
Franz West. Swimmer. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund; and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.16. © Franz West
Both sculptures located on the BMA West lawn, 2008. You can now find them in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing.

When the works of art arrived back at the BMA they were again displayed out on the lawn. Ironically it was not the ice, snow, animals or people that affected the pieces the most – it was the ultra violet rays from the sun. Despite UV inhibitors, the painted surface faded within a year. While the artist was apparently undisturbed by the signs of human interaction with his sculptures, he did not want uneven colors on the painted surfaces.

Detail of the fading paint on Swimmer, February 2009.

Detail of the fading paint on Swimmer, February 2009.

When the time for the reinstallation of the Contemporary Wing – where the works are now located – in 2012 it was decided by Contemporary curator Kristen Hileman and the Conservation Department to have the pieces repainted with input from Franz West. It was also decided to change to a more durable paint. The color and paint were approved by Franz West in March 2012. The treatment was carefully carried out by Chris Lidrbauch and Chick Bills of Silverback Art Services.

Please come to the BMA, and when you need to rest, feel free to lounge on Swimmer or Violetta and observe – from a safe distance – the surrounding fragile art.

Franz West on YouTube
View the installation of The Ego and the Id and other BMA videos on the Museum’s YouTube page.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

*Minor change to the wording of this paragraph for accuracy.

BMA Voices: Rediscovering a rare David Smith sculpture

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

Late in 2009, the BMA received a remarkable gift from the Estate of Ryda and Robert Levi, the same family whose generosity in the 1980s led to the creation of one of the Museum’s great treasures, the Levi Sculpture Garden. It included eight modern sculptures of the highest quality by artists including Alexander Archipenko, Naum Gabo, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith.

I started researching these works, in order to present them to the Accessions Committee, beginning with a whimsical sculpture by Smith named, Head with Cogs for Eyes. One of the Levi heirs had alerted me to the fact that the Estate of David Smith listed the work as “Lost” on its website. The Estate tracks the current whereabouts of over 675 sculptures by the artist. I had not yet fully understood the importance of the work when I shot off a quick email to the address listed on the website informing them that the work was no longer lost and that we had just received it as a gift.

Thinking that I would hear back from them in a week or so I was surprised when ten minutes after hitting the send button my phone rang. It was the Susan Cooke from the Smith Estate calling and obviously excited that the work had been located. As I soon discovered, Head with Cogs for Eyes is not just any David Smith. It is one of only four heads that make up the first of Smith’s completely metal sculptures–combinations of forged and found parts that he first produced in 1933. The catalogue of Smith’s earliest retrospective exhibition, held at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum a year after the artist’s death in 1965, lists Head with Cogs for Eyes prominently as plate number one. I started to understand Cooke’s excitement.

Head with Cogs for Eyes had special significance for Smith; he created a series of photographs of the head, carefully shot from multiple angles, and set against the open sky of the Bolton Landing, New York landscape where he spent most of his later life.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

See also Melanie Harwood’s post on installing Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled 1986 in the Levi Sculpture Garden.

BMA Voices: When sculptures fly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

In the years I’ve been here I’ve moved a lot of art – of all sizes, weights and description. Art handling mainly requires focus, common sense and teamwork. Occasionally though there is an opportunity to install really big art, art that is so large and heavy that it involves specialized riggers and equipment. Relinquishing direct control of the installation process is difficult enough, but the added variables of weather, equipment and municipal permits involved in outdoor sculpture gardens make them particularly memorable adventures. On the positive side, however, there are moments of sheer exhilaration when it all comes together – as happened for me on May 25, 1988.

May began well enough with construction on the Levi Sculpture Garden proceeding on schedule in spite of an April 28 snowstorm. Arrangements were in place for the simultaneous move of works from the Levi’s Lutherville property to the BMA and delivery of new pieces from New York, Connecticut and Vermont. City permits for street closures were obtained as the only 100 ton crane on the East Coast was reserved to lift the largest single piece, Ellsworth Kelly’s, Untitled, from the Charles Street service drive. All was in readiness. Then, sometime in mid-month things got complicated. It began to rain, mostly at night. Work slowed and in one case, newly poured footings were washed down the hill in a downpour. The 100 ton crane blew a gasket and its arrival was delayed – which was just as well as there were last minute adjustments to Kelly’s piece at the Connecticut foundry and its delivery was delayed as well.

Finally on May 25, a cold, windy and drizzly day, we were ready to place two of the largest sculptures in the garden: Tony Smith’s Spitball and the Kelly. Just as the mammoth blue crane began to lift Untitled from the flatbed, Ellsworth Kelly himself appeared with our deputy director, Brenda Richardson. They watched nervously beneath dripping umbrellas as 35 feet of stainless steel wrapped in blue plastic rose 100 feet in the air over the trees. In spite of wind and a daunting tangle of large branches, the crane operator skillfully lowered the sculpture until the waiting crew was able to guide it onto pins submerged in the cold muck and water. Kelly was positively euphoric once the sculpture was safely in place. I know the sculpture was conceived as a fragment of a huge disc but I’ll always see it as an airborne fin!

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

The Levi Sculpture Garden opened on June 17, 1988. Visitors strolled the paths enjoying the sculpture and freshly established landscaping. Among the invited guests I saw Ellsworth Kelly and Mark DiSuvero chatting in front of the latter’s sculpture, Sister Lu, Kelly inquisitively sticking his head into the bucket!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly