Tag Archives: Sondheim Prize

Juried and Invitational Exhibitions at the BMA


First Annual Exhibition of Maryland Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1933

As the recently announced 2015 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize finalists prepare for their exhibition at the BMA this summer, I am working with the Archives’ Juried and Invitational Exhibitions Records and giving much thought to the incredible creative output of Maryland’s artists over the past century and the BMA’s role in displaying it.  From the moment the BMA opened its doors in 1923, opportunities for local artists to exhibit their work were a part of each year’s schedule of exhibitions.  With the opening of the John Russell Pope building in 1929, the BMA was able to develop its own exhibitions and expand its relationship with local artists.  The records I am processing as part of the Library and Archives’ NHPRC grant project document group exhibitions such as the BMA’s Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions, the Baltimore International Salon of Photography, and annual exhibitions of the work of members of the Baltimore Water Color Club and the Artists’ Union of Baltimore.

This week I am nearing the end of arranging and describing the largest part of the records, the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions files (21 boxes of material).  The files document a long-running series of exhibitions of the work of local and regional artists organized by the BMA beginning in 1933.  Following a highly successful series of solo exhibitions at the Museum in 1930 to 1932, space considerations and the number of artists in the state interested in exhibiting work led to the decision to instead hold a major group exhibition for Maryland artists.  Although it wasn’t long before the solo exhibitions started up again, the Maryland and Regional Artists exhibitions continued for nearly 60 years.

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

The contents of the files for each exhibition vary, but most contain material about the logistics of bringing artwork into the BMA and hanging it on the walls, facilitating purchases, and returning the work that remained after the exhibition.  Cards or lists of entries provide information about the work each artist entered.  Some files also contain correspondence with artists, jurors, and museum visitors–complaints and praise for the most part.  Through these letters, it has been interesting to note how each year the challenges of coordinating the exhibitions shifted as the BMA’s staff worked to weather difficulties such as World War II and changes in artistic influences as new art movements made their way to Baltimore.

Perhaps surprising to those who aren’t from Maryland is the number of nationally-known artists who worked in the area between 1933 and 1992: Grace Hartigan, Morris Louis, Lowell Nesbitt, Martin Puryear, Amalie Rothschild, Anne Truitt, and May Wilson, to name a few.  All submitted work to the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions at least once.  Jurors for the exhibitions also included influential artists, critics, and curators such as Max Weber, Betty Parsons, Richard Tuttle, Sam Hunter, and Dore Ashton.


Grace Hartigan, Maryland Artists Invitational exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1968

In an effort to please artists and visitors and to support its small staff, the BMA revised the format of the exhibitions several times.  A separate exhibition for Maryland crafts was held in 1952, 1953, and 1954.  Beginning in 1953, regional exhibitions including the works of artists from Washington, D.C. and Delaware alternated years with the strictly Maryland exhibitions.  An invitational was attempted in 1968, followed by a move to biennial exhibitions from 1974-1985.  The exhibitions ultimately ended with Maryland by Invitation in 1992 which featured the work of artists Jeff Gates and Lisa Lewenz, but the commitment to Maryland artists lives on through the Sondheim exhibitions, the Baker Artists’ Prize exhibitions, and the Front Room exhibitions in the Contemporary Wing—Baltimore-born artist Sara VanDerBeek’s work is on view now!

At the intersection of art and mathematics


Photograph of Olafur Eliasson's Flower observatory courtesy Christopher Hartman, July 2014.

Photograph of Olafur Eliasson’s Flower observatory, 2004 courtesy Christopher Hartman, July 2014.

Mathematics and art at first seem worlds apart. But is it so? Might there be a relationship between these disciplines? And if so, can it be explored in the BMA’s collection? Are there works of art at the Museum that draw on mathematical ideas, processes, and overlapping notions of beauty?

A stroll through the BMA’s Contemporary Wing invites pause as I – do I dare – walk on top of Carl Andre’s Zinc-Magnesium Plain, 1969. I look down and take in the textures of the metal surfaces. I think about the shape of the squares and their imperfect alignment and how the grid that this zinc and magnesium surface represents extends out infinitely in all directions.

I look up and see an explosion of geometric shapes—this time in brilliant stainless steel. Olafur Eliasson’s Flower observatory 2004 bursts forth and lures a viewer inside and around the hulking form.  It is quite a complex structure. Each triangular spike that pierces the gallery air has curious openings of various sizes where the tips would be. I stretch up and try to see through them like tiny keyholes and spy intricate forms. I cross the threshold, feel the shadow of the large form darken the space and look up. It is a dazzling canopy of star-like shapes as if a new universe is unfolding. I am inside the observatory, observing, marvelling. I don’t rush this moment; the marvel has its pleasures.

As the wonder subsides, I catch myself thinking about shapes—the glittering diamonds and flower-like forms, the rhombuses, the pentagon that inscribes the invisible base of the sculpture, the hex screws that connect the steel planes. I wonder if this is what a mathematical imagination might feel and look like.

To try to understand these questions and ideas, I invited mathematician Susan Goldstine and architect Fred Scharmen to the Museum for a conversation about the intersection of mathematics and art in these pieces. Fred uses words like “striking and beautiful” to describe geometry and art.  Susan poignantly said that “the beauty of mathematics – and the mathematics of beauty – comes from the ways in which simple elements combine and intersect to form dazzling structures seemingly out of thin air.”

As soon as Susan walked under Flower observatory, she said that it was based on a rhombic triacontahedron – a convex polyhedron with 30 rhombic faces. I’d remembered reading that in my research but couldn’t see it. She helpfully explained it to me and offered to show me how to fold the shape with paper, so that I could understand it with my hands as well as with my mind’s eye.

This conversation about the relationship between art and mathematics will form the basis of the next Big Table Connections. Both Fred and Susan have a natural, deep connection to mathematical forms, and they will bring their knowledge to the BMA on Saturday August 2nd at 2 pm. We will also get the chance to fold rhombic triacontahedra and make mathematical drawings too. I hope you will join us! You can also join in the conversation online using the #BMABigTable hashtag on Twitter.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the Sondheim semi-finalist exhibition at MICA to see Fred’s large wall drawing inspired by his mathematical research. The exhibition is on view in the Decker, Meyerhoff, and Pinkard galleries at MICA through August 3rd.