Thursday, July 1, 2010
art by the "unschooled" and a baltimore lunch
6/16 The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore
We had a date to meet up with mrs. a-go-go's friend Heather, who wanted to show us one of her favorite things in Baltimore. The morning traffic gave us a good working over but we made it into town only a little late. The museum is housed in a peculiar curved brick and glass building, but the reason for the shape becomes clear when you see a floor plan. From above the galleries are an eye and the center stairwell the iris and pupil. I wish the museum had allowed photography of the galleries, but because of the policy we have no images to share. The museum website is thin on images too so I can't give any visual examples of what we saw beyond a few pictures from outside. In addition, if I had been thinking clearly I would have taken some notes. There were many artists represented and some of the artists and their worked looked familiar, but I'll be derned if I can remember many of their names well enough to give any further hints. That leaves me to simply describe my favorites.
There was a stacked wall full of miniature gallery rooms filled with small copies of a wild array of famous and not so famous art works, all reproduced by one person who wanted to collect all the best in one survey of the art world. Included were some that were easy to ID; a tiny Venus deMilo roughly carved in wood, a Picasso, a Mondrian, an out of scale Venus of Willendorf... and some that were not so easy; a Duchamp painting/assemblage on glass, some low brow comic art, and many more. As with much of the art work here, part of what made it impressive impressive was the artist's perseverance. The mini galleries seemed like they stared as a lark and became an obsession.
The Reverend Howard Finster and Leonard Knight were represented.
There was a collection of 19th century ink and water color cartoons by an unknown artist (Monsieur Germon is my best guess recollection). These depicted the story of a man who is duped into marrying a woman who turns out to be a demon. The bulk of the images and captions deal with a long list of tests of her evilness to see if she is nasty enough to pass muster with the devil. Good stuff, and the battery of tests just gets weirder and weirder.
There was a small selection of fantastic, wildly colorful knitted masks, wigs, and costume items created by an autistic woman who's art was disdained by her family so much that they threw away or destroyed most of her work when she died. Someone saw something special in the masks and other items and managed to steal a few from the family garbage. Again, I wish I could remember her name to look for more information on line.
The collection went on and on with so much variety from the strangely pretty to the starkly obsessive.
Outside were installed several larger art works including a gargantuan whirligig by Vollis Simpson. Anther building housed examples from a recent Baltimore Kinetic Art Race (huge wheeled pink poodle) and a traveling exhibition from the Cabaret Mechanical Theater. This included carved wood mechanical gizmos by Paul Spooner among other artists.
After soaking up the visions, Heather took us for a short tour of the older part of downtown Baltimore where the streets get cramped and the buildings huddle together. Here we found lunch at a a small Chinese restaurant (can't remember the name folks). It was hot and filing and kept us out of the brief rain outside.
Our visit was short but we had a nice taste of Baltimore. Didn't spot John Waters, but I wouldn't be able to think of anything clever to say to him anyhow.