New Home for Modern Art

October 16, 1994

The official opening today of the Baltimore Museum of Arts New Wing for Modern Art represents a major milestone in this city's cultural life. The $10 million structure -- more than half of it contributed by the city and state, along with generous contributions by private and corporate donors -- was created to display the museum's collection of post-war painting and sculpture. The result is a stunning new space that will allow the museum to show off these modern masterpieces to greater advantage than ever before.

Perhaps even more important, the New Wing may encourage private donors to enlarge the BMA's collections through gifts and bequests of art works. Certainly that was one of the main reasons so much painstaking planning went into its creation, and by all accounts the BMA's newest building is expected to repay those efforts handsomely.

The museum is justly proud of its collection of post-war American art, which in recent years has been significantly expanded under the guiding hand of Brenda Richardson, the BMA's deputy director for art and curator of modern painting and sculpture. Earlier this year, the museum announced a major acquisition of paintings by pop-art iconoclast Andy Warhol, whose work has been a seminal influence in American art of the second half of the 20th century. With that acquisition, Baltimore became a recognized center of Warhol research and criticism. One may hope the New Wing's success will act as a spur to growth of the museum's collection of other American pop artists. As planned by museum director Arnold Lehman, it will also release space for better presentation of distinguished collections of African art, American decorative art, prints, drawings and photographs.

For the opening exhibition, Ms. Richardson has chosen a non-chronological installation that showcases the New Wing's unique architecture. The galleries are arranged in an open floor plan, with cuts in the corner walls rather than doors. This scheme allows visitors to visually scan several galleries at once -- a circumstance curators have cleverly taken advantage of to compare and contrast the evolution of abstract painting over several decades. For example, one can stand in the first gallery, which includes works by Tony Smith, Agnes Martin and Elizabeth Murray, and in the spaces beyond descry glimpses of such abstract expressionist predecessors as Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler and Clyfford Still.

The opening of the New Wing culminates a significant decade of improvements and expansions in the city's museums that included the renovation of the Walters Art Gallery's 1904 building, the addition of the Hackerman House as a museum of Asian art and the opening of the Levi Sculpture Garden at the BMA. These have all been tremendously exciting developments in Baltimore's cultural renaissance. In coming decades they will carry forward the city's long tradition of vigorous support for the arts.

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