Threads and beads at the BMA

Joyce J. Scott: Art museum goes regional, cooperatively, for national impact.

January 24, 2000

THE INSTITUTIONAL impact of the exhibit of Joyce J. Scott's work at the Baltimore Museum of Art is not on view. Yet it's significant that this large show and sumptuous catalog are jointly produced by the museum and the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

A few years ago, the BMA and MICA together spelled only trouble. They were at each other's throats over the right of one to sell art stored in the other. Fortunately, that was resolved with generous state intervention.

That set the stage for unprecedented coopertion spearheaded by museum Director Doreen Bolger and art school President Fred Lazarus IV.

Such synergy between art school and museum strengthens Baltimore as an art center.

A second impact is visible to the naked eye. The BMA opened its monumental front door, shut tight these past 15 years. The museum-goer may (or not) once again walk through a majestic entrance into a center court with the museum's layout arrayed for selective viewing as the original architect, John Russell Pope, intended.

A third impact is on relations with regional artists, which had been weak-to-absent recently. Now the BMA gives one living regional artist more presence than was accorded any in memory.

That differs from the sampling of better-known regional artists that was once customary, and does little for those not represented. But as a message of the BMA's current thinking about its role in Maryland art-making, it is emphatic and welcome.

Part of this show is a retrospective of Joyce Scott's work in many media, most noticeably threaded beads, for visual stimulation and social comment.

Another part is her commissioned works in dialogue with some of the museum's best-loved objects. To regular museum-goers, that will not be an unfamiliar idea.

The MICA faculty member who curated this show, George Ciscle, was founding director of the Contemporary Museum. It co-presented in 1992 a show by an African-American artist, Fred Wilson, relabeling the holdings of the Maryland Historical Society from the slaves' point of view. It co-presented in 1995 a show of three contemporary artists responding to Baroque paintings in the Walters Art Gallery.

This exhibition of an African-American artist coincides with Black History Month. It will still be on display in May when thousands of American museum directors and curators descend on Baltimore for a convention. It is how the BMA means to show its stuff. A national impact is assured.

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