Small-scale exhibitions of big importance


September 12, 2002|By Glenn Mcnatt | Glenn Mcnatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The most notable thing about this season of museum and gallery shows is that, for the first time in years, it seems, there's no blockbuster event in the offing to monopolize all the attention, interest and ticket sales to the public.

Instead, area museums will be putting on shows that challenge, entertain and educate - in short, the kind of focused, thoughtful shows that have a reason for being other than how many people they can lure through the box office. In February, local museums will coordinate exhibitions for Vivat! St. Petersburg, a celebration of 300 years of Russian art, music and culture in our historic sister city.

At the Baltimore Museum of Art, we can look forward to several fine smaller-scale shows. This month, the museum opens an intriguing retrospective on the late Tom Miller, a Baltimore native whose whimsical, brightly painted furniture and found objects created the style known as Afro-Deco.

As a lifelong city resident, Miller was powerfully influenced by two local arts institutions: the BMA, where he was fascinated by the Cone Collection of early modern art, especially its Matisses, and the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he earned both bachelor's and master's degrees.

Miller's signature work was a reflection of both the exuberant experimental atmosphere he encountered at MICA and the disciplined, formal control he so admired in Matisse. The BMA show promises a thoughtful essay on how these two threads came together in his work to produce art that was profoundly original, personal and imaginative.

Next month, the BMA puts on Painted Prints: Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance and Baroque Engraving, Etching and Woodcuts. Yes, the title is a bit ponderous, but don't let that put you off; the works are quite wonderful, and they make the point better than any historical tome that knights and ladies of old loved colorful pictures every bit as much as we do in our media-saturated age.

At the Walters Art Museum, Art of the Ancient Americas opens this month with a stunning display of pre-Columbian artworks from Central and South America dating from 2500 B.C. to 1520 A.D.

The artworks are on 10-year loan to the Walters from the Austen-Stokes Ancient Americas Foundation in New York and include more than 120 objects, many of which will be on public view for the first time.

In October, the Walters will also present Book of Kings, an exhibition based on an illustrated medieval Bible believed to have been commissioned by Louis IX of France, the Christian monarch who took part in the Crusades in 1248. In November, the museum honors Maryland artist Joseph Shepard with an exhibition of 13 of his paintings of boxers in the Old Masters style.

Because the American Visionary Art Museum puts on only one big show each season, it has to be a doozy, and this year's is no exception. High on Life: Transcending Addiction presents some 300 pieces by 100 self-taught artists whose works grew out of their struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. This is heady, difficult stuff, but also awesome in its affirmation of the human spirit's capacity for transcendence.

In Washington this fall, the Corcoran Gallery of Art will present Here is New York, a compilation of 2,000 photographs on the theme of Sept. 11, plus shows on the painted sculpture of Joan Miro and aerial photographs by Emmet Gowin.

The Hirshhorn Museum offers a long-awaited exhibit of Arte Povera, the most important Italian art movement of the 1960s, as well as a hugely important retrospective of painting and photography by German artist Gerhard Richter.

Meanwhile, the Phillips Collection is presenting Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, and the National Gallery presents shows of Willem de Kooning this month and a surefire crowd-pleasing exhibition of 500 years of trompe l'oeil painting, the art of making pictures look so real you can't tell they're just pictures.

Baltimore museums

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.