Baltimore through an artist's eyes

Our view: At the BMA, a kinder, gentler vision of Baltimore

January 02, 2012

Television series such as "The Wire" offered up a gritty vision of Baltimore as a fading metropolis where murder and mayhem are daily hazards of urban life. Throw in a measure of endemic family dysfunction, political corruption and a substance abuse problem of epic proportions, and you get the picture.

It's a portrait of the city shorn of redeeming qualities, a dystopia populated by wrongdoers operating on both sides of the law with nothing much in between, a place where even good people fear doing the right thing, lest their virtue be repaid with woe.

Of course, Baltimore has always been more than that. Now comes Candida Hofer, whose luminous, large-scale photographs of two of Baltimore's most exquisite cultural gems offer a far kinder, gentler vision of our city.

Readers may be forgiven for not instantly recognizing the photographer's name or her formidable reputation as a pioneering figure in the contemporary art world. Like many accomplished artists of our time, the German-born Ms. Hofer is hardly a household name.

But readers surely will recognize the Peabody Library and the Walters Art Museum among the extraordinary sites of culture and learning that Ms. Hofer has recorded during her travels. They form the centerpiece of a remarkable exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Feb. 26.

As an artist, Ms. Hofer has photographed libraries, concert halls and museums around the world — the "social architecture of culture," as she calls it — including the Louvre in Paris and the Royal Library in Madrid, both of which are represented in the BMA's jewel-like exhibition. Her immaculately crafted images of the Walters and the Peabody ought to be enough to persuade even the most jaded viewer to reconsider Baltimore's Mobtown reputation.

It often happens that a stranger is given to perceive aspects of a place that escape notice by those whose long familiarity with their environs has rendered them blind to its beauties. Ms. Hofer casts a fresh and brilliant eye on Baltimore not as the homicide capital of TV legend or the financially strapped and struggling municipality of daily news reports but as a place history has blessed with an abundance of extraordinary sanctuaries where the life of the mind is nourished and the spirit refreshed.

Ms. Hofer has seen more of beauty and refinement in our midst than we usually give credit for, and for that she deserves thanks. She opens our eyes — and those of people around the world who marvel at her images — to a Baltimore in which learning and the arts remain activities vital to the life well lived.

True, tomorrow all the problems the city faces today will still be with us. But so will they be for people in Paris, Madrid and cities the world over, where Ms. Hofer's patient art rejoices in humanity's highest achievements rather than its quotidian struggles. That Baltimore now numbers among such distinguished company is surely cause for celebration here as well.

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.