Dean Millien’s 2011 aluminum foil sculpture “Tin Thing Gorilla,” is part of the new “Abundance” exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum. Photo by Dan Meyers.

At a time when many Americans are complaining about inflation and supply chain disruptions and generally not having enough of what they want, the American Visionary Art Museum is opening an exhibit about abundance, as seen by visionary artists both within its permanent collection and new to the museum.

“ABUNDANCE: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right,” is the title of the museum’s new thematic exhibit, which will be open from Saturday, Oct. 8, until Sept. 3, 2023, in AVAM’s main building at 800 Key Highway in Baltimore.

It’s the 27th thematic ‘mega-exhibition’ in AVAM’s history and the first since founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger stepped down as director and primary curator in April. The curator for the show is AVAM curatorial and development coordinator Gage Branda. Jenenne Whitfield started as AVAM’s new director on Sept. 6, after planning for this show was far along.

An introductory panel at the beginning of the show says it’s meant to be a “flagrantly joyful contemplation of just what constitutes real wealth by exploring what lies at the heart of deep satisfaction, productive happiness and gratefulness – both individual and collective.”

Visionary or intuitive artists can be good examples of people who find wealth in unexpected places, the introduction points out, because they often create “new worlds” from “modest, even discarded materials – equipped only with their hands, hearts and fertile imaginations.”

The “Abundance” exhibit suggests that visitors shift from a focus on “a constant hunger for more things,” and connect to a more self-reliant power fueled by imagination, craft, ingenuity, and an appreciation for “the gift of now.”

It quotes philosopher Eckhart Tollé, who said: “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance…. In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being.”

Paul Lancaster’s 1997 oil painting on canvas, “Still Life with Fruit,” is part of the new “Abundance” exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum. Photo by Dan Meyers.

The “Abundance” show contains more than 200 works by people who often make art out of everyday materials, including old bottles and jugs, old cloth, and scraps of wood and metal. One of the first displays visitors see is sculptor Dean Millien’s gorilla and other life-sized creatures sculpted from aluminum foil.

With photos by Edwin Remsberg, the exhibit also looks at urban farmers such as Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm’s Farmer Chippy; Lavette and Warren Blue of the Greener Garden; and Denzel Mitchell of the Farm Alliance in Baltimore; as well as Arabbers, who take fresh produce into parts of the city where grocery stores are scarce or nonexistent.

A video celebrates Grandma Tressa Prisbrey, who, after the age of 60, built 15 houses out of glass bottles that she picked from her town dump, installing both plumbing and electricity and completing her “bottle village” after she was 90.

“Anybody can do something with a million dollars,” she said, “but it takes somebody with really something to make something out of nothing.”

“Take a reprieve, for a moment, from our focus on lack – of trust, civility, reliable resources and even access to safe drinking water – to harness our energy towards what great good can be done with the steadfast will to do so,” the exhibit suggests, noting that developer James Rouse once said, “The best way to attack any position is to ask what things would be like if they worked well.”

Whitfield said in a statement that she is happy to join AVAM just as the new exhibit is opening.

“In today’s society, we are confronted by our own abundance with many of us finding that our ‘things’ are not fulfilling, while others who seemingly lack, seek to acquire by any means necessary!” she observed. “The beauty of art is that we can thoughtfully and joyfully consider and ponder just how much is ENOUGH!”

Branda and Hoffberger, who wrote the text for the exhibit jointly, say they hope the exhibit encourages people to change the way they think about what they have, and how satisfied they are with it. They don’t deny that many people are in need, but they also want to see people make the most of what they have, as the highlighted artists do.

“We hope you will feel mightily inspired by our showcased visionary thinkers,” they write, “to have meaningful conversations within yourself; take measure of what you have, and reframe your point of view so that – even when faced with limitations – you recognize your own innate talents and gifts, sufficient to astonish yourself with some new possibilities for greater abundance topped off with copious heaps of fun!”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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