Animalium by Chris Roberts-Antieau, one of the works in the show. Source: American Visionary Art Museum

The American Visionary Art Museum will open a major exhibition on Saturday that founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger says represents her “final love song” to the museum, a year-long show entitled Healing & the Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof!).

This is the last exhibition that will be curated by Hoffberger before she steps down as the museum’s Executive Director and Primary Curator. In July she announced that she plans to retire in March 2022 after organizing 26 “mega-exhibitions,” and the museum has launched a search to find her replacement.

The theme of this exhibit was inspired largely by a request from the current Dalai Lama. It features the works of 22 visionary artists, alongside the scientific research, global folk wisdom, and humor which highlight what Hoffberger calls “the twin forces of good in any society” — healing and compassion.

As soon as they enter, visitors will be greeted by a suspended wooden barge created by artist Michael Green and paired with an observation by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “We may all have come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

“This very special exhibition represents my final love song to our beloved AVAM, which has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” Hoffberger, who just turned 69, said in a statement. “Through it, our aim is to point a healing way forward beyond fear, violence, greed, bullying and the twisted need to feel superior to someone else—the malignant pantheon of anti-compassion forces that has always sought to divide and debase our common humanity.

“I hope all who come to experience our Healing & Compassion exhibition will leave with heaping portions of both, and the cherry on top of real hope that life can indeed be transformed for the far kinder, fairer, healthier and more joyful.”

Included among the 22 artists from across the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey is the late Gerald Hawkes, who is widely celebrated for his intricate artistry expressed with wooden matchsticks.

A native of Baltimore’s Turner Station, Hawkes was given the honor of being the first person to enter the museum on the day it opened in November, 1995. He died three years later at age 55. Hawkes sold and exhibited his works widely, and his art received front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal. AVAM has the largest collection of Gerald Hawkes matchstick works in its permanent collection and his ashes rest in the museum’s wildflower garden, as he requested.

Other featured artists include: Bobby Adams; Sermet Aslan; Andrew Benincasa; Johanna Burke; Peter Eglington; Serene “Mari D” Elfrei; Alex Grey; Nahum HaLevi; Arthur Hammer; David A. Haughton; Maura Holden; Nancy Josephson; Jon Kolkin; Paul Lancaster; Arthur Lopez; Mantu; Chris Roberts Antieau; Richard C. Smith; Kim Edgar Swados and Stan Wright.

The exhibit also presents information about scientific research that Hoffberger says “clearly proves that increasing our acts of compassion and loving kindness positively impacts our physical and mental health in significant, measurable ways, that altruistic volunteers live significantly longer than their peers, and that we human beings are actually hardwired to help, share and care for one another.”

The new exhibit runs until Sept. 4, 2022. Operating hours for the museum, at 800 Key Highway, are Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Oct. 9, the museum will open at noon, because of the Baltimore Running Festival. Advance, online purchase of a timed ticket is required to visit. The website is www.avam.org.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum is awarding 50 $500 merit scholarships to Baltimore area students “who have taken to heart compassionate action in some extraordinary way.” The scholarships are made possible by a $25,000 grant from Marilyn Meyerhoff and Sam Feldman.

On March 20, 2022, AVAM’s annual free Logan Visionary Conference will bring global experts together to explore the complementary powers of healing and compassion. The conference is made possible by The Revada Foundation.

Hoffberger said she hopes visitors will come away from the exhibit with a better understanding of compassion — including “how it operates as a healing force in our own lives” – and a desire to be more compassionate.

“I am hopeful that the insights and perspectives we are sharing will be a force for much-needed change of hearts and minds in our own community and far beyond,” she said.

Ultimately, she said “our goal is to make clear the case that economic, environmental, policing, schooling, medical, governmental and immigration practices are all improved when first poured through the lens of compassion.”

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Ed Gunts

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