There’s a powerful black bronze torso by Rene Magritte. A dark Grace Hartigan painting called Pallas Athena — Fire (1961), that is possibly a self-portrait. And several vivid Ellsworth Kelly panels on a wall that celebrates recently acquired work from the modern master. In an exhibit of more than 200 pieces — many on display for the first time — the BMA demonstrates new breadth and depth in nearly every area of its collections. The New Arrivals Exhibit will be on display from Sunday, February 7th (Saturday for BMA members) through Sunday, May 8th, 2016.
New Arrivals is the first major exhibition at the BMA since the museum completed the years-long renovation which marked its October centennial. The 200 new works on display were chosen from among 4,000 artworks gifted to the museum during the past decade as part of its Campaign for Art. Donations came from collectors in Baltimore and around the world. “These gifts have transformed the collection and made it possible for Baltimore audiences to see some striking works. We are extremely grateful to the extraordinary generosity of our donors,” said Interim Co-Director Jay Fisher.
Presented in pairings with works already in the BMA, the new acquisitions often reveal a different perspective on an artist’s work, add weight to current holdings, or highlight a commitment to areas the museum plans to develop further. An oil painting by post-Impressionist artist Pierre Bonnard depicts a basket of fruit, brighter in tone and simpler in execution that a similar painting done six years earlier, one already in the BMA collection. A haunting etching, Nocturne, by American artist James Whistler, is the latest and arguably the strongest, in a compelling grouping of four. Several new contemporary works in glass demonstrate a surge of interest in this area of fine art. The BMA’s 1996 exhibit by glass artist Dale Chihuly is still among the most popular ever at the BMA, according to Mr. Fisher.
The exhibit sustains its forward-looking vision in new works of contemporary photography from the O’Neill collection, a mesmerizing modernist needlepoint wall hanging by Liz Whitney Quisgard, Wall Hanging: 42 Circles (2005), and a glass table with bicycle wheels, Tour (1993) by Gae Auletti — the world-renowned Italian architect best known for her transformational redesign of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
There’s fun to be had in an adjacent exhibit featuring newly acquired works by Maryland artists, including a portrait of the late Baltimore Sun art critic John Dorsey by Raoul Middleman, and a childhood portrait of John Waters with a subversive addition in his signature style (look closely, and you can see the mustache).
Speaking at the museum recently, Fisher emphasized “not just the quantity of works, but what they mean,” referring both to their significance as objects of art and to the strategic nature of their place in the museum collection. “It’s not like people just drop things off by the back door…they are a result of long-term relationships, carefully planned gifts which make many things possible that we have not done before”. Ideally, this will mean the clout to secure loans from other museums and the potential for exhibits in a wider range of artistic interest for the BMA. The Campaign for Art began in 2006. Works that were gifted as part of the campaign will be designated with a special logo (below), so they can be immediately identified. The New Arrivals exhibit is sponsored by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, with additional support fro The Alvin and Fanny Blaustein Thalheimer Foundation, RBC Wealth Management and Frederick Singley Koontz, former Chair of the BMA Board of Trustees.