“9.11.01”by Jack Whitten is one of seven acquisitions made with proceeds from the deaccessioned works.
COMMITTED TO DIVERSIFYING its holdings, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced major acquisitions by prominent artists of African descent, including the first works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Isaac Julien, Amy Sherald, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to enter the museum’s collection and acquisitions made possible by deaccessioning works by the likes of Franz Kline, Kenneth Noland, and Andy Warhol.
News that BMA’s board approved 23 new acquisitions completes a narrative that began in April when the institution disclosed it was deaccessioning seven works by celebrated white male artists dating from 1956 to 1979, in order to broaden the representation of women artists and artists of color in its collection.
The Baltimore museum made the decision to dispatch with particular works by Kline, Noland, Warhol, Jules Olitski, and Robert Rauschenberg, because stronger or more significant examples by the artists remain in its holdings. The de-acessioned works were consigned to Sotheby’s for public and private sales beginning in May. With the funds raised, the museum said it intended to strengthen its contemporary collection and fill gaps by acquiring works produced in 1943 or later.
“The BMA, like any civic museum, must undergo a continuous process of reviewing its collection and identifying areas for growth and refinement with the goal of building a collection that is more relevant to the community it serves,” Christopher Bedford, director of the museum, said in a statement.
“The BMA, like any civic museum, must undergo a continuous process of reviewing its collection and identifying areas for growth and refinement with the goal of building a collection that is more relevant to the community it serves.” — Christopher Bedford, Director of BMA
The deaccessioned works were swapped for seven acquisitions, including artworks by Jack Whitten and Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, currently displayed in exhibitions at the museum. Two others, a double portrait by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald and a video installation by Isaac Julien, which is set within Baltimore’s historic cultural institutions, are particularly meaningful because of their connections to the city.
AMY SHERALD, “Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between,” 2018 (oil on canvas). | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase by exchange with funds provided by the Pearlstone Family Fund and through a partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Proceeds from the Sotheby’s sales were used in full or in part to acquire the following:
- Isaac Julien, “Baltimore,” 2003 | Shot inside Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, George Peabody Library, and The Walters Art Museum, this three-screen video installation by British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien is “a surreal, visually lush allegory about race, class, and history” that features actors Vanessa Myrie and Melvin Van Peebles. “Baltimore” is the first work by Julien to enter the BMA collection and it is the only edition held in a public American collection.
- Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, “In The Body of the Sturgeon” and “Gaudy Night,” both 2017 | Married collaborators, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley are recognized for works that use dark humor to re-examine accepted narratives about historically marginalized people. The film “In The Body of The Sturgeon” and “Gaudy Night,” a light box work, are displayed in the exhibition “Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelly: We Are Ghosts,” currently on view at the BMA through August 19.
- Wangechi Mutu, “Water Woman,” 2017 | A bronze sculpture by Kenyan-born, New York-based Wangechi Mutu, “Water Woman” depicts a mermaid, a sensuous, symbolic figure popularized in both Western literature and African cultural narratives. The work “references the tale of a pregnant and beleaguered wife who, to spite her abusive husband, jumps into the sea to drown herself and her unborn child. She magically transforms into a mermaid in a myth that turns tragedy into liberation and empowerment.”
- Amy Sherald, “Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between,” 2018 | Recognition of Baltimore-based Amy Sherald’s unique portraits skyrocketed after she was commissioned to paint First Lady Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between” is the first painting she completed after working on the historic portrait. The new work is a significant departure from her usual approach, given it features two figures and a scenic background. Currently on view in her solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the double portrait is the first work by Sherald to enter the BMA’s collection.
- Jack Whitten, “9.11.01,” 2006 | After witnessing the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center from his studio, Jack Whitten (1939-2018) created this monumental response, a mixed-media painting that features a pyramid intended as a memorial to those who lost their lives. Meaningful materials excavated from the area, including bone fragments, blood, ash and molten debris are incorporated in “9.11.01.” The painting is on display in a special gallery that accompanies the exhibition “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017,” on view at the museum through July 29.
- Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “8am Cadiz,” 2017 | The figures in British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are contemplative and timeless. The expressive works are moody and dramatic, executed in beautiful, muted palettes such as the one she used for “8am Cadiz,” which features a male figure relaxing in a grassy knoll. The painting is the first by Yiadom-Boakye to enter the museum’s collection.
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, “Dwell: Aso Ebi,” 2017 (acrylic, solvent transfer, colored pencil, collage, commemorative fabric on paper). | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Nancy L. Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, Baltimore, in Honor of Kristen Hileman
The slate of acquisitions also included several gifts, among them a sculpture by New York-based conceptual artist Adam Pendleton and a textile work by Baltimore artist Stephen Towns. His solo exhibition of quilts, “Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning,” is at the BMA through Sept. 2. “Adorn,” a 2018 painting by Odili Donald Odita is a promised gift from the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection. The painting features the hard-edged geometric forms for which the Nigerian-born artist, who lives and works in Philadelphia, is recognized. In addition, the museum is receiving its first work by Njideka Akunyili Crosby. “Dwell: Aso Ebi” (2017) was on view at the museum last year in the Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s Front Room exhibition.
The acquisitions are important and symbolic. Bringing these works by some of the most prominent and significant black artists in the United States into the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection is the latest example of sweeping changes at the institution under Bedford’s leadership. Since he joined the museum in August 2016, representation among African American artists in exhibitions, programming, and acquisitions has been transformed.
Bringing these works by some of the most prominent and significant black artists in the United States into the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection is the latest example of sweeping changes at the institution under Bedford’s leadership.
Over the past two years, Pendleton, Akunyili Crosby, Senga Nengudi, and Al Loving, have had exhibitions at the museum. Currently, BMA is presenting solo exhibitions of three black artists—Whitten, Towns, and Meleko Mokgosi. Solo shows featuring Maren Hassinger and Mark Bradford are coming in July and September, respectively.
Bradford’s collaborations with Bedford go back many years. Bedford curated Bradford’s first major survey exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University in 2010. Bradford also had a show at the Rose Art Museum during Bedford’s tenure there (“Mark Bradford: Sea Monsters,” 2014). And when the museum at Brandeis University was tapped to commission the U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Bedford selected Bradford to represent the United States with a solo exhibition in the pavilion.
ISAAC JULIEN, “Baltimore,” 2003. | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase by exchange with funds provided by the Pearlstone Family Fund and through a partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
By the time the biennial took place, Bedford had accepted the appointment at BMA, and the collaborations between the artist and curator have continued. Bradford inaugurated “The Necessity of Tomorrow(s),” a series of community conversations hosted by BMA that explore the intersection of art, race and justice. BMA and Art + Practice, Bradford’s nonprofit foundation in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, are co-organizing exhibitions, too. Thus far, shows by Loving, Hassinger, and Nengudi have been presented at both institutions.
“Tomorrow is Another Day,” Bradford’s Venice exhibition opens at the Baltimore museum on Sept. 23. The historic show features the works on view at the biennial along with a new site-specific installation “a spectacular painterly ‘waterfall’ that sweeps through the East Lobby to the second floor.”
The Baltimore Museum of Art recently brought three works by Bradford into its collection. In 2017, it acquired “My Grandmother Felt The Color” (2016), a large-scale painting by the artist and a three-minute video titled “Niagara.” Another work by Bradford, “Untitled (Buoy)” (2014), part of a series of sculptures called Sea Pigs, was acquired in April.
“Museums are entering a new era of heightened consciousness of incomplete histories and biases that must be addressed,” said Bedford.
“By moving towards equitable representation and historical accuracy in our collection, we aspire to become a better reflection of our Baltimore community and lead fruitful dialogue on future museum practices amongst our peers. This group of acquisitions is just the beginning.” CT
TOP IMAGE: JACK WHITTEN, “9.11.01.,” 2006 (acrylic and mixed media on canvas). | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase by exchange with funds provided by the Pearlstone Family Fund and through a partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
“Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting” documents the artist’s first-ever career spanning survey. “I Refuse to be Invisible” was published to coincide with Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art. The show was her first survey and the book is the first to document her practice and includes a lengthy interview with the artist. “Isaac Julien: Riot” spans the artist’s career exploring his practice and his life, which has been shaped by the most important political and cultural events in the UK over the past three decades. Titled, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye,” the artist’s first monograph is rife with images of her captivating portraits. Documenting her New Museum exhibition in New York, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher” was published last year. “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day” was published to coincide with his solo exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
ODILI DONALD ODITA, “Adorn,” 2018. | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Promised gift of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection
LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “8am Cadiz,” 2017 (oil on canvas). | The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase by exchange with funds provided by the Pearlstone Family Fund and through a partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
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