Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 28, 2023

I adore art museum trips — in fact, I’ve pored over Impressionist paintings for so long that curators have actually kicked me out. That being said, however, every time I’m dragged through a modern art wing, my long-awaited visit becomes more like an obligation. I shuffle my feet, study the moldings on the ceilings far more than the paintings on the walls, and wonder why someone stuck a big green box in the middle of the room. I’ve never understood it.

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s newly renovated Contemporary Wing completely blew me away, and has rendered me a convert to modern art — and a proud one, at that. The BMA, in its three year endeavor to remodel and revamp its not-so-humble tribute to modern art, took great pains to make sure that there’d be a piece of art for everyone to enjoy.

The curators’ efforts most certainly paid off.

The more traditional Impressionist lovers (like me) will most likely seek refuge in the photography section...and it will enthrall you. From jarring South African still lifes to unbelievably lucid snapshots and videos of Hurricane Katrina, you’ll be moved and captivated by the world’s unbiased beauty in ways you never have before. I personally found the crispness of the nature scenes incredible; it was a staunch, yet pleasant contrast to the muddled, muted colors of my beloved Impressionist art.

History buffs will be drawn into the sculpture section — some of the most gripping sculptures were inspired by the civil rights movements, including Alison Saar’s interpretation of Billie Holiday’s pivotal anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.” The haunting symbolism and the impeccable detail behind this work is ghostly, yet all the while enchanting.

For those of you who love a good thrill and would prefer Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not Museum to the BMA, get ready for the shock of your lives: Andy Warhol, the famous Campbell’s Soup artist, reached a whole new level of innovation and insanity with his Oxidation Painting. To achieve the sheen and tone of oxidized metal, he and his assistants (and anyone else who had the misfortune of walking into his studio) peed on the painting. My jaw dropped; as did everyone else’s who passed it by. Warhol’s evolution from soup-painter to abstract artist is apparent.

However, those who would rather relish the traditional Andy Warhol and his mainstream stills should not despair. There was many a soup can to go around, with four walls worth of his work.

Children (and the child-like) are encouraged to seek out Words are Pictures are Words, the museum’s newest interactive display. It’s is a beautiful tribute to the power of words, where visitors are encouraged to stamp and arrange different words and letters on a sheet of paper and explore all the different things our alphabet can do. Words are Pictures are Words-like art, furthermore, appears in all sections of the museum, allowing children (your inner child included) to stay entertained throughout the day. The Words are Pictures are Words pieces, scattered through the photography, sculpture, and abstract art displays, added a much-needed ambience of universality to otherwise very diverse display of modern art.

There is, to every (inner) child’s delight, a bead screen installed that was meant to replicate the movement of the ocean. Visitors are invited to pass through the screen. Needless to say, I walked through it about ten times.

More seasoned modern art fans, such as junior Emily Combs and senior Kaetan Vyas, praised the exhibit’s geometric structures, particularly Sarah Oppenheimer’s W-120301 installation. “The piece created a wormhole between two floors, transposing the position of the viewer through reflective glass. It was incredible. When we stuck our hands into the piece, we suddenly saw them coming towards us from a horizontal position. Words can’t do it justice!” Combs said.

And, of course, for the select subset of the population who love nothing more than seeing a big green box in the middle of the room or a blank canvas hanging on the wall: don’t panic. There’s still a piece or two for you here.

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