Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2024

Baltimore museum exhibits nontraditional art

By RENEE SCAVONE | September 21, 2017


CC BY 2.0/RACHEL KRAMER The American Visionary Arts Museum is at the base of Federal Hill Park.

I’ve been on a little bit of a museum kick lately.

In true senior year fashion, I have dedicated a lot of time to exploring the city of Baltimore. This is partially caused by a desire to learn as much as I can about the place I’ve called home for the last four years before I leave.

(It’s also partially a really good excuse to skip class.)

However, I can’t pretend it’s all historical museums and environmental walks. Sometimes you just have to look at some weird stuff.

And Charm City has a lot of weird stuff to look at.

The American Visionary Art Museum (or AVAM for short) is definitely a darling for most arts-oriented Hopkins students.

Even if your tastes are more traditional, the museum has a lot to offer.

One of the key elements of the museum is that every single artist featured has no formal training. They are people who just love to create and, if I can be totally corny for a moment, that in itself is kind of beautiful.

First and foremost, the building itself is an attraction. The exterior of the main gallery is decorated in gorgeous stained glass, depicting cosmological scenes.

There are also tons of sculptures outside to gaze at for absolutely free; a giant bird’s nest, a decked out school bus, a giant cuckoo clock featuring Baltimore legends John Waters and his muse, Divine.

If you’re really not about spending money, you can also check out the Wildflower Garden. There are, unsurprisingly, tons of wildflowers, as well as more sculptures and a Meditation Chapel, a large wooden would-be tree house with tons of non-sanctioned graffiti.

The cost of admission to actually get into the museum is just under $10 for students, which does about as much damage to your bank account as Chipotle + guac.

Even if art isn’t really your thing at all, only one of those locations has a “no E. coli record” (we’re looking at you, Chipotle).

To sweeten the pot, transportation is free; Simply take the Purple Route on the Charm City Circulator to the Lee Street stop, and then hop on the Banner route until the appropriately named American Visionary Art Museum stop. The whole journey should take about 20 minutes. Easy peasy.

There are three main parts to the indoor museum, and my preferred starting point is the Visionary Village in the Jim Rouse Visionary Center.

Visionary Village features some of the bigger exhibits. My favorites include the giant Bra Ball, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the museum’s huge collection of mechanical theater automata, aka dozens of small old-school robots.

The Zanvyl A. Krieger main building houses many of the museum’s permanent exhibits. With everything from traditional paintings to yarn sculptures, there’s a little something for everyone.

And don’t forget to check out the basement and the Flatulence Post. The entire exhibit revolves around flatus: their categorization, their history and, of course, their various sounds. Overall the display is great if you’re a 12 year-old boy or a middle-aged dad.

One of the best things about these displays is that, though they are permanent possessions of the museum, the art rotates, which means you’ll see something new every time but don’t have to worry about your favorite pieces leaving forever.

There are some temporary exhibits, however. The museum usually has a theme, featuring works from various artists. Past themes include hope, food and storytelling.

This year’s exhibit, opening on Saturday, Oct. 7, is titled The Great Mystery and promises an exploration of human curiosity and imagination through physics, psychics and a whole lot more.

The American Visionary Art Museum isn’t exactly the BMA, but I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so wonderful.

Any gallery in the world can hang a Monet or a Bellows, but I think it takes a special kind of visionary (if you’ll excuse the pun) to look at balloons, or window screens or an old hatchback and say “This could be art.”

It takes a special kind of quirky, weird, creativity and plenty of encouragement from supportive friends, family and neighbors — two things that Baltimore has in spades.

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