Though Baltimore will have to wait until November for the BMA to reopen its West Wing for Contemporary Art, in the meantime there’s a display, American Modernism from the Collection in two galleries on the first floor that’s worth a visit. In it are paintings spanning the genres of Social Realism, American Surrealism, Folk art, and Geometric Abstraction, furniture, sculpture, and decorative arts. While it’s always interesting in these types of displays to see new examples of works by bigger name artists that you may be as yet unfamiliar with (Arshile Gorky, Arthur Dove, and Joseph Cornell are on view), sometimes the stranger bits of Americana that emerge can be the most interesting. Walt Kuhn’s playful (and gender-ambiguous) Three-Cornered Hat from 1943 is an example. Kuhn is best known for helping to organize the 1913 Armory Show, but he also painted many similar portraits and character studies during his career. Across the room is the Sterling Silver Ice Bowl and Spoon (1872), designed to look as if covered in thick sheets of ice and flanked with snarling Polar bears.
The works of furniture on display are real highlights. George Nakashima’s ‘Conoid’ Bench (designed 1961, their example circa 1975), and the three-paneled vanity designed by Gilbert Rohde for Herman Miller in 1939 (apparently inspired by a visit to the 1937 Paris World’s Fair), in particular.
It would have been nice to see more descriptive and didactic wall labels, as these are not something the museum shies away from generally. Moreover, it’s always interesting and beneficial to hear a curator’s perspective on a movement or period. In any case, it’s great to see these works on view, they are a nice complement to the upstairs Cone Collection, and the Sculpture Garden outside.
The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 to 5:00 on Wednesday through Friday and 11:00 to 6:00 Saturdays an Sundays. Admission is FREE.