Interestingly, this exhibit is dominated by the art market’s favorite currency: hefty paintings, like the recently acquired Mickalene Thomas “Resist #2,” 2021, a massive Rauchenbergian ode to protest adorned with glitter, police officers, and an ‘I can’t breathe’ protest sign overlaid the American flag.
The painting sits comfortably next to a moody red and black Rothko, a thick and violent Karel Appel scene, two muscular Grace Hartigan abstractions, and a fleshy pink Guston where cartoonesque Klan hoods lurk behind a protagonist figure contemplating a pile of shoes, a Holocaust reference. Viewed as a community, these works offer a commentary on modern painting, the contemporary art market, as well as the influence of Ab-Exer Hartigan as MICA’s most famous (and sometimes infamous) professor and a damn good painter.
The show is tempered with sculpture, where the slim and sensuous wooden Louise Bourgeois totem, “Spring,” 1948-49, calmly anchors the space, and the delicate, funny Jeremy Alden chair, “50 Dozen,” constructed of Ticonderoga graphite pencils and adhesive, taunts visitors and guards alike with an unattainable seat. In glass vitrines, a flamboyant Richard William Binns sculptural teapot from the early 1800s sits in conversation with solemn pre-Columbian ceramic sculpture, as well as an early 20th century functional vessel from Solomon Islands. Easy to overlook, the cases include one empty white plinth referencing Fred Wilson’s institutional critique, pointing to gaps in the current collection.
It is still relatively rare to see works from different cultures, time periods, and genres in one museum viewing space, suggesting conceptual and aesthetic cross-pollination across history and geography, rather than established historic hierarchies. For this reason, Guarding the Art is groundbreaking in its willingness to present spheres of influence and caste-like relationships which have certainly impacted the trajectory of Western art, but are rarely recognized.
To fully realize this vision, this exhibit would benefit from a more even balance of modern and historic, as well as double the amount of gallery space. With more room to breathe, this show could further highlight the individual achievements of each selected work and shepherd them into groupings which would more clearly delineate the influence of hereto historic “unknown” artists on “the known,” a direct reflection of the unique vantage point of the museum guard.
Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA)
10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218
Hours: Free admission, Open Weds – Sunday 10-5,
Thursday open until 9 pm
Exhibition dates: March 27, 2022 — July 10, 2022