Monday, August 19, 2013

American Visionary Art Museum

Yesterday I went to the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore with my parents. My mom had a Groupon to get in at a discounted rate, so I thought I'd go with them and see what this museum was all about.
The outside of the museum immediately grabbed my attention. It is covered in a mosaic of mirrors, glass, and other sparkly things. And it's not just the building: a school bus there was decorated the same way, along with a huge Fabergé-like egg and a tree. Inside there were a couple of similar pieces, including an incredible statue of Icarus with glass wings falling from the ceiling and down through the round staircase that went up the center of the museum.*
All of the art in the museum is very detailed, which is both amazing and mind-boggling. I mean, I started losing my patience just looking at every single little thing on one piece of art work, and I didn't even have to spend time making it! These included a model of the Titanic made of toothpicks, a throne made from beer bottle caps, fairy houses made from teensy tiny natural materials, and multiple statues created out of any old thing the artist could find (spoons, baby doll heads, pieces of paper, marbles, etc.). I just don't know who has the time to do things like that, and if they do have that kind of time on their hands, why would they spend it doing things that would make them want to pull their hair out?

Many of the exhibits (at least those up now) were rather dark in theme. There was a storyline made out of multiple large embroidery/fabric collages by Esther Krinitz that told her story of being a Jew in Europe during World War II; while the art was magnificent, the images and story itself were very sad. Frank Bruno created an exhibit called "A Life Devoted to THE END." His work was also very beautiful, with so many colors and shapes. But the pictures were disturbing, most of them featuring skeletons and fire, reminiscent of Hell. Other pieces throughout the museum were about domestic abuse or slavery, things like that. While I could appreciate the time and effort put into these works of art, it was difficult to enjoy myself when the messaging was so negative.

I preferred the happy pieces. Judy Tallwing made amazing paintings in reference to her Native American culture, including a painting of spirit bears catching fish from a river. And in a separate building, there were large float-like pieces that were used in a kinetic sculpture race. Fifi, the ginormous pink poodle, was my favorite, along with an old car that was completely covered with blue and green glass bottles. Pretty art makes me happy, and that's why I like going to art museums in the first place.

Finally, a word of caution about the gift shop: be prepared for mayhem. The shop is filled with random things, from Siamese twin baby dolls to little animal figurines to tuxedo jackets to statement necklaces you'd find at a street fair in New York City. You can even buy a bag filled with random crap, just hoping you'd like something in there! The book selection is better, though be wary of bringing your children in there, since many are sexual in theme (I mean, one book was called Breasts and was just images from paintings of boobs). Maybe I'm a prude, but I don't think an art museum that is relatively geared towards families should be selling sex books. There was nothing in the shop that I was tempted to buy. So my advice: just skip that part.

So, here's my take-away: I went to a museum and cultured myself for the day. Would I go back to the work of all these crazies? No.

*Andrew Logan created the egg and Icarus statues.

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