American Visionary Art Museum Revisited

Bluebird of Happiness, Dick Brown.

The American Visionary Art Museum is an unusual art museum. There are no Picassos, no Monets, no Chagalls to be found within its walls, but don’t let that stop you.

Black Icarus, Andrew Logan.

Instead, you’ll find art made by “every day folk” but these artists didn’t go to school or apprentice with another artist to learn how to express themselves. Instead, they picked up a paint brush or started carving wood or reworked found objects into objet d’art.

This is art with a lot of glitter and color and absolutely no rules.

The Dog House, 1988, Wendy Brackman, pine.

Don’t confuse visionary art with folk art — those are two separate categories. Folk art is typically an art-making tradition “learned at the knee” or specific to an ethnic or geographic group (think Amish quilt makers). This is art that satisfied the artist — brought him or her joy — rather than art critics or even the public.

Divine, Andrew Logan, mixed media.

During this visit — I brought my younger son several years ago (he loved it) — I was particularly struck by two non-permanent exhibits: Esther and the Dream of One Loving Human Family and Miracle at Midnight.

The Dream of One Loving Human Family will be on display through March 3, 2024, and features Esther Krinitz’s Holocaust survival story told through 36 hand-embroideries. There are other artists’ works on display in this exhibit, in particular a triptych by Lily Yeh depicting the Rwandan Tutsi genocide. The images are brutal and honest and lovely. Krinitz’s vision was apparent.

Village Life in Rwanda Before the 1994 Genocide, part 1 of a tryptich, Lily Yeh, 1995, acrylic on brown paper.

The paintings of Rev. Albert Lee Wagner, in an exhibit entitled “Miracle at Midnight,” was also both topical — the paintings are both of religious scenes and a testimony to life in poverty-stricken and racist South.

Flee from Egypt – Parting of the Red Sea, 1975, Rev. Albert Lee Wagner, acrylic and oil paint on canvas.

But the most fun both this visit and last, was in the Jim Rouse Visionary Center building, and the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, a collection of whimsical and interactive automats. So cool. I spent nearly an hour playing with them!

The AVAM is a great place for kids but is not specifically for kids — it’s for anyone who wants to explore their own vision and expression. It’s really a place of wonder, and adults can lose themselves in the exploration of art, and what it means for you. I felt inspired to go home and try my own hand at art. But first, I had to walk the dog and make dinner, and then I sat down to write this.

Know before you go: If you have kids and want to make a full day of it, it’s a nice walk to the AVAM from either the Maryland Science Center or Baltimore Museum of Industry. Park at BMI to explore what it has to offer and then walk to either (or both the Maryland Science Center or the AVAM). If you plan to “just” explore the AVAM, there is abundant metered parking on Covington Street and Key Highway.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Carter, 1983, carved wood and paint.

Getting there: 800 Key Highway, Baltmore, MD 21230

Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; closed Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not only is AVAM open on Martin Luther King Day, it’s free admission for all.


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