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The Greyhound

A Critique of the American Visionary Arts Museum


For those of you looking for a quirky place to go to get off campus, you should definitely check out the American Visionary Arts Museum. For the small student fee of 10 dollars, you can view some of the strangest, yet most beautiful exhibits in the city. I waited until my final year at Loyola to attend this interesting museum, and I will frankly say it’s a decision I greatly regret.

The American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) is spread out across three buildings. The main building has four floors, which feature the museum’s permanent installations as well as ever-changing exhibits. Perhaps my favorite parts of the museum were two non-permanent exhibits. The first exhibit contained work by artist Alex Grey. In this exhibit, the artwork took on a deeply philosophical and political nature. Primarily, the work suggested the interconnectedness of the Earth, the Universe and all creation. One piece stood out to me particularly, as it was two canvases, which were mirror images of each other. On these canvases stood a tree of life. The canvases represented war and peace and how they are interconnected, yet starkly different. This particular piece represented societies’ changing attitudes toward life and the connected nature of all beings, thus reflecting art’s advancement. There was another piece of his that interested me, entitled “Sacred Mirrors.” This piece is actually an installation of three different paintings, framed such that all pieces actually form the work. This particular piece supplements his prior ideas, such that they also make the viewer question the connected nature of life and the advancement of society. I found myself greatly moved by Grey’s work. I thought deeply about the questions that different pieces presented and found myself completely enamored by the exhibit. His work was also rather atypical in that it went against what one would likely assume art in a museum to be. His work was rather dark and presented on unconventional mediums, further facilitating the ideas presented in the individual pieces.

The second exhibit that stood out to me was that of Frank Bruno. Bruno’s work highlights the lack of morals in humans today. One specific work that stood out to me went as far as to depict politicians as monkeys peeing on the Constitution. His work further facilitates the growing ideals of modern art, as they present rather apocalyptic scenes, feeding into the frenzy presented in much of the media. While much of his work may be presented in a rather classical way (e.g., oil on canvas), the subject matter is dark and captivating. I walked away from his exhibit finding myself thinking deeper about the ideas presented in his work.

In the museum’s other buildings, one can also view rather unique pieces of art. This section is filled with various wooden sculptures that require the patrons to press certain buttons or turn certain knobs to emulate the aesthetic of the piece. Little figurines will spin in circles, jump up and down or perform other movements at the command of the viewer. This section of the museum has rather random, yet fun pieces that are constructed from garbage to bras and everything in between. One other part of this building that intrigued me greatly was a large mural, which displayed a screen painting, an art form native to Baltimore. In the 60s and 70s, families would actually have the screens on their doors and windows painted in an effort to make homes more decorative. While this idea is completely alien to us today, this concept served a practice totally inherent to the city of Baltimore.

One cannot even walk by AVAM without becoming part of the art. The museum has an exhibit, entitled, A Very Visionary Star Spangled Sidewalk, that challenges the ideals of art, as the exhibit itself is the sidewalk outside of the museum. Painting scenes, which represent different parts of our nation’s anthem, on a sidewalk certainly seems rather unconventional; however, it is also rather captivating and amusing.

I greatly encourage all to check out the American Visionary Arts Museum. I found the current exhibits to be extremely interesting and beautiful. They challenged my perceptions of art, but also made me think about the social and political statements attached to them. While certain aspects may seem a little strange or out-there, I can assure all who attend will walk out feeling delighted and curious.

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A Critique of the American Visionary Arts Museum