My two favorite art shows this year couldn’t have been more different: Open Walls Baltimore, an exhibition of street art around Station North, and Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, an illuminating show at the Walters. Organized by local street artist Gaia, Open Walls features the work of nearly two-dozen artists (from Baltimore and beyond) on walls around the Station North arts district. The pieces vary greatly, from New Orleans artist Momo’s abstract piece at 440 E. Oliver Street to the towering portrait by Arizona artist Jetsonorama at 1803 Barclay Street. I haven’t tired of walking or driving past the walls, which are a startling and welcome addition to the arts district.
The Walters show embodies the best qualities of the museum during the Gary Vikan era. Revealing the African Presence highlights fabulous objects from the museum’s collections and recontextualizes them with curatorial vigor and solid scholarship. It feels like a logical extension of Fred Wilson’s Speak of Me as I Am, an installation that pointedly examined the exclusion of Africans in Renaissance history, at the 2003 Venice Biennale. In fact, the Biennale catalogue included an essay titled “Local Color: The Black African Presence in Venetian Art and History.” The Walters show—put together by Joaneath Spicer, the museum’s Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art—deepens our understanding of the issues raised by Wilson and is, indeed, revelatory.
The catalogues for both shows come highly recommended. The Open Walls catalogue features amazing photography by the legendary Martha Cooper, who alludes to her seminal 1984 book, Subway Art, with this shot of Gaia.