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Art Opening

Doreen Bolger talks about the reopening of the BMA’s Contemporary Wing and its place in the city’s art ecosystem

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Doreen Bolger, the Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, is unquestionably the biggest champion the city’s art community. City Paper caught up with her to talk about new works, old favorites, and the quality of local artists.

City Paper: What’s the thing you’re most excited about with the Contemporary Wing reopening in November?

Doreen Bolger: For me, it’s just how transformed the wing is and how much of a different experience it will be for people both in physical form and metaphorically. It’s so much more open to the rest of the building. You can see it from a distance and you are drawn in. We took down those horrible dark doors between Cone Wing and the West Wing. It’s going to be so much more tempting and alluring for people. And, of course, Sarah Oppenheimer making connections between the Cone Wing and the Contemporary Wing, and both floors of the Contemporary Wing.I was so surprised at how different it felt, especially recently, since we’ve started putting art in.

CP: How did the Sarah Oppenheimer installation come about?

DB: The whole Sarah Oppenheimer thing is a credit to [the BMA’s curator of contemporary art] Kristen [Hileman], who proposed that we have her do an installation for the opening of the Contemporary Wing, and as we started to talk about it, we said, “Why wouldn’t we just have that piece in the collection?” And that’s really exciting because, while Sarah has done many installations in important institutions and artists’ spaces, I believe we may be the first museum to acquire a piece for our permanent collection and, of course, for an artist at her particular stage of her career, where she’s becoming really well-known and a rising star, it’s great to be able to add her piece to our permanent holdings.

CP: Are there other new acquisitions that you are particularly excited about?

DB: There are quite a few, but what I like about the way Kristen has been selecting pieces is that they build upon the wonderful collection of the BMA, as it has formed over the past half century, but take it to the present moment. So there are so many pieces where you can see a connection between art of the late 20th century and the art of today.

CP: Can you about bringing in local artists like Jimmy Joe Roche and Gaia?

DB: Well, actually, we have more to tell you about: Post Typography—which is Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen—has been recruited to do work on the interpretive space and interactive gallery, which is also opening. They’re going to work on the use of text in contemporary artists’ work and make that a very engaging place for people.

How we’re looking at the Contemporary Wing is that it is really the best artists from Baltimore and beyond. I’m really pleased that we have a range of artists—Gaia, who just recently graduated from MICA, a street artist who is making such a transformative difference here in Baltimore, not only with his own work but in curating the Open Walls series in Station North. So young and energetic and imaginative and with a whole new kind of public art, [he’s] connecting the museum with the community around us by dedicating himself to working on subjects in the Remington neighborhood so nearby. And the same with Jimmy Joe—going to graduate school at MICA, coming here with Wham City, another type of connection around the world, both in visual art, music, and performance.

And now Nolen Strals, who teaches at MICA. We’ve got every generation possible: the undergraduates, the graduates, and the faculty, which is really fun. They happen to be from here, but they’ve all been selected because of the extraordinary quality of their work. They represent where art is at this moment in time, each in their own very different disciplines. So I’m very proud I live in a city where we can do a 360 around this building and find some very important artists to feature.

CP: Where do you see the new wing fitting in with the rest of the ecosystem of the art community?

DB: It definitely is an ecosystem. Everything is connected. The museums are so much in many ways about their collections and their audiences. And it’s so important for us to connect with the creative class here in Baltimore. We have amazing artists in every single genre working in this city. I see this group of talented, energetic, imaginative young people that surround us as a very important part of our audience. And I think the museum has a role in presenting these artists and helping to develop a broader audience for them than their own generation—even for older people like me.

And museums are always a goal for artists, a place where they want to see their work exhibited. It’s an endorsement of their careers; it takes their work to another level, to a national or international stage. As I look at the past couple years and think about the Baker and the Sondheim prizes, we’ve been very pleased to be able to have those here at the museum for so many years, and this past year and Gary Kachadourian, who was a Baker winner, was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Prize, which is a national prize, and Matt Porterfield, who was a Sondheim winner, was invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial. So in a sense we become a forum here in Baltimore, but also on a national and international level for artists by exhibiting their work here and promoting their work, we play a small role in getting them out in the world. It’s very gratifying.

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