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The Baltimore Museum of Art Concludes a Year of Collecting Work by Only Women Artists

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Loïs Mailou Jones. Untitled (Two Women). c. 1945. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Image Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced 33 new acquisitions, including works by Betye Saar, Margaret Burroughs, and Joyce J. Scott, concluding its one-year commitment to acquire work only by women artists for the museum’s “2020 Vision” initiative. The effort involved a calendar year of exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions dedicated to artwork by women-identified artists to coincide with the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States. In total, the BMA acquired 65 works by 49 women artists this year; for 40 of these artists, including the Baltimore-based Valerie Maynard, it was the first time that their work had entered the museum’s holdings of about 95,000 objects. The BMA spent $2.57 million on the 2020 Vision acquisitions.

The 33 most recent additions to the collection span mixed media work, sculpture, paintings, works on paper, and photographs. Among the acquisition highlights are an early silhouette painting made by Cherokee artist Kay WalkingStick, titled “Fantasy for a January Day” (1971), and a monumental map painting by Salish/Cree/Shoshone artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Echo Map I” (2000), which traces the distribution of Spanish speakers across the US as part of an series initiated in 1992 in response to the Columbus Quincentenary. These two works mark the first major contemporary paintings by Native American artists to enter the museum’s collection.

Kay WalkingStick. Fantasy for a January Day. 1971. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © Kay WalkingStick

Another milestone acquisition is Loïs Mailou Jones’s colorful portrait “Untitled (Two Women)” (c. 1945). The Boston-born artist and educator, who taught artists including Alma Thomas and Elizabeth Catlett during her illustrious seven-decade career, achieved international renown in her lifetime and was the first Black American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painting is not only the first work by Jones to be collected by the BMA, but also the first pre-1960s work by a Black female painter in the museum’s holdings.

The museum also acquired two works by Laura Aguilar, the late American photographer celebrated for her explorations of queer Chicanx identity. Made in Los Angeles in 1993, “Access + Opportunity = Success” combines portraiture with language to comment on the artist’s experience of navigating existing power structures from a marginalized position. Aguilar’s “Motion #59” (1999), a photograph of the artist and two women, all nude, intertwined in a forest, is perhaps the best-known image from a larger series about the community she found during a residency in San Antonio.

Laura Aguilar. Motion #59. 1999. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Women’s Committee Acquisitions Endowment for Contemporary Prints and Photographs © Laura Aguilar Trust of 2016

“The new 2020 Vision acquisitions represent the widest-ranging group of works to enter the BMA’s collection yet, with objects produced through a spectrum of techniques and approaches and by artists of deeply varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives,” Christopher Bedford, the museum’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, said in a statement. “As we continue to develop our collection, we remain focused on rectifying critical omissions of works by artists who are also women, Black, Indigenous, and persons of color from across the diaspora, within our own holdings and across art history more broadly.”

In 2020, the BMA was in the spotlight not only for its commitment to acquiring artworks by women, but also for its controversial decision to deaccession several significant artworks by white male artists — Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol — to fund the diversification of its collection as well as staff salaries and equity programs. The sale, which aimed to generate about $65 million, or over 25 times the total spend on the 2020 Vision acquisitions, was ultimately abandoned in late October after substantial backlash.

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