Sunday, 16 February 2014

Baltimore Museum of Art

I haven't yet ventured out of Goucher, or any further than Towson, so Eszter and I arranged to take a day trip to Baltimore today with a group of girls from Goucher. We took the free shuttle bus, which serves the local colleges, into Baltimore. The shuttle runs every hour  (supposedly) and provides a service to Goucher College, Towson University, Loyola University Maryland, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Johns Hopkins University, and Morgan State University.

We spent between two and three hours in the Baltimore Museum of Art. which has an internationally renowned collection of 19th-century, modern, and post-modern art. BMA has many Degas originals, including his 'Little Dancer Aged Fourteen' sculpture, which has caused controversial debate since the 19th century. Considered to be "replusive", many critics have suggested that the sculpture is reminiscent of the seedy undercurrent of 19th century Parisian Opera and the life of depravity that many working class Parisian dancers would have faced as prostitutes. As to whether Degas' fascination was really in the dance and the dancers or whether it was rooted in something more sexual is unclear. However despite the negative connotations that Degas' Little Girl may have, I found her beautiful.

"Little Girl Aged Fourteen" Edgar Degas (1881)
Artist Alison Saar's scultpure "Strange Fruit" was also particularly interesting and thought provoking. Saar's scultpure depicts a black woman, bound and suspended upside down from the ceiling by her foot. The scultpure is evocative of Billie Holiday's moving lyrics:

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root. / Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

It is clear that Saar is commenting on the racial violence and lynching during America's past. The vulnerability and suffering of the sculpture provokes a strong feeling of discomfort; as if you want to reach out and release the woman's ankles. However it would also appear that Saar is commenting on female sexuality. The suggestive placement of the woman's hands on her navel and breast creates an image of strong female sexual identity, which contrasts greatly to the vulnerability of her suspended body.

"Strange Fruit" Alison Saar (1995)
The BMA was very interesting, the difference in the 19th century and modern art collections was refreshing. We didn't get to see much of Baltimore unfortunatley, but that gives me a good excuse to plan another trip to downtown Baltimore next weekend. And it's a nice change from the ballet studio.


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