I haven’t visited the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) since the late 90s, shortly after it opened. The only thing I remember was the towering statue of local celebrity Divine that greeted visitors on the first floor. It now resides outside. The museum’s three floors and basement are packed with stimulating visuals and thought-provoking works from its current exhibitions and permanent collection.
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who was doing development work at the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, opened AVAM in 1995. Taken from its mission statement, visionary art “refers to art that is produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training”. This type of art has been connected to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Throughout my self-guided tour, I noted on more than one occasion pieces of art that were created by individuals who had been institutionalized in mental facilities. “Horse Dress”, for example, is an intricately crocheted garment created by schizophrenic patient at the Sheppard Pratt Hospital. The artist is listed as anonymous.
“Recovery” is a sculpture created by another mental patient. The artist is also anonymous. The sculpture is slender and was carved from the trunk of an apple tree. What struck me was the concave chest representing the artist’s battle with tuberculosis.
Is there a connection between Hoffberger’s vision and her work at Sinai Hospital? I’d like to know. What I do know is that pieces such as these further support the museum’s mission of showcasing art by self-taught individuals who are not bound by the “rules”.
The American Visionary Art Museum is located on Key Boulevard near Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor. The museum is not free, but well worth the affordable cost of admission. Be sure to include stops at the Sideshow Shop and Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a café located on the third floor.
Also be sure to check out AVAM’s current exhibitions including Frank Bruno’s apocalyptic A Life Devoted to THE END.
Note: Photography is not allowed inside of the museum. However, if you want to check out photos from my trip as well as several taken outside of the museum, visit the photo gallery.