Touring exhibits are still seen at the BMA, but, as in the case of the recent Andy Warhol show, they are likely to include items from the museum's holdings.

"The boundaries are less clear between temporary exhibits and the permanent collections," Bolger said.

At the Walters and the BMA, the process of deciding what material to turn into an exhibit starts with the curators, "because they obviously know the collection," Fisher said.

Other staff members gradually enter the discussion, looking at the project from various points of view — marketing, development, education, community impact. Bolger described the planning for in-house exhibits as "more like a team sport."

One proposal that started bubbling through the BMA two years ago will reach the final stage at the end of October, when the public will be welcomed into a substantial and unusual exhibit of prints done in series. This project is the brainchild of Rena Hoisington, associate curator of the BMA's 65,000 prints, drawings and photographs.

"The idea came to me when I saw two shows of contemporary prints in series at other museums," Hoisington said. "Shows of series are fairly unusual, and the BMA has hundreds of series. I wanted to show the history of series from the late 15th century to the present."

There was no need to look to other museums to help flesh out this project. "Because we have such a vast collection of works on paper, we can do pretty much any project without a loan," Fisher said.

Once the series idea was embraced at the BMA, funding was sought. It came from the Mellon Foundation, which was particularly interested in an educational component of Hoisington's proposal.

Eight students from the Johns Hopkins University and two from the Maryland Institute College of Art met weekly at the museum for about three months to help choose the prints after Hoisington did the initial whittling from the hundreds of complete series in the museum's vaults.

In the end, everyone agreed on 29 series — 349 prints in all — along with an 18th-century deck of Italian playing cards by an anonymous artist.

The material includes the compelling "Apocalypse" series of woodcuts begun by Albrecht Durer in 1496 and the strangely vivid lithographs from 1932 by El Lissitzky depicting characters in a futuristic opera called "Victory over the Sun."

"It's an opportunity to show what great prints we have," Hoisington said. "More than half have never been on view before."

Being able to display what is usually stored away is a strong motivation for museums that would not likely diminish even if appealing blockbuster touring shows were to return in a big way.

"I feel so proud of the collection here," Bolger said.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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