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BMA to open show of 200 artworks acquired for the institution's centennial

The Baltimore Museum of Art is opening an exhibit on Feb. 7 of more than 200 of the dazzling, quirky, enigmatic and enchanting artworks that it has acquired in celebration of the institution's centennial.

"What you'll see in these galleries is just the tip of the iceberg," said Jay Fisher, the museum's interim co-director. "More than 4,000 objects have been donated, bequeathed or promised by people in the past decade in honor of the museum's 100th anniversary, bringing the museum's collection to 95,000 objects. These gifts are the result of relationships that we have worked very hard to develop. It's not as though people just drop off paper packages of artworks at our back door."

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The show, "New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century," spans centuries, civilizations and genres. It includes works by major artists of the past, including Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and James McNeill Whistler, along with such modern masters as designer Issey Miyake, who contributed a stunning, tufted gray and turquoise sweater.

The works were given to the museum during its Campaign for A New Century, which since 2007 has raised $80.7 million.

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"These gifts are a reminder that we started with nothing," Fisher said. "When the museum moved up here in 1930, we had very little to show."

Newer artworks share space with the museum's existing paintings and sculptures, providing insight into both.

For instance, in 1950 the museum acquired Pierre Bonnard's "Woman with Basket of Fruit," which was created between 1915 and 1918. It hangs next to a recent gift, Bonnard's 1924 painting of the same basket. The figure dominating the earlier artwork — a woman seated at a table with her head resting on one hand — has been eliminated from the second painting. Instead, there's a tight focus on the basket against an almost abstract background, hinting at a possible shift in the artist's preoccupations.

Another example: Visitors who move further through the exhibit will come across a display case containing two snuff boxes. One, a recent gift, was crafted in South Africa in the 20th century from a gourd, and is decorated with swirling brass and iron leaves. Alongside it is an 18th century French porcelain snuff box that was bequeathed to the museum in 1967. The little box is embellished with cobalt enamel, gold, and diamonds.

Both pieces are exquisite, but they couldn't be more different. Viewers are invited to contrast the in-your-face glitz of the gem-encrusted French piece with the gourd's humbler beauty.

"We tried to pair objects that complemented and had conversations with one another," said Rena Hoisington, the museum's curator of prints, drawings and photographs.

The show ends with a gallery devoted to new acquisitions by such Maryland artists as the filmmaker John Waters (represented by* a childhood portrait of himself to which he added an irreverent pencil mustache) and a children's rocking chair by the artist Tom Miller. The chair's legs end in a pair of white ankle socks encased in black patent leather shoes, while the headrest represents a slice of watermelon with one prominent bite mark.

The big show is enhanced by six smaller "new arrivals" exhibits that began opening in September and showcase photographs, a video, and prints and drawings by Henri Matisse. The main show and all the focus exhibits will be on view through March 6.

Here are five not-to-be-missed artworks from the main show:

Grace Hartigan, "Pallas Athena - Fire." 1961. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Valerie B. and J. Woodford Howard, Jr. On view in the exhibition "New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a new Century" at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Grace Hartigan, "Pallas Athena - Fire." 1961. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Valerie B. and J. Woodford Howard, Jr. On view in the exhibition "New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a new Century" at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (BMAphotostudio / Baltimore Sun)

"Pallas Athena – Fire," oil painting, 1961, by Grace Hartigan

In this large canvas with its sensuous azures and magentas, the late Baltimore artist may be attempting to portray a person through the objects with which she surrounds herself. Could that painting be of Hartigan's bedroom? In the upper right corner is a chair. A purple hat rests on … is it a bed?

Kristen Hileman, the museum's curator of contemporary art, points out that the artist wasn't just depicting the Greek goddess of wisdom and of war, but also, perhaps, herself.

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"Look at the tough and energetic brush strokes," Hileman said. "This is a self-portrait."

Ren¾© Magritte, "Delusions of Grandeur." 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. ¬© C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York . On view in the exhibition "New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century" at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Ren¾© Magritte, "Delusions of Grandeur." 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. ¬© C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York . On view in the exhibition "New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century" at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (BMAphotostudio / Baltimore Sun)

"Delusions of Grandeur" bronze statue, 1967, by Rene Magritte

Magritte was primarily known as a painter, and his two-dimensional, canvas renditions of a cut-up female torso stacked like a set of Russian nesting dolls are famous. But this 5-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide sculpture may be more satisfying — viewers can walk around the sculpture and peer inside. They can examine the pitted texture on the artwork's interior. They can wonder what Magritte might have been saying by making the woman's hips more than twice as broad as her shoulders, and how they feel about that portrayal.

"Her body gets bigger as she gets further down, not unlike certain female forms," Hileman notes. "But more of the figure is shown in the smaller segments than in the largest."

"Common Mullein,” charcoal drawing, 1993, Jim Dine.
"Common Mullein,” charcoal drawing, 1993, Jim Dine. (BMA photo studio)

"Common Mullein," charcoal drawing, 1993, Jim Dine

You can almost see it grow. In artist Jim Dine's black-and-white charcoal sketch, the common weed seems to stretch riotously toward the sun – and it seems to be growing so fast that the artist had to hastily add a second, smaller sheet of paper to capture the flowerhead. Hazy lines suggest the movement of leaves.

Any moment now, the weed will burst into bloom and scatter seed. It's been said that the organic growth of plants represents the artistic process for Dine. If so, this is a view of creativity as a life force.

"Dance Movement, pas de deux B," bronze statue, 1910-11, August Rodin. On view at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
"Dance Movement, pas de deux B," bronze statue, 1910-11, August Rodin. On view at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Photography BMA / Baltimore Sun)

"Dance Movement, pas de deux B" bronze statue, 1910-1911, by Auguste Rodin

This little statue was created more than a century ago and is startlingly modern. The two dancing figures are very nearly identical, and the way they're juxtaposed suggests the same figure moving through space.

"Dance is particularly interesting to sculptors because dancers use their bodies for expressive means," said Oliver Shell, associate curator of European painting and sculpture. "Rodin created this sculpture when he was in his 70s. Even that late in his life, he was still experimenting."

“Carousel Figure,” carved and gilded birch, metal footings, around 1890, attributed to Charles J. Spooner.
“Carousel Figure,” carved and gilded birch, metal footings, around 1890, attributed to Charles J. Spooner. (Photography BMA /)

"Carousel Figure," carved and gilded birch, metal footings, around 1890, attributed to Charles J. Spooner

This "bicycle" almost looks as though it could be ridden – witness the realistic chain – but in fact, the only distance it covered was up and down on a pole, as part of a 19th century English merry-go-round.

"Everyone who sees it falls in love with it," Shell said. "The craftsmanship is amazing."

First, viewers' eyes notice that the body resembles a sort of dragon, then, that the handlebars are water snakes. And the pedals and seat – could those be dolphins?

It's hard not to smile.

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* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Waters contributed the portrait. It was a gift from Robert Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker.

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