BMA says artist may get access to paintings


The Baltimore Museum of Art appears to have softened its position toward the request by Baltimore artist Ralph McGuire for access to his paintings, held in storage by the museum for more than 35 years and never shown.

Arnold L. Lehman, the museum director, wrote in a recent letter to the artist's wife that he would contact the museum registrar -- who is in charge of keeping track of the museum's holdings -- to see how the museum "may be able to accommodate your request."

Brenda Richardson, deputy director for art at the BMA, said she felt "confident that we should be able to satisfy the McGuires in some fashion that will be mutually acceptable." She suggested a "modified request" by the McGuires as a possible key to a compromise.

In three letters written to the museum starting last winter, the McGuires asked to be allowed access to the pictures bequeathed to it by the late J. Blankfard Martenet, who died in 1959.

Their purpose in making the request was to measure and photograph samples to be used by Mr. McGuire in a grant application to the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in New York, which makes awards of between $1,000 and $30,000 to established or older artists, especially those in need.

In October, Mr. Lehman told The Sun that such access for the McGuires would be just about impossible. The material -- Mr. McGuire's paintings and drawings, and works by other local artists collected by Mr. Martenet -- was "in storage in a fashion it is hard to get to."

The museum, he insisted, had neither staff nor resources for such a project.

But since then, the BMA has at least responded to the McGuires' letters. Recently Mr. Lehman sent the artist and his wife, who run a framing shop on Mulberry Street, a list of the titles of the paintings by Mr. McGuire that it holds.

However, Tobia McGuire, the artist's wife and manager, said the names of the 124 paintings alone are insufficient. "We look at the list and we sort of draw a blank," said Mrs. McGuire. "These were pictures from the 1940s, and you can't just look at a list and draw a conclusion about these pictures."

Except for about seven oil paintings, Mr. McGuire said he has seen none of the paintings since they went into the BMA's storage bins in 1957. Seeing them, having photographs of them, he says is essential to his grant request.

Ms. Richardson, in a telephone interview, emphasized the difficulty in fulfilling the McGuires' desire to see everything.

The phrasing of Mr. Lehman's Dec. 10 letter to Mrs. McGuire in which he promised the BMA's effort to accommodate their request "may seem misleading." Ms. Richardson said. "I must put the emphasis on how we may accommodate."

She said it would take more than three months to make all the McGuire material available, owing to the current construction of a new wing at the museum.

"I think it perfectly comprehensible that the McGuires don't comprehend the inconveniences of the construction project," she said. "I can understand the McGuire's skepticism, but we don't know how we can even accommodate an even modified request."

Ms. Richardson then seemed to have second thoughts. "If there is a way of accommodating them," she said, "it has to be a modified request."

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