The biggest news of the coming art season will be the Nov. 24 opening of the American Visionary Art Museum, the first museum in America devoted to "outsider" art -- works created by self-taught artists.
Located in an imaginatively designed structure at Key Highway and Covington Street at the Inner Harbor, the museum is the $7 million brainchild of Baltimorean Rebecca Hoffberger. It has been designated -- by Congressional resolution, no less -- the official national visionary art museum.
The museum opens at a time of increasing interest in the product of untutored artists, and its Inner Harbor location will likely make it a major tourist draw. The museum's permanent collection already contains works by such well-known outsider artists as Martin Ramirez, Howard Finster, Frank Jones and Vollis Simpson. Its inaugural exhibit, "The Tree of Life," will have 400 works made from wood and tree products.
Several other local institutions are undergoing major additions and/or improvements to physical facilities.
The Maryland Historical Society begins work this fall converting the former Greyhound bus garage, on Park Avenue behind the Society's Monument Street buildings, to a Center for Maryland History. This is the first part of a planned $10 to $20 million expansion that will take place over several years and may eventually include two other new buildings.
On April 12, the Baltimore City Life Museums plans to open its long-awaited Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center, devoted to exhibitions about urban life, which is the centerpiece of BCLM's $8.4 million expansion at its Lombard and Front streets campus. Exhibits on the city's history, character and contemporary issues will open the building.
This fall, the Museum of Industry is undergoing the first phase of a $3.5 million expansion at its Key Highway site.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, after opening a new wing for modern art last fall, is now renovating the roof of its 1929 John Russell Pope building. It will subsequently reinstall there its collections of American decorative arts and pre-1900 American paintings. The $2 million project is slated to be completed by late 1996.
The Maryland Institute, College of Art, is converting the former AAA building, near its present Mount Royal Avenue buildings. Completion of the first phase of the $5 million project is expected in about a year. Also, the Walters Art Gallery is raising $6 million to renovate and reinstall its 1974 building, with the first major phase of that project expected to begin sometime in 1996.
And, yes, the coming season promises exhibits aplenty, too.
Among museums, the Walters will see the most radical upheaval, installing temporary exhibits in several of its spaces normally devoted to the permanent collection. Today it opens a show on the Italian baroque painter Bernardo Strozzi, installed in the red gallery usually devoted to early Italian Renaissance painting.
On Sept. 24, it opens "Going for Baroque," which was organized with the Contemporary, Baltimore's museum without walls. This
collaboration will see the work of contemporary artists placed in the context of the Walters baroque and rococo collections. Later, the entire fourth floor of the 1974 building, normally containing 19th-century art, will be reinstalled with "Pandora's Box" (Nov. 5), a major international show organized by the Walters and devoted to the depiction of women in classical Greek art.
The BMA's fall biggie will be "Celebrating Calder" (Oct. 4), 53 works of sculpture and other objects by that engaging master of the mobile. Coming in the New Year is "Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa" (Jan. 31), more than 300 artifacts from Egypt's southern neighbor covering a period from 3100 B.C. to 500 A.D.
Beginning Oct. 5, the BMA will be open the first Thursday of every month from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., joining the local First Thursday museum and gallery celebrations. The museum calls these evenings Freestyle, and they will include tours of collections, music, films and dance performances.
The Maryland Historical Society will have "A Celebration of African-American Arts and Crafts" (Oct. 1), including the nationally known collection of Derrick J. Beard, supplemented by objects from the MHS and other public collections.
The Maryland Institute checks in with "Transformers," an exhibit of paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints devoted to the appearance of fable and myth in contemporary art.
On the gallery scene, look for Grace Hartigan works on paper, based on paintings of the medieval hunt, at Grimaldis (Dec. 6). Gomez will have paintings by the talented Soledad Salame (March 16), and Galerie Francoise will have new sculpture by Brent Crothers (Oct. 5). For Steven Scott, Raoul Middleman will paint portraits of people in the Baltimore art world, including Eugene Leake, Tom Miller, Arnold Lehman, Gary Vikan and Joyce Scott (Feb. 1).
"Original Aspects of Humanity" at Maryland Art Place (Oct. 14) will feature the work of 10 African-American artists. School 33 will have "Together with AIDS" (Dec. 1), photographs by Michela Caudill focusing on the work of Baltimore's Chase-Brexton Clinic and the lives of those concerned with giving care to people with AIDS. In the spring, School 33 and MAP will both be involved in "Art Sites 96" (May 22), a collaborative exhibit involving 11 galleries in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Among the more interesting-sounding shows at college and university galleries are University of Maryland College Park's "The Digital Village," featuring electronic art (Nov. 1); Goucher's "Richard Cleaver: Public Histories, Private Lives," with Cleaver's highly creative constructions (Oct. 30); University of Maryland Baltimore County's "Layers: Contemporary Collage from St. Petersburg, Russia" (Nov. 3), and Morgan State University's "A Tribute to Romare Bearden," (Nov. 8).
If you're interested in traveling, there are several promising exhibits scheduled for Washington and New York.
In Washington: the National Gallery's "Winslow Homer" (Oct. 15), works by the great American artist, and "Johannes Vermeer" (Nov. 12), works by the great Dutch artist; the National Museum of American Art's "Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York" (Nov. 17); and the Phillips Collection's "In the American Grain: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz." (Sept. 23).
And in New York: the Metropolitan's "Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei" (March 12); the Museum of Modern Art's "Picasso and Portraiture" (May 19), 150 works by the 20th-century's greatest artist; and the Guggenheim's "Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline: Abstraction in the Twentieth Century" (Feb. 8).