Contemporary art's new home; Museum: Cutting-edge art space enlivens Mount Vernon Cultural District.


THE "museum without walls" or collection now has the former. This should not bog the Contemporary Museum down too much from the cutting-edge exhibitions it has mounted for a decade in other spaces, often in collaboration with radically different institutions.

Its new Centre Street home, which opened Saturday, enlivens the Mount Vernon Cultural District, which is visibly on the rebound from urban ills.

"Museum," is not the right word in physical description, connoting rooms, stairways, a menu of exhibitions. The experience at the Contemporary, rather, is like a visit to a commercial gallery. It is a rented storefront with one large room and two smaller spaces.

But a museum it is, in the educational sense. Long and learned legends explain the artist or art on view. The first show in this space is called "Impact: Revealing Sources for Contemporary Art," showing American and European artists who have been influential for decades, not the next generation.

The museum fills half the ground floor of a dignified office building that could pass for an old museum. The neighboring Maryland Historical Society bought the former insurance company headquarters and occupies upper floors.

Disparate as these two museums are, they cooperated famously in a 1992 exhibition that presented a slave's-eye view of artifacts in the historical collection.

The new Contemporary is an asset to Mount Vernon, filling its own mission of "building bridges between contemporary art and the world in which we live," along with larger institutions nearby.

Its edge, cutting or otherwise, still lies in innovative exhibits in unique locations elsewhere. This, it promises to continue.

Pub Date: 9/30/99

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