Imagining Home

Review

of an Exhibition

by Marta Zoellner

Published on May 27, 2017

  • Description:

    It had been a while since I’d been to the Baltimore Museum of Art, and before heading to “Imagining Home,” which I’d heard a lot about, I popped into another exhibit that is closing soon, “Off the Shelf: Modern and Contemporary Artists’ Books.” I only spent a few moments in the space before deciding I was not interested in the very traditional, kind of boring labels and presentation. I only mention this because the contrast when I walked into “Imagining Home” was so remarkable. The exhibit is introduced as exploring the familiar concept of home from across cultures and time periods, and it achieves this to great effect.

    Located in the museum’s Patricia and Mark Joseph Education Center, the exhibit can be entered from either end of the single space. The same introductory panel greets the visitor at each entrance, and from there, the room is loosely divided into three sections: Façades and Thresholds, Domestic Interiors, and Arrivals and Departures. Each section includes works of art and functional objects that have associations with home: paintings of living rooms and domestic life, a bronze door knocker, a Greek vase, Chinese tea bowls, a toaster, chairs, textiles, and even a shower curtain. As someone who visited the BMA many times before its recent renovation, I was delighted to see the miniature rooms installed as part of “Imagining Home!” The rooms, while always a fan favorite, used to be in a hallway gallery all by themselves, and this exhibit is the perfect fit to bring them into conversation with the rest of the collection. Also of note is the variety of cultures represented here; there is art from almost every continent on view in this exhibit.

    The labels draw the viewer in by making connections to things anyone will find familiar, rather than focusing on obscure, art-historical information. The objects are interpreted through the lens of home and the human experience, which put them in a familiar context not often seen in an art museum. Every label ends with a question, written in red. Some examples: “Where does your home end and the outside world begin?”; “Where and when do you most enjoy the quality of light in your home”; “Have you ever been in transit between two homes?”; “How can domesticity be revolutionary?” These questions get viewers thinking about connections to their own experiences, and also serve as a summary of the label itself.

    In addition to labels, certain objects have iPads installed beside them with short videos that can be watched with or without the accompanying headphones. In each of these videos, several families from the Baltimore area received a reproduction of the artwork in question, and lived with it in their home for a period of time. The video shows interviews where they share their experience of the work of art and what it meant to their families. I only watched one of these videos, and couldn’t quite decide how I felt about it. It’s an interesting concept, and certainly takes the museum collection into people’s homes in a new and different way.

    On the wall between the two entries is a nook with seating, lighting, and a variety of reading material (mainly home design magazines). There is also an iPad that prompts visitors to answer the question of what home means to them. Once entered, these responses are projected onto the floor immediately in front of the seating area, as well as the floor at the farther entryway. I thought this was a great way to bring in the visitor voice, and personalize the idea of home. An adjacent gallery space is devoted to community collaborations and installations focused on the idea of home through the lens of LGBTQI+ communities, and provides additional opportunities for visitor interaction.

    I found it interesting that this exhibition is presented in a space identified as an education center. To me, “Imagining Home” is everything a 21st century exhibit in an art museum should be, and I would hope that this approach makes its way into all the galleries at the BMA. As evidenced by my brief foray into “Off the Shelf,” there is a long way to go. I am excited to see the BMA taking this kind of cross-cultural approach and examining topics that are familiar to all people, not just the typical art museum visitor. I will definitely be paying closer attention to what is going on at this museum in the future.

Latest Comments (2)

Sideways photos

by Marta Zoellner - May 27, 2017

All the pictures have uploaded sideways, for some reason, and I am unable to fix them after several tries. Sorry!

Lovely review

by Kathleen Mclean - May 30, 2017

I enjoyed your review of “Imagining Home” for several reasons: You provided me with just enough information to get a sense of the installation, you compared it to another exhibition at the same museum, and you provided a clear assessment of concrete elements that made it a successful experience for you professionally and personally. Good job.

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