Activating the Renaissance Pairs Contemporary Art with the Italian Renaissance at the Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, MD—The Walters Art Museum bridges the past and the present this spring in an exhibition that illustrates the connections between the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods and contemporary art, each offering insights into the other.
Opening April 14, Activating the Renaissance features paintings, photography, and sculpture by six artists, the majority from the Baltimore area: Jessica Bastidas, Tawny Chatmon, Bernhard Hildebrandt, Murjoni Merriweather, Stephen Towns, and Ventiko. Their art is displayed alongside paintings and sculpture from the Walters collection by masters such as Jacopo Pontormo and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Walters collection of Italian paintings constitutes one of the most significant holdings in the Americas and some of the most popular and well-known works in the museum.
“The extraordinary contemporary artists featured in this exhibition have created work that reinterprets and remixes elements of our Renaissance collection and highlights ways that art inspires across time,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “Activating the Renaissance speaks to the expanding diversity of stories we want to tell in the museum and illustrates how today’s artists continue to find inspiration in the methods and pictorial traditions of historic art while creating works that are relevant to our own times.”
Joaneath Spicer, James A. Murnaghan, Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art, selected the artists in the exhibition and worked with them to choose work for the exhibition that amplifies the resonance between art of the past and contemporary work. The display of these contemporary objects throughout the Italian Renaissance and Baroque galleries both highlights the techniques and stylistic elements that artists past and present use to share personal experience and engages the viewer in how they portray their subjects.
“Just like today, artists in the Renaissance were exploring their relationships to their environment and their sense of self. Their art used a visual language to communicate those ideas,” Spicer said. “As a curator, I find it exciting and informative to bring in contemporary work by artists that speaks to and interacts with the art already in the galleries. Their art as presented in this exhibition is an invitation for visitors to reflect on and join in the feelings they see portrayed.”
Text featuring both the curator’s and artists’ perspectives accompany each pairing of works in the exhibition to provide insight on how the contemporary art connects with the art of the past.
“There are so many surprising juxtapositions in this exhibition, which I think create space to see both works differently and to really focus on the connections between them,” said Jessica Bastidas, whose work Tears of the Black Madonna is featured in the exhibition. “The exhibition is aimed at creating a sense of empowerment and visibility. It is important for people to see themselves, their experiences, their observations of everyday life reflected in the subject matter.”
About the Artists
Jessica Bastidas completed her BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Design (MICA) in Baltimore in May 2016 with a dual major in Illustration and Humanistic Studies, a minor in Art History, and concentrations in Printmaking and Book Arts. In May 2017, Bastidas completed MICA’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. Bastidas currently teaches at McDonogh High School in Maryland. Over the years, Bastidas has exhibited principally in PA, NY, and MD with international exhibitions in Italy, São Tomé, France, the Commonwealth of Dominica and the United Kingdom.
Tawny Chatmon is a Tokyo-born photography based artist residing in Maryland. Her photographs are often digitally intensified by exaggerating the hairstyles of her subjects (who are often her children and other family members), lending them the eyes of someone older and wiser, elongating their form, and drawing inspiration from the Byzantine period to signify importance. Thereafter, she typically combines overlapping digital collage and illustration. After refining and printing, she frequently experiments with various art practices by hand-embellishing with acrylic paint, 24-karat gold leaf, and materials such as paper, semi-precious stones, glass, and other mixed media.
Bernhard Hildebrandt is a first generation American artist of German descent based in Baltimore. Hildebrandt’s work is conceptually informed by the relationship of painting and photography. He is represented by Barbara Mathes Gallery in New York where his recent solo show “Venice Recalled” was exhibited. His solo show “A Conjugation of Verb” was presented at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. Hildebrandt received his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Hoffberger School of Painting, studying with Grace Hartigan, and a BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design.
Murjoni Merriweather is a Black woman artist from Maryland. She has found that the best way to create and talk about black culture is through art, especially claywork. As a student from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Murjoni creates sculpted beings that are based around real people and real experiences. Her work addresses and eliminates stereotypes through clay portraits and video work. With this, she enjoys going against the European standards of “beauty” that are placed upon people of color and normalizing what is natural about black bodies.
Stephen Towns is a painter and fiber artist whose work explores how American history influences contemporary society. Towns received a Bachelor of Fine Art in painting from the University of South Carolina. His work has been exhibited locally and nationally, including solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Goucher College, Galerie Myrtis, as well as group exhibitions at Arlington Art Center, Montpelier Arts Center, Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum. His work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, American Craft Council Magazine, and The Baltimore Sun. Towns was honored as the inaugural recipient of the 2016 Municipal Art Society of Baltimore Travel Prize and received a Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance Rubys Artist Grant in 2015. In 2018, Towns was a semi-finalist for Sondheim Artscape Prize and awarded a MD State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award.
Ventiko is a critically acclaimed conceptual artist working in photography, film, performative experiences and social practice. Her/their work focuses on de/re-constructing societal positions on identity specifically sexuality, persona, gender and the state of the modern woman. Ventiko’s works have been exhibited and experienced internationally at art fairs (PULSE, Select, Korean International Art Fair, Sluice, Photo LA), institutions (Tate Modern, MOMA) and in the public sphere. She/they have been featured in Interview Magazine, Quiet Lunch, Korea Monthly Photo, Hyperallergic, The New York Times, Bedford & Bowery, Vulture, Emergency Index, Cool Hunting, Gothamist, Artist News, Posture Magazine, T Magazine, Frieze Magazine, The Creator’s Project, The L Magazine, Artnet News, Beautiful Decay, and Vogue Italia to name a few.
Activating the Renaissance is generously funded by supporters of the Walters Art Museum.
About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.
Admission to the museum and Activating the Renaissance is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit thewalters.org.
Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.