Adorned: African Women and the Art of Identity
A full forty-four years had passed since a sitting American president had declared “war” on an American city. The last time, it was Gerald Ford telling New York to “drop dead” in 1975. And in 2019—again a Republican to a Democratic-leaning city—it was Trump calling Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” The comment was an infantile riposte to the dignified Congressman Elijah Cummings, who had dared to criticize 45.
Cummings succumbed to cancer on October 17, after decades of loyal service to his city of birth. But he would likely be pleased to know that the attention afforded Baltimore as a result of the feud would ultimately have a positive effect. After all, the media loves an underdog and, well, they don’t have much love for the antagonist-in-chief in the White House.
We popped down to Charm City for a holiday visit, and immediately came across a skinny Asian hipster kid onstage in the middle of a quirky Christmas market playing “Folsom Prison Blues” spot on. Which pretty much sums up what we love about Baltimore.
Here are six more reasons for a winter 2020 visit.
Alexander Brown restaurant
It’s becoming clearer that climate change fallout has probably assured that the Northeast Corridor will pretty much have to stop dreaming of a white Christmas forever. So the Harbor Point Ice Festival this month becomes almost an act of nostalgia, for those lost times when things used to actually freeze in January. About 50,000 pounds of ice will be carved into mad fun interactive exhibits, including a slide and a graffiti wall. It might make you forget for a moment that 10,000 miles away, an entire continent is on fire.
Art Nouveau is still one of the most influential styles of the last century-and-a-half. And the Walters Art Museum gathers a stunning collection of books by two of its most iconic purveyors, William Morris and Alfonse Mucha—including a special edition of Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli, with original watercolor illustrations by the latter. The permanent collection at the Walters is also one of America’s best, reaching across the millennia – so do plan to spend some time with it.
With historically strict gender divisions in artistic output across sub-Saharan Africa, this exhibition brings together two dozen works that convey the role of women in shaping the cultural identity of the continent. For this show the exalted Baltimore Museum of Art assembled beaded aprons and capes from the Ndebele artists of South Africa, jewelry from Kenya and Tanzania, and textiles from Nigeria—each with its own set of internal signifiers underlying its aesthetic beauty. Through June 19.
Surely the only artist to claim Cubism and the Harlem Renaissance as influences, Mickalene Thomas’ striking collage works have made her one of contemporary art’s most powerful female voices. For this project, she has transformed the Baltimore Museum of Art’s two-story lobby into a sort of fantastical “living room,” reflecting her most vivid aesthetic signatures. Through May 2021.
At one of the country’s most iconoclastic cultural institutions—the American Visionary Art Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year—this sprawling exhibition was curated with the consultation of top global earth science researchers (you know, people who genuinely understand science). It attempts to make some sense of how our actions have disrupted the delicate balance of nature, and to clearly explicate the difference between climate and weather (a difference which some politicians seem to be having trouble with). Helpfully, it also proffers possible solutions to some of the most exigent eco problems. Through September 6.
The Maryland Historical Society opened up the costume collection archives to assemble a survey of more than a hundred garments across four centuries. Designers represented include Claire McCardell, Hermès and Pierre Cardin, and there are even fashions worn by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as well as opera singer turned women’s suffrage activist Amelia Himes Walker. Through October 2020.
For proper immersion in authentic Baltimore, check in to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, fitted into the stunning former headquarters of the B&O Railroad, a Beaux Arts masterpiece dating to 1906. Inside are acres of marble, a pair of dramatic central staircases surrounded by Tiffany stained glass, and ornate coffered ceilings. Plan to spend some time just taking it all in, and filling up your Instagram pages.
Upstairs, rooms are signature Kimpton style, with a slightly quirky, mildly flamboyant elegance. To wit, fleur de lys drapery, regal, gold checked wall coverings, and luxe furnishings. A cheeky touch are the plush leopard print robes; but particularly thoughtful is a list of items—cell phone chargers, makeup mirrors, international adapters, sewing kits, deodorant—that they will fetch for you on demand. Higher floor rooms have views to the harbor.
The adjacent B&O American Brasserie is great for a casual lunch of lobster and avocado salad or a classic white flatbread. But one of our truly new favorite restaurants, Alexander Brown, is just around the corner. In a grandiose former bank building—marble pillars, a spectacular stained glass dome—it serves up classics like crab beignets, seared scallops and chicken roulade, plus amazingly good AB Old Fashioneds at the elegant bar.