By Staci Wolfson
It’s a motif that has fascinated artists, theologians and philosophers for centuries. And now the circle – and all its iterations and implications – is the central theme of the American Visionary Art Museum’s 17th annual, nearly yearlong exhibition.
The exhibition, “All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs and Karma,” takes on the broad subject matter of all instances of roundness in our lives, time and spirituality.
Founded by Rebecca Hoffberger in 1995, AVAM’s mission is to display the work of artists, both known and unknown, who are without formal training and work in often unconventional media like matchsticks, paper plates and socks.
With the memories of my first trip to AVAM fresh in my mind, I was looking forward to my next visit to the kitschy, off-beat three-building museum off of Key Highway in Federal Hill. On my first trip to AVAM, I delighted in the exhibition at the time, “What Makes Us Smile?” The quirky subject matter was a perfect match for the museum itself, and the thought-provoking pieces made a coherent, intriguing collection.
While “All Things Round” is enjoyable, the scope is broad – perhaps too much so. I found the line between the artwork in the permanent collection and the art in the exhibit fuzzy. And some pieces in the collection curated by Hoffberger and Mary Ellen “Dolly” Vehlow didn’t seem to fit in with the overarching theme, despite its very open possibilities.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is Californian Scott Weaver’s Rolling Through the Bay, a massive and intricate sculpture of San Francisco that took 37 years, more than 100,000 toothpicks and multiple gallons of Elmer’s glue to create.
The geographically accurate amalgamation of toothpicks is certainly a sight to behold. It is almost unfathomable to think about the tedious hours spent and the painstaking precision taken to create something so large out of something so small and delicate.
My personal favorites included Maryland’s Mark Swidler’s 30 Styrofoam Cups, small faces carved out of Styrofoam coffee cups. I also enjoyed Wendy Brackman’s Paper Plate Mandala, an impressive, colorful 8-foot structure reminiscent of the Hindu and Buddhist religious symbol. And Carl Jung’s collection of psychiatric patient Adolf Wölfli’s mandala-style artwork was an interesting look at the circle’s role in human psychology.
Perhaps the most appealing artwork in the exhibit and in the museum overall is that which is the culmination of community-inspired initiatives.
Emily Duffy’s 5-foot-4 BraBall, a colorful, solid ball of bras from thousands of women around the world challenges preconceived notions surrounding women’s bodies. Dedicated to a breast cancer survivor, in this exhibit, the BraBall is accompanied by notes from bra donors, expressing a mix of emotions from gratitude, happiness and pride.
Also striking is the staircase walls adorned with postcards from Marylander Frank Warren’s PostSecret collection. While the last exhibit’s PostSecret cards included funny, giggle-worthy secrets, these include often poignant and relevant secrets focused on karma, like that from the former homophobe who discovered he was homosexual and found himself with no friends.
While the subject matter takes some time to digest and at sometimes feels disjointed, AVAM’s “All Things Round” is as delightfully whimsical as its home, and when its pieces hit the mark, it’s very much on point.
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