If most people think of contemporary Baltimore as the land of John Waters, then maybe the Baltimore Museum of Art’s growing presence on the contemporary art scene may help diversify people’s perceptions beyond the drag queen Divine and campy gay bars. The museum announced details yesterday about their renovation currently in progress on its contemporary wing. The space will feature a new installation of the museum’s contemporary art collection, as well as smaller spaces for more experimental exhibitions and practical updates to the building, including a new lighting system, new floor and wall finishes, and the removal of two structural columns. The wing opens November 17, 2012.

Olafur Eliasson, "Flower observatory"

Olafur Eliasson, “Flower observatory” (2004)

“Programmatically, it’s been an opportunity for us to rethink how we want to tell the story of contemporary art and how we want to introduce temporary exhibition spaces that will compliment our holdings with the very latest trends in contemporary art,” Kristen Hileman, the BMA’s contemporary art curator, says in an interview with Hyperallergic.

One of the most prominent pieces in the wing will be a site-specific work by artist Sarah Oppenheimer, which the museum plans to acquire for its collection. Oppenheimer will cut a hole in the floor between two of the wing’s new galleries and then create a sculpture connecting them. She’ll also create another sculpture, this one linking the modernist galleries and the contemporary wing, that includes mirrors; viewers will be able to see into the contemporary wing while standing in the modernist galleries. “It serves as a metaphor for opening up the museum and getting rid of the barriers between different periods,” Hileman says.

Other highlights include a blue, beaded curtain by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled (Water),” which the museum acquired just before the artist passed away. The piece will be installed in the doorway of one of the “monumentally scaled” galleries, underneath a skylight.

Robert Rauschenberg, “Honorarium (Spread)” (1981)

The wing’s new black-box and works-on-paper spaces will house rotating temporary exhibitions, the first a collection of portrait photographs by South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. Mthethwa “brings this amazing painterly aesthetic to the photographs he makes,” says Hileman. His human figures will complement the museum’s abstraction-and minimalism-heavy collection.

Allora & Calzadilla "A Man Screaming Is Not a Dancing Bear"

Allora & Calzadilla “A Man Screaming Is Not a Dancing Bear” (2008)

The temporary exhibitions will focus on work by international, lesser-known artists, and overall, according to Hileman, the reinstallation of the contemporary galleries will highlight the diversity of the BMA’s collection. “We have great holdings of African American and women artists,” she said, “so it’s not as if I thought to put a diverse reinstallation together. It just happened naturally.”

“I just give so much credit to the curators who came before,” she added, “because they had the foresight to do that before it was trendy or something where you had to make up lost ground.”

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Image in top graphic courtesy BMA and Houston Culturemap

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...