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Baltimore Museum of Art announces first named public art commission for U.S. museum
Mickalene Thomas - Topical Cream. Photo by Lyndsy Welgos. © Lyndsy Welgos.

BALTIMORE, MD.- The Baltimore Museum of Art announced today a major new biennial commission made possible by an historic endowment gift from Baltimore philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker. As the first named public art commission for a U.S. museum, the Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Biennial Commission fosters the creation of new works by international contemporary artists, cultivates aspiring curators through a parallel fellowship, and activates the BMA’s East Lobby with publicly accessible art. A priority for the selection of both the artist and the curatorial fellow is to strengthen the diversity of the museum. Internationally renowned contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas has been chosen for the inaugural commission, and applications for the first curatorial fellow will open in December.

“Mickalene Thomas’ installation will transform The Baltimore Museum of Art’s East Lobby by employing a generous language of welcome quite different from what is traditionally associated with cultural institutions and also deeply aligned with the museum’s bold new mission,” said Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “In addition to transforming its public face, the BMA is committed to creating an internal culture of excellence and equity and developing the next generation of museum leaders drawn from diverse backgrounds. Bob and Rheda’s visionary act of generosity has ensured that the world’s most important contemporary artists will make new, adventurous work for the City of Baltimore, while also providing for a permanent fellowship designed to change the pathway into museum leadership in the 21st century. No gift could carry greater significance for the future of this institution.”

“This transformative initiative embodies the BMA’s commitment to the dual pursuit of artistic excellence and social equity,” added Clair Zamoiski Segal, Chair of the BMA’s Board of Trustees. “We are especially grateful for the support of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, which allows us to expand our impact in both areas with the creation of this commission.”

Building on the success of recent site-specific installations by artists Adam Pendleton and Tomás Saraceno, the twostory East Lobby was chosen as the location for the Meyerhoff-Becker Biennial Commission, as it is the BMA’s most welcoming and accessible space, connecting several key areas within the museum. In fall 2019, the Biennial Commission will completely transform the East Lobby with a new work by Thomas. Best known for her elaborately constructed and conceptually complex rhinestone-encrusted paintings of African American women, Thomas examines concepts such as power and beauty through a feminist lens, drawing on imagery rooted in art history and pop culture.

“I’m thrilled to be the first recipient to receive this tremendous commission from Mr. Meyerhoff and Ms. Becker for the BMA. This opportunity allows me to set the precedent by representing their values,” said artist Thomas. “My hope is to represent, engage, and bring visibility to Baltimore’s African American community. We will occupy the museum as our home by bringing the diversity that is needed to fill these spaces. I know being the first comes with tremendous responsibility, as does creating a space that’s genuinely welcoming of a diverse community. Collaboration from our institutions along with forward-thinking patrons and directors are necessary to make this a reality. I’d like to thank the BMA along with Christopher Bedford, and most of all the donors, for entrusting me with a part of their legacy.”

The Meyerhoff-Becker Curatorial Fellowship complements the Biennial Commission by providing an opportunity for a rising curator to work directly with the chosen artist and Bedford on the development and implementation of the installation. Fellows will receive direct mentorship from senior museum staff in addition to practical experience working with contemporary artists, along with a $40,000 stipend. Post-graduate professionals with museum experience are invited to apply for the inaugural year-long residency in Baltimore starting May 2019. Details will be available in December at, with applications due January 31, 2019.

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