EDITOR’S NOTE: We officially changed our name from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) on July 1, 2019. News stories posted on the Global Media Center are now using the new UMGC name. However, because the transition to the university’s new name will take several months to complete, you may still see the UMUC name, logo and look on our website and other materials through early 2020.
In the afternoon portion of the daylong University of Maryland Global Campus Arts Program trip in June, the busload of participants, including members of the university’s Art Advisory Board, got to look in the mirror .. sort-of.
During the opening reception for “The Blues and the Abstract Truth: Voices of African American Art” at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland, the UMGC contingent saw a work by fellow trip participant Alec Simpson, titled “Trysting Place” (1995), hanging on the wall.
The large color print, on loan from the UMGC permanent collection, consists of horizontal, often cloudy bands of black-and-white above a livelier region of dancing reds, greens, blues and purples. In the bottom region, Simpson often allowed the paint to drip and to swell.
Standing before his abstract work, Simpson recalled that he made it while on a family reunion in Charleston, South Carolina, where he chanced upon a printmaking facility, made a reservation and received studio space for four days as well as an assistant.
“My hands stayed dirty working,” he said. He was then using oil-based inks, which have long-lasting colors, but he has since switched to water-based ones, which are less toxic and less prone to giving him headaches. The paper he used, a German-made variety called Hahnemühle, is a heavier stock and has a yellow tint to it.
“It’s not quite white,” he said. “It takes the ink better in terms of the texture of it, but in terms of the color, you have to play around with it.”
Asked about the title of the work, “Trysting Place,” Simpson said he had two friends engaged in what he considered an illicit relationship. “They had a place where they would meet up, and I called that the ‘trysting place,” he said. “This was playing off that. They know that I call it ‘trysting place.’”
The rest of the daylong art trip—which included visits to the newly-reopened Glenstone Museum in Potomac and to Just Lookin’ Gallery in Hagerstown, where many participant-collectors purchased artwork—wasn’t illicit. But at the gallery and the museum and poking around at the other exhibitions at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, trip participants had plenty of intimate moments with a wide range of powerful artwork.
At Glenstone, a site with outdoor sculptures and paintings and sculpture displayed in several museum galleries all set on about 300 acres, participants saw works ranging from Jeff Koons monumental stainless steel sculpture, with soil, fabric, and live plants,
titled “Split-Rocker” (2000) to smaller-scale paintings installed indoors like those by Kerry James Marshall, which probe the African-American experience. Marshall’s art draws upon traditions as varied as the Italian Renaissance, the Civil Rights movement, and African Diaspora rituals, according to the Glenstone website write-up.
In between the Glenstone buildings and on the walks to and from the bus, visitors were treated to stunning views, with rich flora, including bridges and trees, which provided much-appreciated shade on a warm day. The installation gave the overall impression that the beauty within the gallery spaces wasn’t disconnected and distinct from that of nature outside, and it encouraged people to look at the works inside through a natural lens—and even the plants and landscape outside with an aesthetic eye.
After lunch at the Hagerstown restaurant 28 South, which drew unanimous praise from several participants who were asked, the group visited the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. The main exhibition on the docket featured works from the permanent collections of UMGC and from the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland.
The exhibit aims to “introduce audiences in western Maryland and the surrounding region to the story of African American art,” Rebecca Massie Land, the museum director, wrote in the forward to the exhibition catalog. “From the Harlem Renaissance to midcentury abstraction and turn-of-the-century postmodernism, these works by the 50 artists in the exhibition are testimonies to the lives of African Americans.” The show included some names that will be new to many visitors, as well as renowned artists like Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, Alma Thomas, and Kara Walker.
Eric Key, arts program director at UMGC, knows many of these works intimately, but he was impressed seeing them in new contexts. “Two words: inspired and impressive. The artworks work well together. They communicate a story,” he said. “Overall, it’s just really nice. It puts a smile on your face.”
The exhibit also affords visitors to the museum who aren’t familiar with UMGC’s art collection an opportunity to get to know some of its greatest hits. “That’s what we wanted to do—get the works out of our facility to the community, and this is the way to do it,” Key said. (The exhibition catalog may be viewed online here)
The last stop on the trip was Just Lookin’, where the group saw hundreds of works covering nearly every inch of available wall space in the large gallery. They also rifled through stacks of works arranged in boxes (as one would LPs in a record store), and many participants, whether newbies or seasoned collectors, purchased works.
As stated on its website, the gallery is the kind of place “you ‘come home to’ and take home with you,” and has one of the largest selections of original art by African American artists in the United States. Some of the works on sale—or hanging on the walls but with an already-purchased sticker—were produced by artists whose work the group had seen on view at Glenstone and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, which lent the day a nice consistency.
“Opening the gallery was our solution to the endless frustrations we encountered while attempting to collect original black art,” the gallerists note on the Just Lookin’ website. “We have been educating and nurturing art lovers since the beginning. Our mission is to expose you to the diversity of fine original art and help educate you about the rewards of fine art collecting.”
Judging from anecdotal conversations overheard among the UMGC group, several participants had visited the gallery many times and have themselves played an important role in educating others about—and about collecting—the works of these important and often unfairly-neglected artists.