Baltimore, city of Smoke & Mirrors

A few weeks ago I sent out a notice to friends of mine that I had started a new blog about collage. By mistake (or was it?) I included the name of my neighbor who saw the site and commented that she didn’t realize that I was an art historian. I’m not, by the way, but like a lot of people who call Baltimore home, I came here to go to art school, MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and never left.

We began talking and both she and her husband were there at the same time I was. They were in graduate school and I was an undergrad, but we had mutual friends. I mentioned a guy who was studying sculpture and lived upstairs from me. Not only did they know him, but they lived downstairs from him, oh yeah, and me! This is Baltimore, hon. A city comprised of smoke and mirrors, where you can make a left turn and find yourself on Main Street, USA, circa 1940, or catapulted into the future.

Which leads me the American Visionary Museum and the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is where I took the picture of the pink poodle. The museum alone is worth knowing about, because it has the most interesting gathering of artists ever. Everyone is untrained formally, but every one of them has a strikingly clear vision. Here’s what the museum says about it’s artists:

Visionary artists don’t listen to anyone else’s traditions. They invent their own. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as ‘art.’ Dubuffet’s beloved Art Brut Collections, formed exclusively from the “raw art” creations of non-artists, such as street people, hermits, factory workers, housewives and psychic mediums, motivated him to say: “Art is at its best when it forgets its very name.” It is this listening to one’s inner voice with such focused attention that contributes to the unusually large number of visionary art works -many of which took decades to create. Yet there are still common threads. The most common theme of visionary artists worldwide is the backyard recreation of the Garden of Eden and other utopian visions -quite literally building heaven on earth.

So it’s only natural that the kinetic sculpture race would be a part of the Museum’s interests. They have been hosting the race since 2001, and it is the most amazing mixture of zaniness and extreme engineering imaginable.

The Kinetic Sculpture Race describes itself as:  human powered works of art custom built for the race. Each May, the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) hosts the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championship on the shore of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in central Maryland.  The eight-hour race covers 15 miles—mostly on pavement, but also including a trip into the Chesapeake Bay and through mud and sand.

Kinetic Sculpture Racing traces its roots to Ferndale, California in 1969 when artist Hobart Brown upgraded his son’s tricycle into a 5-wheeled pentacycle that was part of a race down Main Street. Over the decades since, the California race evolved into a 3-day all-terrain Kinetic Grand Championship including treacherous sand dunes, water crossings, and elaborate sculptures and costumes. You can learn more on Wikipedia.


2 thoughts on “Baltimore, city of Smoke & Mirrors

  1. what! no pictures of the best costumes in the entire kenetic race. oh well. by the way did you see the little shrine in eastwood field? some little plastic birds,a card and some busted up flowers. rather touching in a weird way.

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