YUMMM! The Visionary Art Museum of Baltimore Puts on a Feast

Egg Barn--Artist not given, Permanent Collection, photo by Jack Hoffberger. Photo Courtesy of the American Visionary Art Museum

Museums that Women Love – First in a Six Part Series

Wow! This is one seriously different art museum—and I love it! We all enjoy visiting the great museums of the world to see the visions of the famous artists of the past. This visionary art museum shows us visions of an entirely different realm. For a fresh take on a day at a museum which will literally “shock and awe” you, take a day trip to the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM).

Maryland’s Federal Hill neighborhood in Baltimore houses AVAM, just off the highway linking Baltimore with Washington DC. The museum specializes in the “preservation and display of outsider art”. In addition, Congress designated AVAM as America’s national museum for self-taught art.

The Exhibits at AVAM

Color is simply everywhere as you approach the unusual building, repurposed from an 1890 abandoned paint factory. That includes from a ten foot mosiac “egg” that shines in the afternoon sun. One of first sights that greets you inside is a huge hand, reaching up towards the sky.
Golden Hand Artist: Adam Kurtzman 2005, Permanent Collection - Photo Courtesy of the American Visionary Art Museum

Golden Hand Artist: Adam Kurtzman 2005, Permanent Collection
Photo Courtesy of the American Visionary Art Museum

Follow that with a bejeweled “Blues ArtCar” and a “Stairway to the Stars” filled with a sparkling life size Icarus with wings tumbling headlong towards you. You know immediately that this is going to be a different type of artistic experience!

Black Icarus Artist: Andrew Logan, 1999, Permanent Collection - Photo Courtesy of the AVAM

Black Icarus Artist: Andrew Logan, 1999, Permanent Collection
Photo Courtesy of the American Visionary Art Museum

This museum was created in 1984 to house the expressions of those who simply see the world a little differently. As English writer Jonathan Swift put it simply, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” Visionaries perceive potential and creative relationships where most of us don’t. This museum celebrates the unique ability of visionary artists and their “willingness to be called fools, to make mistakes, to be wrong. Those brave scouts at the frontier of the unknown who explore their visions with a passionate single-mindedness.”

Special Exhibits

While the permanent exhibits are always enjoyable, the current Special Exhibit, entitled simply “Yummm!”, illustrates the visionary concept with unusual colors, sizes and concepts. Joining leading visionary artists are food scientists, farmers, nutritionists, environmental activists, psychologists, poets and humorists who together publicly explore humankind’s complex, multi-layered relationship with food.

AVAM says that the goal is to “to inspire a greater public awareness of the revolutionary creativity. Envision how a future planet of 9.5 billion earthlings will safely eat, cultivate, distribute, share, and even package food in radically more healthful, less wasteful, and equitable ways.”

If the museum seeks to stir up conversation, and even controversy with this exhibit, it is certainly successful. “Shared Dining” engages the viewer. Female inmates at a high-security Connecticut prison created the tabletop installation. Customized place settings honor personal heroes of the inmate artists. Their heroes include Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and Nascar driver Danica Patrick. The place settings are accompanied by poignant audio of the women talking about their choices of heroines they wish they could dine with. It makes you think; who would you would honor through your own diner party.

You will also have a somber chuckle at the piece entitled “We Gave You Corn—You Gave Us Smallpox” by Native American artist Craig Norton. Complex power issues are embedded in food, including its history as a tool in wartime.

What’s Next

At the end of your visit, be sure to check out their very unusual items at the museum store. Then sit a minute to rest near the outside installation of Universal Tree of Life by Bob Benson and Rick Ames. Watching the shiny leaves twinkle and shimmer in the breeze will mesmerize you. Just don’t fall asleep on the bench in the afternoon sun.

Plan to end your museum stroll in the late afternoon.  Stroll a few blocks to the top deck the Rusty Scupper seafood restaurant for a drink. There, you can watch the sunset on one of the most beautiful harbor areas in America. Or walk the opposite direction to Little Italy to enjoy a meal at Ciao Bella. A traditional Italian eatery called “old-fashioned but not stodgy” by the Baltimore Sun food critic. Walls painted a warm goldenrod yellow, earthy brick walls and a fireplace give charm to the decor. For a wonderful ending to the day, get an Italian pastry at a historical landmark, Viccarro’s Italian Pastry Shop. Their motto is “life is short, eat dessert first!”

Crème cannoli - Photo courtesy of Vaccarro's Italian Pastry Shop Baltimore

Crème Cannoli – Photo courtesy of Vaccarro’s Italian Pastry Shop

Great art, a beautiful harbor at sunset, and some chocolate crème cannoli—now that’s my idea of how to spend a perfect day!

Baltimore Skyline - Photo courtesy of Baltimore Tourism

Baltimore Harbor at Dark – Photo courtesy of Baltimore Tourism

Helpful Facts

American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM)

800 Key Highway, Baltimore. Park at one of several parking garages in the area that have metered parking. Or take the free “Charm City Circulator.” Find Circulator info, including Route Maps, Schedule, Alerts, and more online at www.charmcitycirculator.com.

Open 10:00-6:00, Tuesdays-Sundays (Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving Days)
Entry Fees are: Adults $10, Seniors $8, Children: age six and up $6

Nearby Restaurants

Rusty Scupper, 402 Key Highway, Inner Harbor Marina, Baltimore 410-727-3678
Ciao Bella, 236 S High St, Little Italy, Baltimore 410-685-7733
Viccarro’s Italian Pastry Shop, 222 Albemarle St., Little Italy, Baltimore 410-685-4905


Marcy is the daughter of a world traveler.  Her father used to take her on his lap and tell about how he had been a Merchant Marine as a young man, traveling across the oceans and “jumping ship” for a few days when the ship docked in an exotic port.  He would leave ship with only a suitcase full of women’s fine nylons and bars of chocolate—and with those two items he could get anything that he wanted in port. Filled with...read more

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