Using funds received through a gift from the Baltimore-based philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, the Baltimore Museum of Art is launching a biennial commission program through which artists will create site-specific works for the museum’s lobby. Mickalene Thomas, a New York–based artist best known for her photo-based works that collage and remix images of black women, has been selected as the first to participate, for a work that will go on view next fall.
The gift will also support a curatorial fellowship, for which a curator will be selected to work with the artist chosen for the commission. Each fellow will receive a $40,000 stipend and mentorship from staff at the BMA.
Both the fellowship and the commission program are intended to diversify the museum’s programming. “The question that occupies me is: How do you remake the faith in a public institution in such a way that far more diverse populations see the museum as a welcoming environment?” Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s director, told ARTnews. The commission will forego conventions of the past, he said, for “more of an emphasis on using the minds of today’s greatest artists to re-conceive what a museum now might look like.”
Earlier this year, the BMA announced a controversial decision to sell works from its collection by Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg at Sotheby’s. Using funds from the sales, the museum acquired pieces by women and artists of color, including Isaac Julien, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Jack Whitten, and Wangechi Mutu.
Funds for the new program mark the second major gift Meyerhoff and Becker have given to the BMA. In 2012, the philanthropists gifted the museum $1.5 million in support of a renovation of its contemporary art wing.