You are unlikely to find a more colorful, vibrant museum than the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The “wows” begin even before you get inside. The building itself glitters and gleams from the mirrored mosaic that covers the main entrance and there is a shiny glass-covered bus out front along with an enormous rotating structure known as the Giant WhirliGig.
Once inside, exhibits of interest to children and adults abound. The American Visionary Art Museum is a museum dedicated to self-taught artists, many of whom are considered “outsider artists” because of disability or mental illness. The result is a collection that is unlike any seen in a traditional museum spread out over a large four-story building, two annexes, and the museum’s grounds. The permanent collection includes my children’s favorite exhibit — the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre housed in one of the annexes. This exhibit consists of a large number of interactive multi-media works that move when visitors push buttons placed at child-height. My children happily move up and down the long row of artworks pushing buttons and watching them go. The annex also includes robot sculptures made from found objects and a fanciful airplane and solar system instillation suspended from the ceiling that is best viewed from the annex’s second-story catwalk. Enormous pink poodles popular with toddler girls can also be found in the annex.
Most of the exhibit space in the main museum rotates annually. The current traveling exhibit includes: large rotating fairy houses made from materials found in nature; “Life as Theatre” which allows children to open several doors to reveal tiny replica theatres; a carved wooden birdhouse; quilts depicting unusual eyebrows and elephant emotions; and a stegosaurus sculpture made out of items found in the trash. Although the specific works on display may change, the feel and whimsical nature of the museum does not.
Over the years I have never seen an exhibit that disappoints. Because none of the artists whose work is displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum has formal training, their work tends to consists of objects familiar to children. Some works include mundane items such as rulers and forks turned into stunning pieces. Other works contain the same materials children themselves use in their art projects, like sequins and string. Because of this, children are perhaps able to relate to the art work on display at the American Visionary Art Museum more easily than art created by trained artists. Seeing such art may also inspire children to think about new ways in which they can use what they have on-hand to create and may also plant the seed that their own work may one day be good enough to be housed in a museum. Since some of the work in the museum was created by individuals with disabilities such as Down Syndrome and schizophrenia, it is also a good opportunity to show that people of all abilities are able achieve great things.
If you go, be sure not to miss the two annexes to the museum as well as the numerous works of art displayed on the museum grounds.
On a recent visit, we saw many children wandering the museum from infants through teens. Because of the variety and near-universal appeal of the exhibits on display, the American Visionary Art Museum is a good choice for mixed-age siblings and a great choice for an activity that children and grown-ups can enjoy equally. If you go, be sure to ask for the Scavenger Hunt activity guide available at the front desk available for primary and secondary students.
The American Visionary Art Museum is stroller-friendly. There are a few designated places to leave strollers and coats. Strollers can be used in the museum. There are open steps in the museum so families with young children may prefer to use the elevator even if their child is not in a stroller.
The American Visionary Art Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. There is plenty of metered parking just outside of the museum. Admission for adults is $15.95, children under six are admitted free of charge, and admission for students is $9.95. There is a restaurant in the museum.
Plan a day trip and go see what Visionary Art is all about!