The Baltimore Museum of Art announced on Nov. 30 a major new biennial commission made possible by a historic endowment gift from local philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker.

Mickalene Thomas

Internationally renowned contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas

As the first named public art commission for a U.S. museum, the Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Biennial Commission fosters the creation of new works by international contemporary artists, cultivates aspiring curators through a parallel fellowship, and activates the BMA’s East Lobby with publicly accessible art.

A priority for the selection of both the artist and the curatorial fellow is to strengthen the diversity of the museum. Internationally renowned contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas was chosen for the inaugural commission, and applications for the first curatorial fellow will open in December.
“Mickalene Thomas’ installation will transform the Baltimore Museum of Art’s East Lobby by employing a generous language of welcome quite different from what is traditionally associated with cultural institutions and also deeply aligned with the museum’s bold new mission,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis director. “In addition to transforming its public face, the BMA is committed to creating an internal culture of excellence and equity and developing the next generation of museum leaders drawn from diverse backgrounds.

“Bob and Rheda’s visionary act of generosity has ensured that the world’s most important contemporary artists will make new, adventurous work for the City of Baltimore, while also providing for a permanent fellowship designed to change the pathway into museum leadership in the 21st century. No gift could carry greater significance for the future of this institution.”

Said Clair Zamoiski Segal, chair of the BMA’s Board of Trustees: “This transformative initiative embodies the BMA’s commitment to the dual pursuit of artistic excellence and social equity. We are especially grateful for the support of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, which allows us to expand our impact in both areas with the creation of this commission.”

Mickalene Thomas said she is “thrilled to be the first recipient to receive this tremendous commission from Mr. Meyerhoff and Ms. Becker for the BMA. This opportunity allows me to set the precedent by representing their values. My hope is to represent, engage, and bring visibility to Baltimore’s African-American community. We will occupy the museum as our home by bringing the diversity that is needed to fill these spaces. I know being the first comes with tremendous responsibility, as does creating a space that’s genuinely welcoming of a diverse community.

“Collaboration from our institutions along with forward-thinking patrons and directors are necessary to make this a reality,” said the New York-based Thomas. “I’d like to thank the BMA along with Christopher Bedford, and most of all the donors, for entrusting me with a part of their legacy.”

The creation of the commission marks the second major gift allocated to the BMA by Meyerhoff and Becker, who belong to Beth Am Congregation in Reservoir Hill. In 2012, the philanthropists gifted the museum $1.5 million in support of a renovation of its contemporary art wing.

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