Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) to Open Shapeshifting: Transformations on Paper exhibition

BALTIMORE, MD — This May, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) will open an expansive exhibition that explores the centrality of metamorphosis to artistic creation and imagination across five centuries. Shapeshifting: Transformations on Paper will feature approximately 35 prints, drawings, photographs, and artists’ books drawn from the BMA’s collection. Inspired by classical myths, ideas of renewal, and shifting manifestations of identity, the works in the exhibition highlight the many ways in which transformation has compelled and captivated both artists and viewers. The presentation includes works by Margaret Burroughs, Théodore Chassériau, Zackary Drucker, Samuel Fosso, Hendrick Goltzius, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Gerda Wegener, and numerous others. This eclectic selection demonstrates that the fluidity of identity is not merely a post-modern notion but one deeply rooted in the history of art and reflects the BMA’s mission to present diversity and equity across time. Shapeshifting is on view May 8–October 2, 2022, and is the second exhibition to be presented in the BMA’s recently opened Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

“Shapeshifting reflects the mission of our new study center to engage audiences with new narratives inspired by the museum’s extensive collection of prints, drawings, and photographs,” said Andaleeb Badiee Banta, BMA Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. “The process of transformation is embedded in everyday life and experience. For this reason, it has provided a fertile lens for artists across centuries to consider and understand its relationship to changing concepts of identity and self-presentation in contemporary culture.”

The works in the exhibition are organized loosely around a range of subjects, including natural cycles of decay and renewal, mystical metamorphoses, performance and masquerade, aesthetic and physical articulations of gender and identity, and corporeal transformations of materials in the process of artistic creation. Many of the works showcase hybrid entities that create unexpected connections and upend standard approaches to categorization. Collectively, the works challenge traditional binary structures, highlighting the mutability and evolution of physical, social, and political constructs.

A selection of highlight objects from the exhibition follows:

Margaret Burroughs (American, 1915-2010). Black Venus. 1957: The ocean, with its ever-shifting boundaries and changing nature, has long been associated with the concept of metamorphosis, and artists have often invoked it to symbolize diverse geographical, historical, and social shifts. Chicago artist and activist Margaret Burroughs’ Black Venus demonstrates the magnitude of the African diaspora through an image of a mythic Black Venus crossing the ocean in triumph. Defying the brutality of the transatlantic slave trade and the racist iconography used to justify it, the central Black female figure stands astride the waves as an expression of her power.

Théodore Chassériau (French, 1819–1856). Apollo and Daphne. 1844: The lithograph captures the tale of Daphne and Apollo from the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Apollo, god of the sun and poetry, desires the chaste wood nymph Daphne. Daphne prays to the gods to protect her from his romantic pursuit and is transformed into a laurel tree. As a gesture of mourning, Apollo cuts off a laurel branch and wears it as a crown. The image of Daphne sprouting into leaf was popular among artists wanting to demonstrate their ability to mimic the changing properties of nature and the passions driving the human psyche.

Zackary Drucker (American, b. 1983) #35 (Pygmalion), from the series Relationship 2008–2014, printed 2020: This works references the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion and Galatea from Metamorphoses. The sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his carving of the ideal woman, Galatea, who becomes flesh and blood through the help of Venus, the goddess of love. Artists have returned to this subject for centuries, with varied interpretations. Here, Zackary Drucker employs the myth to question traditional feminine norms and the unrealistic expectations associated with feminine beauty standards.

Toyin Ojih Odutola (Nigerian, active in the United States, b. 1985). LTS IX. 2014: In this drawing, Toyin Ojih Odutola portrays one of her brothers among patterns and colors reminiscent of African mud cloth textiles, Ife carvings, and scarification designs. The image challenges the viewer to untangle the figure from the background as a reflection of the artist’s experience of adapting to different contexts as her family moved from Nigeria to Alabama. The work belongs to a series titled Like the Sea, abbreviated as LTS, after a passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”

Man Ray (American, 1890–1976). Le Violon d’Ingres. 1924: Man Ray likened the body of celebrated cabaret singer, model, and artist Kiki of Montparnasse (born Alice Prin) to the curves of a violin. In this work, he captures her form, keeping her arms out of view and drawing f-shaped sound holes at her waist. He then rephotographed the composition, transforming her body into a symbol of heterosexual male desire.

Paula Gately Tillman (American, b. 1946). RuPaul outside his apartment building, from the “Bad Ass” photo shoot, Atlanta, 1986. 1986: Baltimore-based artist Paula Gately Tillman photographed an eclectic array of personalities in the Atlanta and New York alternative scenes during the 1980s and early 1990s. She met RuPaul through her friend Dick Richards, co-founder of the Atlanta-based Funtone Records label and one of the creators of the public access television program The American Music Show. This is one of several portraits she made of RuPaul between 1986 and 1992, capturing his rise from an underground figure to full-fledged celebrity and drag icon.

This exhibition is organized by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, BMA Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and Leslie Cozzi, BMA Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

The Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs is generously supported by Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the Henry Luce Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

More information:

Paula Gately Tillman. RuPaul, Atlanta. 1986. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Artist in Honor of her Friend, Dick Richards, a creator of The American Music Show and co-founder of Funtone Records. BMA 2015.91 © Paula Gately Tillman