36 feet long, 14 feet high
Site-specific wallpaper with custom painted details, including 19th century painted Baltimore chair from the museum collection installed at the Baltimore Museum of Art
November 2021 - April 2022
This wallpaper artwork fragments and reconnects elements from 19th century decorative objects in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection to explore difficult legacies from Baltimore City history, 1800-1850, when it was one of the largest cities in the country and the site of a busy port. Pointing specifically to Baltimore Album Quilts - textiles with a regionally distinct visual language -- and luxury furniture in the BMA’s collection produced for a powerful class of moneyed white Baltimore elites. Transforming and recombining multiple museum objects to expand aesthetic and narrative relationships across time (such as with the museum’s ancient Roman mosaics), this work highlights the limits and opportunities of collective memory in symbols of political and cultural importance.
This artwork was made by collaging painted and printed papers, scanning them, and digitally repeating them to form the patterned wallpaper. The painted colors and textures mimic the British and French imported fabrics typical of Baltimore Album Quilts of the period. Garlands that would typically feature a ship, monument, or bible instead now include moments from Baltimore history (such as a copy of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s publication, ‘Forest Leaves’), or from the BMA’s collection (such as a tiny moth from a Joshua Johnson painted portrait). Some blocks merge both history and museum object -- the wooden wardrobe made in 1830 by Quaker furnituremaker John Needles, monumentalized to replace the Washington monument in Baltimore, with his memoir’s activist remembrances blooming into a frame of flowers for the enlarged carved paw of the furniture’s base. Other blocks gather artifacts such as a British-made abolitionist jug on display elsewhere in the museum, spilling feathers found in various artworks located in the same gallery. Birds become liberated, deformed, or expired; moths wave flags of mourning, and abundant cornucopias shake until empty. Grief and loss, as well as hope and despair, are common themes in response to the bright and lively Baltimore Album Quilt inspirations.
The Spolia paintings fragment numerous neoclassical decorative schema found in Baltimore Painted Furniture, such as scrolls, swags, stripes and bows, as well as mythical fauna and trophies. On each small painting is an actual section of a wooden chair, from two chairs I found in my alley. I wanted to incorporate a physical reference to my neighborhood, similar to the chairs that served as inspiration in the BMA’s collection, and fortuitously found it literally in my own backyard. This white-painted furniture foregrounds the idea of erasure amid an excess of decoration. The 19th century mirror has a bold, imposing eagle at its apex. The mirror’s authoritative form and typical use as an object to reflect a room and its inhabitants is affirmed and subverted: In this case, the mirror is hung very high and will not reflect the visitors in the gallery, which is also a kind of commentary on reckoning with the places and things protected by an incomplete American history.
Installation view, All Due Respect, November 2021. The Baltimore Museum of Art, photo by Mitro Hood