Like a medieval monastery after the fall of Rome, the Baltimore Museum of Art is a relic of another time filled with the relics of another era. The Baltimorean merchants, bankers, and railroad tycoons who decided a century ago that their city needed an art museum to boost its civic pride are long gone and Charm City’s favorite work of art is its mascot: a giant rat.
Does a city where a third of the population is functionally illiterate need a large collection of French impressionists? And does one of the nation’s murder capitals need Andy Warhol?
"At the BMA we have a singular vision for our immediate future, which is to put equity, diversity, and justice at the forefront of every decision," Christopher Bedford, the museum's very woke curator, declared.
Asma Naeem, a Pakistani immigrant and the BMA's new art curator, attacked a critic for not understanding the “equity-based vision, values and considerations that undergird our decision.”
Art, schmart. Who needs art when you’ve got the creative fires of social justice that made Soviet art into an influential movement that changed the world as we know it burning in your soy belly?
Bedford, who is an extremely white man, announced that the museum would no longer be buying art by white men this year. Between Rembrandt, Titian, and Durer, they've got too many.
“You don’t just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall,” he insisted. “To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”
Bedford had already begun purging the collection by putting seven major paintings on sale, including by Warhol, to buy “art” by “artists of color”. Since Bedford wouldn’t know art if it fell on his head, which at the BMA is a possibility, that part was easy. The rest was complicated.
Pesky questions about the sale reared their head, like did Bedford even have a right to sell the art. The sale or ‘deaccession’ as they call it in the art world, was happening under regulations meant to help museums deal with the pandemic. But the BMA wasn’t reacting to the Wuhan Virus, but the Woke Virus, and it wasn’t selling art because it needed money, it needed woke.
And it was unclear if the paintings had been gifted under conditions that would allow the sale.
Prominent voices in the art community, including former key figures at the BMA, protested. Sothebys blinked, announcing the auction would be postponed, and then unblinked, claiming that the postponement had been an error in which it confused an Islamic museum in Israel with the BMA. That’s the sort of natural mistake that happens at a major auction house all the time.
Finally, the BMA’s own board canceled the auction at the last minute blaming the public outcry.
More importantly, the Association of Art Museum Directors made it clear that the BMA was abusing its relaxed guidelines during the pandemic to do something pandemic-unrelated.
“Our vision and our goals have not changed,” the BMA unapologetically declared “It will take us longer to achieve them, but we will do so through all the means at our disposal.”
The BMA will lose $50 million with former board chairs pulling their donations in order to make $65 million. But it’s about the destructiveness of the act more than the actual money. How else can the BMA’s new leadership prove that they’re revolutionary visionaries than through a round of politically correct épater le bourgeois virtue signaling and racial divisiveness by a white man?
“The most important artists working today, in my view, are black Americans,” Bedford declared.
By “important”, Bedford and the museum of an illiterate city don’t mean talented or aesthetically pleasing. When your “lens” is social justice, then important means anti-American. And so the most important artists are the ones who have the most moral leverage for hating this country.
There are few aesthetics at stake in trading one set of nonsensical childish images for another, the broad abstract brushstrokes of Franz Kline’s Green Cross and the green finger painting splatters of Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Painting, for Mark Bradford's hyperkinetically colorful visual gibberish, or Amy Sherald, who produced the notoriously terrible Michelle Obama portrait.
The art world dispensed with aesthetics and tradition, leaving nothing but abstract concepts.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is another scene on the woke battlefield, replacing abstract sneering at American culture and religion with abstractions that rage against America.
American wokeness is just pop Marxism. Our cultural revolution is a rerun of Russian and Chinese totalitarianism with corporate sponsors.
During the Bavarian Soviet Republic, there was an abortive attempt to set fire to the museums. The Russian Futurists declared in one of their manifestos that the creative works of the past had to be “thrown overboard from the steamship of modernity.” But all of this posturing ended with the Futurists and everyone else being forced to produce Socialist Realism for propaganda.
The only thing totalitarian regimes really want when it comes to art is mass communications.
The Baltimore Museum of Art, like many institutions public and private, is being reimagined as the projection of a new political order, each part of it meant to articulate a single ideology. The result isn’t an art museum, just as socialist realism’s propaganda posters weren’t art. Art, as a painting or a museum, is meant to inspire and reflect, while propaganda short circuits both.
Propagandists don’t want people to think. What they want is for them to agree.
In art, as in life, the initial revolutionary thrill of destroying the old gives way to the stultifying reality of the totalitarian order. Totalitarian revolutions don’t create, they destroy, and their only message is the familiar one from Shepard Fairey's old "Obey" giant stickers.
Fairey would become much more famous for creating the iconic Obama “Hope” poster.
"How did this work, no matter how righteous or well-intentioned, help George Floyd as he was pinned to the ground by a white man in a uniform, in broad daylight, surrounded by onlookers, as his life faded away over almost nine minutes?" Bedford demanded to know in the Baltimore Museum's new vision statement.
What Baltimore really needs is less traditional art and more art to inspire race riots.
Andy Warhol probably wasn’t much use to George Floyd on account of being dead. Floyd might have tried to hit the officer with a copy of Warhol’s The Last Supper, one of some hundred distotrted yellow reproductions of the famous painting, the BMA wanted to sell for $40 million.
None of the artists being sold off would have helped George Floyd because they’re also dead or fairly elderly. None of them are located in Minneapolis. The BMA’s largest Matisse collection in the world would have been even more useless as Matisse is dead and also not in Minneapolis.
Not to mention every BMA artist from Rembrandt to Picasso. If the purpose of art is to save career criminals high on drugs when they get into confrontations with police, then art is useless.
But that’s activism, not art. And when art melds with activism, it becomes propaganda.
What the BMA’s director was saying is that art is useless unless it’s agitprop. Nothing is of any value unless it serves the cause of Black Lives Matter. Or, as Stalin once put it, artists are the “engineers of souls”. Behind the feeble attempt at poetry was the reduction of art to machinery. Engineers were needed to service tractors and artists would have to service their operators. The goal of art, like farm equipment, was to keep the vast failing machine of socialism running.
Baltimore is almost as much of a disaster as the Soviet Union and needs its own propaganda.
The declaration that art is useless unless it serves a racial agenda is the familiar one of Socialist Realism which declared that art which doesn’t serve the working class is worthless.
Or as the All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers declared, “the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism."
But the BMA credo has become that of American culture. Everything, from standup comedy to fashion to literature to journalism to education, must serve a single political purpose. If your comedy routine or your capri pants wouldn’t have saved George Floyd, they must do better.
Woke culture transformed comedy into hysterical political screeds (not in the funny sense) and everything else into a seesaw of pandering and indoctrination that conscends to minorities and badgers white people without ever creating anything of lasting value or merit because it exists purely for the needs of the moment. The irony of jettisoning Warhol for woke agitprop is that the woke art is as disposable as the commercial advertising culture that he was mocking. When everything is a slogan, then nothing has a message that lasts beyond momentary manipulation.
And an art museum, a university, or a national culture built on such things has no future.
Just ask the Soviets.
But Baltimore, like so many American cities, has no future. The old Baltimore that built the BMA envisioned a booming tomorrow and dug into its pockets to show it was as good as New York City. Where is Baltimore headed besides gangs murdering each other on broken streets, sewers full of dead rats, drug deals, corrupt politicians and mobs ravaging what’s left of the fallen city?
When you’re already broke, you might as well go woke. It makes the ride down more interesting.
The looting of the BMA is a perfect coda to a looted city. The old BMA was meant to inspire and some of the museum’s impressive art collection still can and does. But culture can’t thrive without a culture. The Greeks and Romans didn’t lack for great works of art, what they lacked at the end was the character and vision to sustain a culture that had been founded on great things.
An art museum in a national disaster of a city is little more than a medieval monastery holding on to some fragments of civilization while outside warlords and their mobs loot and pillage cities.
And the woke Visigoths have come for the museum even if they don’t understand what’s in it.
"Museums are not mausoleums or treasure houses," a letter co-written by Asma Naeem snippily concludes. Unfortunately, not for Naeem, but for the human race, the BMA is a treasure house of French art, one of the greatest such treasure houses in the country, that is now at risk.
The woke age is a dark age and the pillaging is underway.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.