Off-the-Beaten-Track Collection Showcases 'Visionary' Artworks

by Joe Rosen

Reed Travel Features

BALTIMORE -- It seems only fitting that the new American Visionary Art Museum is located a bit off the beaten path. The exhibits are a bit off the beaten path, too. More than a bit.

Separated by a parking lot from the pedestrian-packed thoroughfare skirting the Baltimore Harborfront, this repository of the obscure, improbable and downright inaccessible is a 15-minute stroll from the popular National Aquarium at one end of the tourist area and substantially downwind from the Science Center at the other.

Although it is worth a visit, don't send clients here expecting to find Manet, Monet or anyone else you've ever heard of. As if Congress didn't have anything more important to do, our legislators, by unanimous vote, deemed the place America's "national museum . for the best in original, self-taught artistry." The key words here are "self-taught," as in primitive and unconventional.

I gather that the exhibition currently on display, "The End is Near! Visions of Apocalypse, Millennium and Utopia," is representative of the museum's presentations. It features 250 original works that seem to have something to do with life, death and everything in between. For example, you might suggest to clients that they search out a densely populated painting representing the entire book of Revelations, but at 300 feet in length, this extravaganza is one work of art they're hardly likely to miss.

Then there is a 55-foot-high whirligig, part of the museum's permanent collection. Created by farmer/mechanic Vollis Simpson, this ungainly assemblage of gears, wheels within wheels and eclectic doodads is best viewed from the terraced outdoor dining room of the Visionary Art's splendid restaurant, the Joy America Cafe. Peter Zimmer is the chef here, and although he, too, is self-taught, his creations have the book of Revelations painting beat hands down.

The American Visionary Art Museum is closed Mondays, Christmas and Thanksgiving. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The restaurant is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. for lunch and dinner. Museum admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students, children and seniors. Groups of 10 or more are admitted for $3 per person. For more information, call (410) 224-1900; fax (410) 244-5858.

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