What Is the American Visionary Art Museum?

L. Whitaker

The American Visionary Art Museum is a nontraditional art museum that features artwork from untrained visionary or "outsider" artists. This museum is located in the historic area of Federal Hill in Baltimore, Maryland. Its permanent collection houses more than 4,000 pieces of artwork, which are featured on a rotating basis of approximately 50 works at one time. The main exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum is a themed exhibition highlighting a central idea or motif that changes annually. The museum uses guest curators for all of its exhibits.

The American Visionary Art Museum houses over 4,000 pieces of artwork.
The American Visionary Art Museum houses over 4,000 pieces of artwork.

This museum's mission statement defines visionary art as any artwork that is produced by individuals who have no formal art training, relying on "an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." In the view of the museum's staff and director, visionary art is distinguished from folk art due to its individual focus and lack of traditional cultural influence. The American Visionary Art Museum was founded and directed by Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who was initially influenced by personal experience with the creativity of psychiatric patients at Sinai Hospital and later by viewing the exhibits at Switzerland's Musee de l'Art Brut or "Museum of Raw Art."

Opened in 1995, the collection of the American Visionary Art Museum includes work by well-known outsider artists such as Vollis Simpson and Adolf Wolfli, in addition to pieces by Ben Wilson, Nek Chand, Clyde Jones, Leo Sewell, and Ho Baron. More than 40 works of the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre of London are also on display here. The museum is intended to be a self-guided experience, but guided tours are sometimes available for groups with advance notice. Also offered are programs and workshops for school groups.

The American Visionary Art Museum is housed in an architecturally unique building that was constructed on the formerly polluted site of a warehouse and paint factory. Baltimore gifted the site to the museum. Now, the museum is the sponsor of several creative events in Baltimore, including an annual race involving kinetic sculptures.

This museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, with the except of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Each year on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the American Visionary Art Museum offers special programs and free admission. In addition to the main museum attractions, visitors can enjoy the Sideshow Shop and a fine dining restaurant called Mr. Rain's Fun House. The museum is accessible to individuals with physical limitations.

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