In May of 2016, the BMA announced a new director: 39-year old Christopher Bedford, formerly the director of the Rose Museum at Brandeis. He started in August and during his second week on the job, Bedford made time in his schedule for an interview published in BmoreArt’s third print journal to discuss his plans for the museum.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On Free attendance: This has been vastly important. Former Director Doreen Bolger made this possible, and it’s an amazing thing. Our next step is making sure that the exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions motivate people to take advantage of free admission. We have to activate what’s inside to maximize what she did.
On Paying Attention to Living Artists: The Cone Collection makes the BMA a singular international destination. When they were building that collection, the artists they were collecting were not the canon they are today. It was pure reckless speculation. Our great inheritance from the Cones is their audacity to invest in the present, their rejection of more conventional collecting practices, their desire to be involved in the world of artists. To me, this grants us permission to engage in our present, to collectively invest in it like they did.
On Contemporary Abstraction: I think that African American painters are making the most important abstract and figurative painting in the world today. Mark Bradford’s selection to represent the US at the biennale in Venice is symptomatic of that. There’s the feeling that he has reinvented a way to be abstract, and it’s both formally and socially embedded, whereas Abstract Expressionism was based internally.
On Artists to Expect: There are people I am keenly interested in working with, from Mark Bradford to Jack Whitten to Pipilotti Rist. They tend to be people I’ve worked with in the past who I am confident can have the kind of impact we are after.
On Baltimore’s Cultural Influence: I am conceptually interested in being rooted locally and also being extremely international . . . from Venice to Remington. I am less interested in the in-between spots, though. We are working on new projects designed to cross a threshold nationally and internationally, to develop an unexpected yet coherent relationship between the international canon and the local in Baltimore.
On His Pet Theory: I think that all the greatest works of art are autobiographical. The principal of building on who you are and your relationship to the outside world has been the key to the greatest contributions in the history of art.
On Painting: I love painting. I have always loved painting. It will never go away. It’s the most elemental of all practices. It is the undead. David Reed said that photography was the vampire’s kiss to painting, that it made painting immortal, quite possibly the greatest line ever in the history of art.
On Strategies for the Future: I think we need to understand the conditions of engagement very differently today than in the past. We need to be big and ambitious and gracious and imagine our walls as permeable. I think we need to go beyond our walls as much as possible and we need to make ourselves irresistible.
Photos by Rachel Rock Palermo