Public Property

“We’re not a contemporary museum, but we want to be contemporary,” says Public Programs Coordinator Jackie Leo at the Walters Art Museum’s latest exhibit opening.


Photo courtesy of Karl Marxxx

Public Property is an exhibit in which the public was able to take part, choosing the name and theme of the show (the theme “creatures” was chosen) as well as selecting the works of art themselves. “We are a public institution,” Walter’s web and social media manager Dylan Kinnett says. “The collection is public property and we are trying to build a sense of ownership for anyone and everyone who wants to have that sense.”


Image Courtesy Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

For the opening, the Walter’s decided to replace a typical atmosphere for one much more playful than ponderous. In lieu of cheese and wine, attendees found themselves munching on cheese balls and drinking soda or cheap beer. Instead of comment cards, one was asked to give input by way of dropping lemonheads, meaning you didn’t enjoy the exhibit, or fireballs, meaning you did, into glass jars. Mr. Boh stopped by to schmooze with all who happened to be there that night and dispersed throughout the lobby were baskets of small plastic instruments that anyone could take and play. “We wanted people to come to the Walters, see this event, make some noise, touch things, play, have fun, and not be shushed.” Leo says.


Image “Running Jaguar” by Antoinse Louis-Bayre – Image Courtesy Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

In addition to making the reception so informal, the speaking segment took a novel approach to reviewing the exhibit’s works. “We were brainstorming and someone threw out the idea of a game show. It just kind of grew from there.” Kinnett says.

From this concept came a host and a drag-queen assistant, Karl Marxxx, who showcased works of art that served as contestants. On stage, local celebrities Aaron Henkin, Denise Tassin, and Dominic Shodekeh reviewed pieces by way of playing “20 questions,” while wearing child like animal masks to conceal the work of art being projected onto the screen. The work in question: a black figure kylix with sirens.


Photo courtesy of Karl Marxxx

Sometimes audience members would have opportunities to win prize vacations that were representative of the pieces in the collection, or even collection’s creatures themselves…though the only consolations anyone managed to receive were teabags that I can only assume were procured in the cafeteria.


Photo courtesy of Walters Art Museum

The event was definitely more animated than any other art opening I had seen at the Walters, and the audience — somewhere around 250 people — appeared to enjoy the deviation. “A game show often gives you logical quandary games,” says Kinnett.  “You have to make a quick decision in a generally arbitrary way. So we are playing on the similarity of that and the aesthetic choice which is of course more meaningful but just as fun.”


Noah’s Family Assembling Animals before the Ark by Jan van Kessel II – Image Courtesy Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Public Property will be running from now until August 17th and features works from across the ages. There are bizarre creatures, paintings of Christian martyr’s being fed to hungry lions, and even…wait for it….. UNICORNS! Throughout the course of the exhibit, people will be able to continue to vote on various aspects of the works, as well as on what creature related movie will be screened at the closing. I’d recommend seeing this exhibit and throwing in your two cents, especially since it’s a presidential election year. That way, you can see how a functioning democracy actually works.

Matt Kelley

Matt is a writer, editor and videographer. He is currently producing a documentary about the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.