The Sondheim Artscape Prize is often thought of as Baltimore’s top prize for artistic endeavors. Janet and Walter Sondheim were a couple who fought for equity and the success of art in Baltimore City: she was a dancer with the legendary Denishawn company and a tutor of emotionally disturbed children, he helped to desegregate Baltimore City Public Schools, was involved in the development of the Charles Center and Inner Harbor, and was the Greater Baltimore Committee’s senior advisor until he passed away in 2004. The prize, named in their honor, seeks to fund innovation by visual artists from the greater Baltimore area.
This weekend, while the city’s streets fill with vendors and bands involved in Artscape, the Baltimore Museum of Art will offer a must-see of its own. Finalists Lisa Dillin, Jon Duff, Hasan Elahi, Matthew Janson, John McNeil, and 2012 winner Renee Stout will exhibit their work. The BMA’s Alvin and Fanny Blaustein Thalheimer Galleries will house the collection from Saturday, June 16 through Sunday, July 29, 2012. Each finalist will also receive a $2500 prize. The winner, chosen by a select group of jurors, also receives a $30,000 fellowship to further her career. Winners have been known to display boundary-pushing creativity and a resounding artistic voice.
In this year’s case, winner Renee Stout certainly has a voice to be heard, even if it’s not quite her own. Don’t assume the worst—her winning pieces are a study on an alternate personality which she’s created in her own image. As she told the Baltimore Sun, she calls this woman Fatima Mayfield. Named for an amiable older woman from her neighborhood (Fatima) and woman who sells mystical products in DC (Miss Mayfield), she allows Stout to shed light on topics she’s otherwise uncomfortable discussing. The 54 year old uses Fatima Mayfield to comment upon the state of culture and spirituality, both within herself and in today’s highly titillating and youth-centric world.
As she says on her website, “when an idea hits [her, she will] immediately decide which materials will best allow [her] to make that idea tangible.”Perhaps that’s why Renee’s BMA display is so stunningly varied: photos, drawings and paintings are present for eye-feasting. Especially interesting are creative installations featuring bottled love potions and revealing diary entries. The artist is highly influenced by a gumbo of phenomena, such as African American Art, New Orleans hoodoo spirituality and culture at large, herbalism, and soothsaying. The resulting body of work yields a highly complex, riveting narrative in which Fatima Mayfield takes centerstage. We recommend you check the exhibition out for yourself—Mayfield’s is a spirit you’ll want to meet.