The official national museum for self-taught and intuitive artistry is a treasure trove of extraordinary art made from ordinary objects by ordinary people.
The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) showcases the artistic creations of non-artists. The makers of the indoor and outdoor art received no formal training but are talented, brilliant or simply hilarious in their approach. Some of the creators are homeless, disabled or mentally ill. Most used everyday objects to create something remarkable.
There are more than 4,000 works of visionary art in the collection. Come here for a different perspective on art and the world in general. The art reveals the inner-thought processes behind the creation, which makes it very personal and modern. All of the art in and surrounding the building was created by homemakers, farmers, war veterans, retired people and patients, among others. They felt compelled to make things with old clothes, toothpicks, scrap metal and other everyday items without necessarily wanting to create art.
The fascinating array of creations starts at the entrance. Be prepared for a bus topped with plastic swans and a three-story wind sculpture made out of junk. As you step inside, take note of the welcome mat; it’s made from 1,500 toothbrushes.
Most of the permanent works are in the main building of the museum. Other buildings include the Tall Sculpture Barn, a former whiskey barrel warehouse, where you can play with a life-sized chess set of angels and aliens. A third building holds human-powered sculptures made from old bicycles, beds and spare parts. They were part of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is the museum’s annual contest in the streets of Baltimore in May.
The museum at the base of Federal Hill makes a good side tour from other Inner Harbor attractions. AVAM is easily accessible by public transport. Hop on the Charm City Circulator shuttle bus to get there for free. Street parking is metered. Although some perceive the admission price as high for a small museum that has no famous art, many deem the experience unique and recommend it regardless.
AVAM is closed on Mondays, Christmas and Thanksgiving.