Friday, August 10, 2012


WHEN: June 17–August 19, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM
WHERE: The Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles Street, Baltimore

This summer, the Walters Art Museum will present Public Property, an exhibition collectively created by the public. In 1931, the museum’s founder Henry Walters bequeathed the core collection of the Walters to the City of Baltimore “for the benefit of the public.” The Walters’ art is owned by the public, and it is the public who will determine what this exhibition will be.

Choosing ArtworksFrom Dec. 2011–March 2012, a series of public choices were made, from deciding the exhibition title and theme, to selecting artworks. While on view June 17–Aug. 19, 2012, visitors will continue to contribute to, and change, this exhibition. (Left: Museum educators use tablet computers to invite visitors to record their choice of artworks)

“At a time of increasing concern about equity and democracy within society, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Arab Spring, I’ve been thinking more about the role of museums not only to act as expert but also to encourage civic participation in our exhibition process,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “This exhibition aims to be socially engaging and work with the public in a collaborative manner as an experiment and experience for both the participants and the museum itself.”

Choosing a ThemeThe first stage of the planning process ran from Dec.1–18, 2011. The public used the Walters’ works of art site to curate collections of artworks and tag them with keywords. The Walters’ exhibition team analyzed collection tags to determine some popular themes that emerged from the online collections, including adornment, military, creatures and death. A vote was held, both online and at the museum, from Dec. 23, 2011–Jan. 8, 2012, to determine the exhibition theme. Creatures was the theme that received the most votes, ultimately becoming the publically determined theme for the exhibition. The team then selected a large group of artworks for the public to vote on related to creatures. (Right: This poker chip voting station invites museum visitors to select a theme for the exhibition.)

A Wild Boar HuntThe public selected a total of 106 artworks to be part of the exhibition, including Antoine-Louis Barye’s watercolor, Running Jaguar, and an Indian work on paper ca.1675, A Wild Boar Hunt (left). A selection of the 23 most admired paintings will be displayed within the exhibition. Other artworks, including manuscripts and three-dimensional objects, will be featured on a “wall of fame,” which will display images of the artworks along with labels and information about their popularity. Due to conservation concerns about the fragility of certain objects, the “wall of fame” enables the Walters to honor public choices and feature artworks chosen by the public, even if the objects cannot be physically exhibited.