The Great Mystery Show: An Enigmatic Exhibit by the American Visionary Art Museum


Ever since I was a young college student, I had a penchant for art museums. I would often frequent the Baltimore Museum of Art and the American Visionary Art Museum (student discounts, anyone?) whenever I had the chance.

Lets flash forward to the present day and Santa granted me an early Christmas gift. I was awarded the chance to attend the unveiling of the American Visionary Art Museum’s newest art exhibit: The Great Mystery Show as both a media guest and art reviewer.  The 18-year-old in me was jumping for joy!

I wore a cowl neck sweater dress from White House Black Market, mini Buddha earrings from Rachel Roy, and red Michael Kors flats for the cosmic after party held beside the museum. Parking was a breeze. There’s ample street parking along the side of the museum, and all you need is enough quarters to last you 2-3 hours.

Rabbit Whole by Nancy Younguist, photo by Dan Meyers
Rabbit Whole by Nancy Youngist, Photo by Dan Meyers

Rusty Scupper and other notable seafood joints are right across the street form the museum. If you wanted to eat inside the museum, Encantada ($15- $30) is upstairs inside the museum but you need to make sure that you want eat several small plates. One plate will not be enough.

The party started at 6:30 p.m so I had 30 minutes to kill. I naturally ventured into the gift shop, and didn’t want to leave.  I bared witnessed to the kookiest toys this side of the East Coast: religious bobble heads, Chinese bug toys, post cards with mashed up vintage art, as well as discounted saris, Mr. Rogers mints, and David Bowie retro earrings. I prematurely snacked on vanilla wafers too, knowing full well that the party I was about to attend will have food.


I arrived ten minutes late (not by choice but due to biding my time) and really digged the space theme. There was a sparkly disco ball in the middle of the dance floor, a dj, and a long food table with appetizers, breads, pastas, spreads, desserts and mini sandwiches. Guests were truly Baltimore. Folks from the art world dressed in eclectic fabrics, hairstyles, and jewelry. Philanthropists wore modest yet fashion forward dresses. Lets just say that I had way too much fun people watching. Only in Baltimore!

The gazebo outside was cool enough for lively chatter, and a welcoming queue by the bar where party patrons had the option to purchase beer and wine.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the museum, welcomed the rousing crowd with an anecdote and an official opening of the exhibit. She thanked sponsors from the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute, The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, as well as other visionary arts, lenders, and sponsors. As soon as her speech ended, the crowd formed a beeline to the museum.

Roominous by Nancy Josephson Photo credit Dan Meyers
Roominous by Nancy Josephson. Photo credit by Dan Meyers.

Art patrons were more than just eager to see the art before the general public. There was a not so mysterious curiosity etched on people’s faces. Various pieces spoke to different people. In some ways the lengthy descriptions didn’t do enough justice for what the artists were trying to convey.

The Great Mystery Show, as a whole, skillfully peels away the unknown and leaves observers with enough clues to solve micro and macro-scaled questions in the shape of art forms.

Questions on the moon landing, religion, cats, and different cultures were answered in the shape of mosaic bunnies, iridescent gold agriculture statues, and morbid alphabet stories (Edward Gorey was really popular in the 1960s for his depictions of the afterlife for kids). Quotes from great philosphers, literary greats, and thinkers segued guests into different rooms in which even more mysteries on near death experience, the human heart, cats, and UFOs kept patrons curiosity going. It was unending. Like a thrill ride on repeat but better.

Moreover, I have way too many favorite art pieces from this exhibit to list in a short review.

1.) All of Edward Gorey’s alphabet kid-friendly horror stories made me guffaw inappropriately in front of families. I felt bad but couldn’t help how funny this particular exhibit was. For example: C is for Clara who wasted away, N is for Neville who died of ennui, and M is for Maud who was swept by the sea. Maybe it was the times, but, then again, the book series “All my Friends are Dead” by Avery Morrison and Jory John and “Go the F%&* to Sleep” read my Samuel L Jackson are becoming child literary classics. History repeats itself.

2.) Roominous  by Nancy Josephson was made for a ripe imagination. Ornate beads, twisty metals, traditions rooted in Haitian culture inspired three maidens found in the picture above. Josephson changed her previous career, and refocused her creativity in the arts. Her work, oft-times punctuated with humor, as been displayed in several exhibits.

3.) Rabbit Whole by Nancy Youngist reminded me of the rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland. The mosaic beans, wily expression, and story about how this bunny represents a woman’s true independence left an indelible impression with me.

As an art lover who loves whimsy, creativity, uniqueness, and curiosity, I highly recommend this exhibit. If you have a question on the meaning of life and want to see evidence gathered by notable artists, visit the American Visionary Art Museum. 

About American Visionary Art Museum

The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is an art museum located in Baltimore, Maryland’s Federal Hillneighborhood at 800 Key Highway. The museum specializes in the preservation and display of outsider art (also known as “intuitive art,” “raw art,” or “art brut”). The city agreed to give the museum a piece of land on the south shore of the Inner Harbor under the condition that its organizers would clean up residual pollution from a copper paint factory and a whiskey warehouse that formerly occupied the site. It has been designated by Congress as America’s national museum for self-taught art.







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