American Visionary Art Museum is at 800 Key Hwy. at jct. Covington St. Many of the vibrantly creative artists showcased at this outstanding museum share several characteristics: they lack formal training, they're often self-taught and they view their creations as the fulfillment of a personal vision. Permanent and rotating exhibitions feature artists from diverse work and cultural backgrounds, and include a number of Baltimoreans. The Mega Theme Exhibition changes annually.
Unconventional media choices abound. A throne is constructed primarily from flattened bottle caps, some encrusted with rhinestones; a dress is covered with antique buttons. You'll see psychedelic yarn art; a mirror adorned with melted candles; a singularly impressive toothpick version of the USS Lusitania; a What, Me Worry? bed featuring a beaded and beetle wing-encrusted portrait of MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neuman; and “Recovery,” a human figure carved from an apple tree trunk that was the only known work by an unidentified British mental patient. Videos accompanying some of the exhibits offer fascinating insight into the human creative process.
The warehouse-like Jim Rouse Visionary Center displays, among other things, a larger-than-life likeness of Harris Glenn Milstead—better known as Divine, star of several outrageous movies by Baltimore filmmaker John Waters—and a station wagon plastered with everything from seashells and Chinese porcelain vases to multiple rows of blue glass bottles. “The World's First Family of Robots” is a spookily quirky group of kinetic sculptures fashioned entirely out of recycled junkyard scraps.
Lovers of classic kitsch will not want to miss the gift shop, which is packed with art and novelties. Artwork on the grounds includes Vollis Simpson's 4-story “Whirligig”; a whimsical assemblage of “critters” fashioned from wood in the Wildflower Sculpture Garden; the Gallery-A-Go-Go bus, sporting a delightful hodgepodge of decorations all made by kids; and exterior mirrored mosaic walls created during a multiyear youth-at-risk apprenticeship program.
Photography is not permitted inside the museum buildings.