What comes to your mind when you think of the Bronx?  Maybe it’s the New York Yankees or the birth of hip-hop.  Some people have a more violent image of the Bronx, focusing on the crimes and shootings talked about in the news.  But one of the last things that would probably come to mind would be a contemporary art museum.  The Bronx Museum of the Arts may be far from typical New York museum locations on the Upper East Side or Midtown, but it is definitely worth the trip.  It is offering free admission as a result of a recently received grant that was designed to make art more accessible to everyone.  The Bronx Museum is located in the South Bronx, steps away from Yankee Stadium.  Tours can be arranged and there are currently three exhibitions on display.  We received a tour of two of them: “State of Mind,” an exhibit focused on California, and “Bronx Calling,” a showcase of the art of the Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program.

 In “State of Mind,” the first memorable piece we saw was California Map Project by John Baldessari.  Baldessari took a map of the United States and where each letter of the word California was written out, he went to that spot and drew that letter.  By doing this, he showed the natural beauty of the state and how it is not dominated by Hollywood and celebrities.  100 Boots by Eleanor Antin showed a hundred backdrops where photos might be shot but included one hundred black rubber boots into the image, in plain sight or concealed.  These one hundred photographs were printed into postcards and mailed to artists, writers, performers, and art enthusiasts.

There was a definite emphasis on the process of creation and the experience for the viewer being as just an essential part of the art as the actual piece itself.  An untitled work by Bruce Nauman consisted of a room we took turns entering that was simply painted bright yellow.  The art was in the reactions the museum goer had to the color.  There was even a piece that you were encouraged to walk on, the Field Piece by Barbara Smith, though a sign limited it to two people at a time.

“Bronx Calling” was filled with many professional, innovative pieces.  Athena Originoo by Katie Cercone was an intricate artwork in the “Bronx Calling” show.  It consisted of a teenage girl in the 1990s bedroom shrine, which contained stickers, a list of lip gloss flavors, and pictures of Michael Jordan, as well as a hip-hop music video she recorded based on ‘90s style music.  A memorable painting was Kant Smith’s Invasion of Baghdad, also an AIM piece.  It was a beautiful oil painting backed by fluorescent lighting which added a new dimension to it.  Though its rich colors gave it a pretty surface appearance, it actually depicted the horrors of the war in Iraq.  Creative sculptures, photographs, and paintings made up the rest of the exhibit.

These pieces are only the beginning of what the Bronx Museum has to offer.  It is definitely worth paying a visit for anyone interested in contemporary art or who likes to think outside the box.  Free admission gives you no excuse not to go.  One visit to this museum may give you a whole new perception of the borough.