One of the Best Museums You’ll Ever Visit: The American Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore, MD

A recent work trip to D.C. provided a great opportunity to tack on a weekend in Baltimore. We have been to Baltimore a couple other times and have visited many of the main attractions in the city, but for this trip, we wanted to try some of the destinations that may not be on the radar for most first-time tourists. And one of our favorite finds was the American Visionary Art Museum!

Generally, I’m not the type of museum-goer who enjoys looking at painting after painting over multiple floors. And this is definitely NOT the type of museum where you’re going to do that. I don’t even really know how to describe this place. My husband says it’s “folk art”. The museum’s paperwork says it’s “the official national museum for self-taught, intuitive artistry”. I say, it’s a random assortment of strange yet also very cool stuff. Everything is certainly unique, some stuff is downright odd, and most of it just fun and interesting to look at and interact with.

American Visionary Art Museum Entrance
The museum’s entrance–just the beginning of all the fun that awaits you inside!

When you arrive at the museum, you will know even before entering that there must be something awesome in store for you. The museum is housed throughout three historic buildings, just a block from the harbor. The main building is covered in a mosaic of broken glass and mirrors, with a huge sculpture rotating overhead. In the secondary exhibit building, you’ll see the Bird’s Nest Balcony, as they call it, and several other large sculptures. Upon seeing these, we were pretty psyched to discover what else we might find inside.

WhirliGig by Vollis Simpson
This sculpture, WhirliGig, by Vollis Simpson, hangs above the museum’s entrance.
Outside the American Visionary Art Museum
Some of the sculptures outside the American Visionary Art Museum, including the Bird’s Nest Balcony.

We started on the first floor and worked our way upstairs. Some of what we saw on the first floor included three busts made out of piano mallets and a huge model of the Lusitania made out of toothpicks. One piece that I particularly liked was a painting of a reclining woman made out of several paintings of much smaller people. At first, I hadn’t noticed anything special about it other than the fact that the colors were pretty and it had a bit of an abstract look to it. Once I read the placard and saw it up close, I could see all the tiny people within the painting and then stepped back to see the larger image of the woman. Very cool!

Piano Mallet People
The people made out of piano mallets

On the second floor, we saw various sculptures made out of an even wider variety of items, including matchsticks, telephone wire, seashells, and coffee cans.  There was also a very creepy dollhouse and, handwritten on yellow legal pad paper, a summary of the true crime story of John List who murdered his mother, wife, and three children back in 1971. It’s totally morbid, but it’s just one of the many odd and random items that are thrown together at the museum.

Matchstick Art
Made out of matchsticks!

The third floor has a very neat stegosaurus made out of various objects and a display case full of an insane Pez dispenser collection. This floor is also where you can find the cafe/restaurant/bar, which definitely looks much nicer than your usual museum cafe. It also stays open later in the evening once the museum has closed. The restaurant, called Encantada, features local and seasonal menu items, with a heavy focus on vegetables and meat sourced through humane practices. They also have happy hour and accept reservations in case you want to check it out after visiting the museum!

Stegosaurus Art
Stegosaurus!
Pez Dispenser Collection
The insane Pez dispenser collection.

Upon reaching the third floor, we were a little confused about what to do next because we thought that the ticket office had said there were four floors of exhibits. As it turns out, there are, but the fourth floor is actually in the basement. We hopped on the elevator and made our way down there, and weren’t we glad we did. Nestled between the restrooms is an exhibit all about….farts. There are books about farts, news stories about farts, and pictures of what the artist thinks different farts look like….. 

Fart Art
Fart Art! The story referenced in the clipping is actually true–cows DID indeed set their barn on fire after a buildup of methane gas from their farts interacted with a machine. The more you know…

Right in the center of it all is something called the “Flatulence Post” which, upon pressing a button, produces one of 67 different fart sounds. And when you press it, the noise is SO loud and echoes through the uncarpeted hallway. My husband pressed the button, and all of us in the hallway started laughing hysterically. It’s such a stupid thing and all very childish, but we were dying (listen for yourself below).

My husband suggested that we listen to all 67, but I cut him off after about 10 because tears were streaming down my face at this point. (And by the way, apparently, there are international farting competitions, with all the different types of farts having their own names and point totals. File that under things you didn’t know and didn’t NEED to know!)

Having really seen it all at this point, we headed back upstairs to check out the gift shop which, similar to the museum, has all kinds of random fun stuff. We browsed for a bit and then made our way over to the other building, which houses several really large exhibits including various bicycles with enormous structures built on top of them in the shape of fish, bears, and more. There was an airplane and a hot air balloon hanging from the ceiling, a ball made out of bras, and a huge old station wagon completely covered in seashells and old ceramic jars. Have I mentioned everything is a little strange here???

The bra ball at the American Visionary Art Museum
The bra ball at the American Visionary Art Museum

One of my favorite parts of the museum, though, is in this secondary building. They have a couple dozen different objects that all move when you push a button. Some were small and had a single motion. Others were much larger with multiple moving parts. But they were a lot of fun, and we pushed the buttons on all of them (even though, sadly, some of them we wanted to see moving weren’t working). You could spend a lot of time just playing with all of those, and I definitely find art even more enjoyable when I can actually interact with it!

We headed up to the second floor which had a few more exhibits but seemed to mostly consist of meeting space and their education center. However, it also offered a lovely overhead view of some of the exhibits on the first floor, and the perspective from above is always a bit different. With nowhere else to go and nothing else to see, we wrapped up our visit and headed back to the car with huge smiles on our faces. We both agreed that this was one of the best museums we had ever been to, and we’re still talking about it weeks later!

Art From Above
The view from the second floor

If you find yourself in Baltimore soon and you want something unique and a little different to do, please go spend a couple hours at the American Visionary Art Museum. It’s so fun and so fantastic, and I promise you’ll have a blast!  

Have you already been to the American Visionary Art Museum? Any favorite exhibits of your own? Let me know!

Plan Your Own Visit

Where to Go

  • American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD 21230

When to Go

  • Anytime! But they have a guided tour on Saturdays at 2:30 pm, so you may want to plan a visit then to get a bit more background on what they have on view.
  • They’re closed on Mondays but otherwise open from 10:00 am to 6:00pm, with the last admission at 5:30 pm.

Tips for Visiting

  • To ensure you can see everything, call ahead to find out if any private events will close the museum or any of its galleries. We definitely crashed someone’s wedding rehearsal while we were there, and I assume that the space would have been fully closed if it had been the actual wedding.
  • If you’re driving, there is a TON of metered parking available right behind the museum.
  • When we bought our tickets, we were told the second building had only one floor of exhibits, but we later found out that there were some exhibits on the second floor as well.  Don’t forget to check that out, too!
  • There is a very cool cafe/restaurant on the 3rd floor of the main museum building, and it stays open after the museum closes, Wednesday through Saturday.
  • And don’t forget to check out the gift shop! There’s a bunch of fun stuff, and it would be a great place to pick up some unique gifts.

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