The Year in Art
Only time can tell if 2005 is the year that Baltimore’s local art climate started to turn for the better. The city has always been lousy with artists, if scattershot with galleries. And while a few new galleries are coming into their own this year—Current Gallery, curator Jordan Faye Block’s consistently good shows at Gallery Imperato, the edgy Shinola Gallery, Peter Bruun’s Art on Purpose project—it’s not merely the emergence of a healthy gallery scene that has us looking back at the past 12 months and feeling that things are starting to look up.
From SlideShow to this year’s CramSessions installments and the current Henry Ossawa Tanner exhibition, the Baltimore Museum of Art is planning and executing top-notch exhibitions. Essence of Line: French Drawings From Ingres to Degas, the joint exhibition between the BMA and the Walters Art Museum, was a major art event orchestrated right here in Baltimore. And the Contemporary Museum finally found its footing as an intimate local venue for forward-thinking—or at least forward-reaching—art and ideas. And both faculty and students at the Maryland Institute, College of Art continually offer intriguing sights at the lovely new Decker Gallery.
All these subtle feats point to what may be making now noteworthy. The overall quality of the work passing through the city these days has improved, and not just in the big museums. Long-running community arts organizations such as the Creative Alliance, Maryland Art Place, and School 33 are mounting dependably engaging shows, show that even when they don’t succeed are searching for something. And that kind of attitude creates a very healthy artists’ environment.
Now, art viewers, it’s for you to do your duty. If you’ve spent the past 10 years hitting openings and snogging on the free wine and crudités, it’s time to start performing your role in the art community. What helps push small art communities to the proverbial next level is money, and the next generation of art buyers and collectors has to come from somewhere, you dig? Not saying you need to start dropping $6K on the first large piece you see that you like—although if you’ve got it and you do like it, why not? Art is a better investment than many IPOs, and the dividends it pays aren’t just to you, but to the artists workers who actually make it run. (Bret McCabe)
1 SlideShow Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore art aficionados have name-checked the BMA’s SlideShow all year, and with good reason. Curator Darsie Alexander bowled us over with the world’s first-ever art show devoted to slides, creating an absorbing labyrinth of projected images that urged viewers to examine this underrated art form in whole new ways. Alone, Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” an installation of almost 700 slides capturing the squalor and romance of the Lower East Side during the early 1980s, was worth the admission price—but SlideShow provided a comprehensive survey of the medium, and one of the most unique visual experiences available this year. (J. Bowers)
2 Patriot Contemporary Museum
Curator Cira Pasqual Marquina had cojones to compile a show examining the validity of nationalism when most dialogue on the subject began and completed with support our troops. The work—ranging from Andrea Geyer’s absurd “match the countryman to the landscape” game, to Ashley Hunt’s sprawling, protozoaic wall mural illustrating the connection between unemployment and imprisonment, to Siemon Allen’s nakedly telling collection of war-themed trading cards tiling the gallery’s far wall with 60 years of collectible conflict—managed to be multilayered and candid without resorting to dogma left or right. The connection between the land and the people may be just a fictional construct, but shows as rich and unflinching as Patriot make us proud to be from Baltimore. (Violet Glaze)
3 The Evolution of Depression Sub-Basement Art Studios
Baltimore is damned lucky to be able to call New Jersey’s Larry Scott one of its own. With The Evolution of Depression, a massive, chameleonic collection of line drawings, paintings, and collages, Scott proved that his prolific output is beautiful, versatile, and compelling enough to transform Sub-Basement Art Studios’ cavernous gallery space into the most impressive one-man show that the city has seen in years. Alternately channeling Matisse, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Picasso, and Ralph Steadman, Scott doesn’t just have one style that is all his own—he has five or six. And Sub-Basement’s gritty, unfinished warehouse space was a perfect fit for his raw, emotional command of line and color. (JB)
4 Chthonic Cartographers Harford Community College/14 Karat Cabaret
One of the most technologically and thematically complex shows in Baltimore wasn’t even within the city limits, save for a one-night-stand satellite performance at 14 Karat Cabaret. City dwellers who didn’t venture to the mother exhibition—the brainchild of co-curators Jenny Gräf Sheppard and Kenneth Jones—at Harford Community College missed out big time. With works such as Melissa Moore’s climbable installation of the Baltimore sewer system, or the Labyrinth Project’s interactive tour (both in time and space) of Los Angeles’ notorious Ambassador Hotel, or Stephanie Rothenberg’s dowsing communiqué with the deceased racehorse Dunbar II, Chthonic Cartographers’ explorations of the hidden voodoo of public spaces put us city slickers to shame. (VG)
5 Soft Terror Fifth Story
If the constant prattle about that or this only lets Them (you know who They are) win has you wondering just what the hell is going on in America, Maryland Institute College of Art senior Jeremy Rountree and graduate Adrian Lohmüller staged the tonic to cure what ails you with their sprawling, entire-floor-encompassing installation-qua-exhibition Soft Terror. Tweaking both contemporary political art and contemporary politics, Soft Terror took the piss out of the age of constant vigilance in a way that let the absurdities of it shine through crystal clear, giving you permission to laugh in the face of our condition—which, on some days, may be the only sane response. (BM)
6 Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, Contemporary Museum
This world-class collection of skateboard art, graffiti, urban photography, and DIY punk culture hit the Contemporary in two parts. And this one-of-a-kind exhibit was a rare feat—legitimizing street culture as a museum-worthy form while maintaining the rebellious attitude that fuels the work in the first place. Important works such as Larry Clark’s “Teenage Lust” photo series cozied up to giant, Michelin-man-like sculptures by graffiti hero Kaws. Film clips by buzz director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) shared space with creepy nude self-portraits by Terry “T-Bone” Richardson. It was artsy and high-class enough that you could bring your mom, but edgy and hardcore enough to bring your skate buddies. (JB)
7 Transmodern Age Area 405/ Creative Alliance
The avant-garde festival of the year picked 2005 to outgrow its original theme of “otherworldly adornment” and explode with a panoply of bleeding-edge talent. How even to begin? Between performers local (Rahne Alexander, Naoko Maeshiba, Laure Drogoul) and far-flung (Paper Rad, Tracy and the Plastics, Praxis), no one who attended either—or both—nights of performance, music, dance, video, or avant-strangeness went home uncharmed, unfulfilled, or unimpressed. The organizing collective (Jackie Milad, Bonnie Jones, and Catherine Pancake, with others) deserves mad kudos for negotiating the festival’s growth spurt with grace and guts. Is it too early to buy tickets for Transmodern Age 2006? (VG)
8 Alphabet: An Exhibition of Hand-Drawn Lettering and Experimental Typography Pinkard Gallery
MICA Local graphic designers Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals ( erstwhile City Paper contributors) turned the Pinkard Gallery into a font shop with their Alphabet exhibition—and harnessed more creative brain juices from its contributing artists than most group shows can muster. The idea sounds simple: Forty-seven artists from as close as Baltimore and New York and as far away as Britain and Singapore created 60 alphabet styles. But what engaging lettering—iPod profiles, Chinese tangram puzzle tiles, chairs, photos of common street architecture, genitalia, fabric stitching, earrings, and even dancers inside fabric tubes form the 26-character set that makes up the alphabet. Some were admittedly more readable than others, but legibility was less important than witnessing how these designers’ minds recognized the awkward crook of an “r” in, say, a corner streetlight. (BM)
9 Chamber of Wonders Walters Art Museum
Everyone, young and old, will enjoy the Walters’ new Chamber of Wonders exhibition. Constructed to faithfully re-create a 17th-century European gentleman’s collection of natural, mechanical, and artistic curiosities, this exhibit brings together the world’s oldest-known pocket watch, a mummified “dragon,” a 12-foot-long stuffed alligator, and thousands of other objets d’art that are just, well, really cool. How often can you say that about an art exhibit, let alone a kid-friendly one? (JB)
10 X|Y Maryland Art Place
X and Y are the chromosomes that make us, but to a computer they’re the horizontal and vertical axis of a grid. That junction of biological code and digital imagery is the uncanny valley where curator Tim Nohe mined three artists—Christina Hung, Christa Erickson, Paul Vanouse—whose information-age visions made up MAP’s X|Y. Cerebral and sterile—in the best, crisp new lab coat kind of way—the show bypassed the usual bleep and bloop frenzy of most all-tech shows to showcase instead work that used scientific media in judicious and sublime ways, such as Erickson’s “dis-ease” (an interactive exploration of genomic disorder) or Vanouse’s “active stimulation platform,” whose red buttons released a cacophony of multidialect “yes” and “no” when pressed. And if nothing else, Hung’s paint-by-microbe petri dish portrait combining the faces of John Ashcroft and Joseph McCarthy found a new way to make those guys creep us out. (VG) H
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201