The Year in Art
We missed more exhibition openings this year than we really care to admit. Some we missed because we can't get out of the office until 10 p.m. on some Thursday and Friday nights. Some we missed because we were just too lazy to get there on time. But most we missed because we were at other openings and didn't leave in time to make the next one. Hell, on the Saturday prior to Artscape we hit seven openings in the course of one day, starting at 11 a.m. and working down to South Baltimore--and we still only made it to a fraction of the shows we hoped to see.
As usual, Baltimore is chock-a-block with visual art activity, be it in the increasing number of traditional white-walled professional gallery spaces, artist-run initiatives, more pants-seat irreverence, or just around the city in "found" gallery spaces and locations. Some of the year's highlights from one ambulatory art rubber-necker: catching performance and quickie theater productions at Load of Fun; accidentally wandering over to MICA at the right time to sit in on an amazing batch of performance pieces; Transmodern Age's ongoing delivery of the visual art, films, and a wide swath of performance; High Zero's ever widening breadth of music, performance, and, social experimentation; any Current Gallery opening; Area 405's Rollergirl: A Retrospective; and coming across modestly guerrilla/quasi-legal artists, um, "finding" materials and then installing to hide in plain sight. Sometimes you see the best work in Baltimore when walking up to what looks like a phone booth.
And it's not just the art makers, curators, and exhibitioners bringing their A-games. Local artist/writer Cara Ober helped start and loosely runs the Bmore art blog, where people post info about openings and local artists/writers Jarrett Min Davis, Asper Winktop, Don Cook, Rob Sparrow Jones, and Ober herself offer their impressions about current shows around town. More opinions from more writers about more art is only going to be a good thing for Baltimore art in the long run.
Speaking of long-term good things for Baltimore artists, the Janet and Walter Sondheim Award, launched at Artscape 2006, is looking to become an annual gift after this year. And its $25,000 prize is the sort of gift that can make a real difference in a working artist's life.
And you never know when that artist's life is going to be cut short: Thank you, Larry Scott, for shining so bright on Baltimore during your time here.
But while speaking to those people who knew and loved Mr. Scott, they all intimated that he wouldn't be one to dwell on the negative if there was creative work to still be done, and there remains a wealth of creative work still to be done in Baltimore. It's very nice that the city--well, technically the Bromo Selzer LLC, which includes the city of Baltimore, the Office of the Mayor of the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Office of Promotions and the Arts--awarded a free studio space in the recently renovated Bromo Seltzer Tower downtown (the application to which includes a $25 fee and the submission of original [?!] pieces of work, not slides), but when the remainder of the building's 30 or so studios rent for $400 to $1,200 month for 100-550 square feet, we're wondering what artists can afford to work there. (This is but the iceberg's tip when it comes to artists getting the blunt end of the cost-of-living stick during times of urban "renewal," as Baltimore is currently undergoing.)
Enough of the bad: The below list was shaped with input from Jason Hughes, Deborah McLeod, and Bret McCabe. We can't wait to see what we come across next year. (Bret McCabe)
1 At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Society
A remarkable backstory--George Ciscle's class of Maryland Institute College of Art and Morgan State University undergrads spending two years researching, developing, and staging this epically ambitious two-institution event--could have overshadowed the show itself if the works didn't meet up to the ideas. But not only did the Exhibition Development Seminar come correct with At Freedom's Door, it hatched a gorgeous, moving, and intelligent look at how this country's great historical atrocity effected and affected Maryland and its peoples, the show crossed decades and media to offer insight into how then influences now, how now affects how we look at then, and dazzling proves that then can still reach out and touch us where we live now. (BM)
2 Joyce Scott Breathe, Goya Contemporary
Thinking back over a year of many fine shows, one stood out particularly for this writer. That would be Joyce Scott's Breathe, presented at Goya Contemporary last spring. It establishes its supremacy because the artist's work is so strikingly eccentric while issuing from such humble, quotidian materials--found things, beads, and crochet yarns--with blown glass for glamour. They carry that how-does-she-do-that? quality within. The act and process of creating them seems so challenging to the imagination. But more than that, Scott's little fetish figures are so curiously expressive and so utterly earnest, so shrewd. Capable of reaching deeply into the heart, they are meanwhile and nonetheless so hip. Her sculptures are simply extraordinary, and a show full of them effectively takes the breath away. The exhibition's title is thus quite helpful. (Deborah McLeod)
3 Sondheim Prize Finalists, Baltimore Museum of Art
Not your usual Baltimore postpunk punk art, the 2007 Sondheim Prize Finalists exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art featured seven artists whose work truly deserved the honor they received. After reviewing nearly 320 applications, the jurors put together a strong exhibition that looked more like a curated museum survey rather than an open-call submission. This year's finalists included Geoff Grace, Richard Cleaver, Baby Martinez, Frank Hallam Day, Eric Dyer, Karen Yasinsky, and, of course, Baltimore's latest golden boy, Tony Shore. With next year's competition already on the horizon, the Sondheim Prize will surely continue to bring out Baltimore's best and brightest. (Jason Hughes)
4 Acting Up/Acting Out: MICA Women Perform, Fox Building Gallery 3
This criminally overlooked show offered some of the best local performance of the year. Curated by Leslie King-Hammond, MICA's dean of graduate studies, and Maren Hassinger, MICA's director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture, Acting Up/Acting Out was part of a national celebration of women's contributions to art, and the show--a mix of multimedia pieces and performance--delivered strong, heady, witty, and discomforting works from a variety of young women, all drawing from and updating the fearless energy of the American Women's Art Movement of the 1970s. Great stuff. (BM)
5 Ceci n'est pas a Booth, Kiosk or Gazebo and Other Radical Shacks, Artscape 2007 Food Court
Yes, a few CP contributing illustrators were involved in some way in Laure Drogoul's social experiment-cum-absurdist sideshow-cum-happiest place on Earth, but since many of them were dressed i-gnome-cognito and others we don't really know as people, we feel OK about showing it some love. Right smack in the middle of the fried-grease and overpriced mojito pit known as the Artscape food court Drogoul corralled a bunch of local artists to put up food-court-esque shacks, only none of them really had anything to sell. Snacks doled out gratis included creative smoothies while stacks of monitors featured people dancing to darting electronic music. The Lexie Mountain Boys offered a tent in which to cool off. And a bunch of bearded and fake-pipe-smoking gnomes scurried around the entire time talking to people in gibberish and, in general, bringing smiles to whomever they met. (BM)
6 Joseph Grigely St. Cecilia, Contemporary Museum
The Contemporary Museum has had its share of ups and downs over the past few years, but with its more recent exhibition programming it appears to be gaining momentum once again. Joseph Grigely's solo exhibition St. Cecilia was as fun as it was engaging, featuring works that seek to clarify the deaf artist's voice and artistic vision while simultaneously handicapping the audience's ability to comprehend what was literally being said. Pieces such as "We're Drunken Bantering About What's Important in Life" and the commissioned video "St. Cecilia" highlighted Grigely's wit, humor, creativity, and charm, elevating the show from an egocentric representation of the artist himself to a presentation of the intricacies of communication that are necessary to understand one another. (JH)
7 All That Remains, Whole Gallery
Baltimore certainly has its fair share of artist-run galleries, but only a few ever put together really tight shows. All That Remains, curated by Emily C-D (a sometimes CP contributing illustrator), was probably the best show the Whole Gallery has hosted in a while. This young curator pulled together a handful of artists whose work, for the most part, appeared to be made entirely out of found objects and recycled parts. The late-night pots and pans jam session went on for a while but nonetheless added to the overall theme of making due with what you have. Hopefully C-D can surprise us again with another good show next year. (JH)
8 Black Panther: Rank and File, Maryland Institute College of Art
This show was a sucker-punch reminder that the Black Panther Party had a visual panache as strong and effective as it politics. Rank and File combined old Panther posters and products with contemporary riffing on that iconic imagery, and if the show felt a little bloodless, it was intentional: Nothing sucks the wind right out of you like seeing the visual manifestation of radical thinking from the recent past congealed into a museum setting--especially when so very little contemporary thinking approaches such fervent and strident beliefs, to say nothing of its visual culture. And when nearly 30 years ago looks more progressive than what you're seeing now, you should feel a little queasy. (BM)
9 Front Room: Ripple Effect, Baltimore Museum of Art
Also known as, why CP hearts BMA senior curator Darsie Alexander, reason No. 475: The BMA now owns Thomas Hirschhorn's "Chandelier With Hands," a lovely somethingorother of a piece of contemporary sculpture. A mix of recently acquired works with handpicked pieces from the BMA's permanent collections, the show was ostensibly a visual demonstration of the how and why and what of the museum's recent acquisitions. But all we could see was the vibrancy of the BMA's recent accessions and enjoy guessing what the BMA has in store for us in the near future. (BM)
10 Judy Chicago: Jewish Identity, Jewish Museum of Maryland
This traveling show plopped one of the bigger names of 1970s feminist art in Baltimore and invited you to take a look at her as much, much more than the woman behind "The Dinner Party." And just as poorly understanding feminism can be misleading, associating Chicago only with her best-known work is equally reductive, and this bold show--which included a cornucopia of drawings, self-portraits, 3-D panels, scrolls, and more--acutely calibrated the brain to see and discover much, much more in Chicago's entire life and works. (BM)
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