“What are you going to write about, after you’ve written about all the good art in Baltimore?”
This was a question someone asked me a decade ago, when I worked as the Art & Culture Editor at The Urbanite Magazine, after I told him what I did for a living. I’m still not sure if he intended it as a provocation or he was just clueless, but the implication was clear: It was impossible to fathom that Baltimore could generate enough “good art” to merit me writing about it, day in day out. A decade later, I am happy to report that I have been writing about art in Baltimore, in some form or another, every single day for over a decade, and my list of stories to write next is longer than ever.
I knew then what I know now: Baltimore’s pool of talent—realized in ambitious projects, collaborations, and cultural events—is an ever-expanding universe. In my current line of work, I will never, ever run out of stories and the deeper I dig, the more I realize this place is richer, weirder, and more interesting than I could have ever believed. And I’m not talking about some quaint, participation-prize level shit, either. No. The innovative ways that artists build their lives, the earnest experimentation, the interdisciplinary connection between media and community practice, as well as the exquisite quality of artistic output is proof that Baltimore-based artists are not only participating in a larger dialogue about who makes and owns culture, but are leading it in many cases, especially within current movements to rewrite the art historical canon from the perspective of those strategically kept out of it.
When I think back on the past decade, it’s been a blur of challenge and collaboration. For me and for BmoreArt, it has been a decade of profound change. As you will see if you click on some of the older links included, this publication existed and functioned at the start of the decade, but has transformed, especially since adding a biannual print journal in 2015 and two incredible full-time employees in 2019. After a decade of wondering if a focus on the art and culture of Baltimore was a naive gamble, this year I was honored with an unexpected Rabkin Foundation Writer’s Grant. It doesn’t significantly change the work I am doing, but it is national validation that I am on the right track, that paying close attention to the art of my own place and time is vital, despite the ongoing trend in media against local and regional publications.
Looking toward 2020, I am thrilled to work collaboratively with BmoreArt’s core team, as well as an expanding team of excellent freelance writers, art critics, designers, photographers, and artists. I am looking forward to the launch of our new website this January, designed by Amanda Buck to be more image-friendly and in line with the aesthetics of our print journals, and to create a platform for Baltimore-based artists through a series of exhibitions in our new gallery and office space at 2519 N. Charles Street. The end of a decade may be an arbitrary marker in time, but it is an opportunity to assess progress and to make plans for the future based on lessons learned.
As I sifted through BmoreArt’s wormhole of archives in search of significant art and cultural markers for each year in the past decade, I was surprised at what I found: Rather than seeing “radical” changes in arts and cultural movements, especially in recent years, I saw strategic, progressive steps—consistent throughout the decade. Rather than seeing one or two individuals leading the cause, I found a network of hard-working, passionate people and organizations, who understand that our success as a city and community is collective. Rather than an emphasis on art for arts sake, it became apparent that the battle for equity and social justice in the arts goes hand in hand with the most innovative, excellent, and ambitious projects of the decade.
Regardless of optics and external validation, I suspect that those of us who choose to center art and culture in our lives are doing so because we love the deliciousness of being embedded in the process of our work, as well as the relationships we build through collaborative efforts that offer more richness than obvious rewards can reflect. Please join me on a trip down memory lane that is complicated, consistent in intent, and authentic to Baltimore and surrounding regions. Based on the achievements of the past decade and the creative leadership of artists, I believe that we are in an amazing position to elevate, support, and activate the work of Baltimore-based artists and with them, the success of our city as a whole. I know that I am never going to run out of “good art” to write about.
2010: Bearing Witness at The Contemporary, Sculpture at Evergreen, and Warhol’s Last Decade at the BMA
Bearing Witness: Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry at The Contemporary Museum (and various hosts in Baltimore)
Presented as a partnership between The Contemporary Museum and MICA’s Exhibition Development Seminar, works from this mid-career survey were exhibited at the museum’s former home at 100 W. Centre St., and various host venues throughout Baltimore including MICA, the Carroll Mansion, Maryland Art Place, the Phoenix Shot Tower, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and The Walters Art Museum.
“Our goal is to create artwork that has a visceral, physical and emotional presence,” Tarry said. “We create installations that encourage viewers to navigate the personal memories and experiences of an individual story contained within a broader social and political context.”
A collaborative artist team since 1998, Brooklyn-based artists McCallum and Tarry have worked and exhibited globally, seeking to surface and discuss issues revolving around marginalized members of society. Their work, realized in large-scale public projects, performance, sculpture, painting, photography, video and self-portraiture, explores issues of race and social justice in family, community, and history. (Cara Ober via/ The Contemporary)
Simultaneous Presence: Sculpture at Evergreen 6 at JHU’s Evergreen Museum & Library (Outdoors)This biannual site-specific national outdoor sculpture juried exhibit needs to COME BACK! Baltimore needs this ambitious sculpture biennial and Johns Hopkins’ Evergreen Museum & Library, a hidden treasure, benefits from the activation by contemporary artists. In its last iteration, after a national call, curators Jennie Fleming and Ronit Eisenbach selected ten installations of temporary, large-scale, site-specific artwork created for the 26-acre grounds of Evergreen Museum & Library. According to Fleming, “The works invite reflection on convergent and contrasting interpretations of abundance and absence, sustenance and sustainability, fantasy and pleasure, wealth and its source, and the contrasting realities of Baltimore.”
The exhibition featured work by Yolande Daniels (New York, NY); Myeongbeom Kim (Chicago, IL); Joel Lamere + Cynthia Gunadi (Boston, MA); Eric Leshinsky, C. Ryan Patterson & Fred Scharmen (Baltimore, MD); Matter Practice (Brooklyn, NY); Yukiko Nakashima (Astoria, NY); Meredith Nickie (New York, NY); Taeg Nishimoto (San Antonio, TX); David Page (Baltimore, MD); and Shannon Young (Baltimore, MD). (Cara Ober / via Evergreen Museum)
Andy Warhol: The Last Decade at the Baltimore Museum of Art“I never wanted to be a painter; I wanted to be a tap dancer.” – Andy Warhol
What I remember most about this exhibit was the museum’s call for volunteers to wear Warhol wigs and talk to people in the gallery, which was fun and inclusive. The exhibition itself veered from bland and predictable to loopy, inspired collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente. The exhibit was hugely popular and served to inflate the value of Warhol’s later works which had been previously overlooked, and a lesson in artistic evolution, where Warhol embraced sloppy monumental paintings in the late 1970s, long after he had declared painting over.
2011: Material Girls at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 30 Americans at The Corcoran, Loring Cornish at the Jewish Museum of Maryland
Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and CultureThis show was a true blockbuster and it garnered a ton of national attention. Ordinary materials transformed into extraordinary pieces of art was the emphasis of Material Girls, which featured work by Maya Freelon Asante, Chakaia Booker, Sonya Clark, Torkwase Dyson, Maren Hassinger, Martha Jackson Jarvis, Joyce J. Scott, and Renee Stout.
The sculptural works in Material Girls spoke directly to the ingenious output of Black women throughout history, as well as the narratives, traditions, and techniques passed down from generation to generation. “The exhibition is really a testament to the kinds of lessons black girls learned from their mothers and grandmothers about strategic improvisation, making do, making it work, and doing all of this with great elegance and style,” explains the curator of the exhibit, Michelle Joan Wilkinson. The exhibit featured contemporary artists in different stages of their careers, and offered a broad array of materials and expressions, but also a cohesion and collective expression of solidarity.
30 Americans at The Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC“Everyone should see this exhibit; this is some of the most significant art made in America over the last thirty years and African-American art is American art,” said art collector and BMA volunteer Rachel Rabinowitz in BmoreArt’s 2011’s year-end roundup.
“This iteration of 30 Americans brings together seventy-one works by African American artists—thirty-one [artists], to be exact, since the collection continues to grow,” continued Rabinowitz. “It’s an obvious concept, but a complex relationship to explore. And the works in 30 Americans offer an excellent starting point. This traveling show, on view through February 12 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, draws from works owned by the Rubell family, a Florida-based couple with one of the world’s largest private collections of contemporary art.” (Photo Kwaku Alston)
Loring Cornish: In Each Other’s Shoes at the Jewish Museum of MarylandLoring Cornish’s exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland offered a number of connections between the African-American experience and Jewish history, creating parallels between the struggles of both peoples in more than twenty works of art. Joining a shared legacy of abuse and resistance, triumph and tragedy, Cornish’s exhibit examined specific events and figures from both Jewish and African American history in freestanding sculpture and large wall pieces in his characteristic mosaic style.
Cornish had built a notable reputation for his glass mosaics, so his use of shoes in several new works is a significant change. Within a Jewish context, the shoes allude to holocaust memorials that feature vast displays of victim’s shoes, each pair symbolizing a life lost, and taken together, the incomprehensible scale of destruction. In the case of “Montgomery Bus Boycott,” the shoes also hearken to the many African Americans who walked to work and school, rather than ride segregated buses, in that 1955 to ’56 civil rights protest. To bind the shoes together, he used the red earth from the site of the protest: Montgomery, Alabama. The mosaic is mounted on a freestanding wall called a stelae so that viewers can walk around the mosaic and view the artist’s work on both sides.
2012: Joyce J. Scott at Goya Contemporary, Revealing the African Presence at The Walters, New Contemporary Wing at the BMA, and Vampire Travel Agency at sophiajacob
Joyce J. Scott: On Kilter at Goya Contemporary
Sharp as a razor and powerful as hell, Scott’s work plucks you out of your comfort zone and drops you naked, on the front line without a weapon. My favorite solo show this year was On Kilter, curated by Amy Raehse, which featured mostly sculptural works by Joyce J. Scott at Goya Contemporary. Composed of repurposed figurines, classically blown Murano glass, and skillfull beadwork, Scott’s work has long since crossed the threshold from craft to fine art with a capital F, and takes no prisoners. It’s no surprise she is taking the international art world by storm; with Prospect 2 New Orleans and the Museum of Art and Design, NY recent exhibitions, and Glasstress at the Venice Biennale on the near horizon.
I have to admit a strong preference for Scott’s sculpture and beadwork over her prints, which were featured in numerous exhibits this year, including the BMA Contemporary Wing, Stevenson University’s First Impressions, and a second solo exhibit at The Creative Alliance, but this doesn’t matter. This artist is going places way beyond Baltimore and we’re lucky to still have her here.
Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe at The Walters Art MuseumThis was the first major museum exhibition of historic portraiture to reveal a previously hidden existence of Africans in Renaissance society, offering a new opportunity to envision the various roles that they played in everyday life. This groundbreaking exhibition featured artists like Dürer, Rubens, Veronese alongside works and artists who were previously unknown. This small but muscular show, curated by Joneath Spicer, formed an illuminative timeline of race, history, class, and identity that art historians are only beginning to pay attention to.
According to Holland Cotter in the NYT Review, Presence “does what few museum shows ever do: It takes a prized piece of art history, one polished to a glow by generations of attention, and turns it in an unexpected direction, so it catches the searching, scouring rays of new investigative light.”
New BMA Contemporary Wing and Permanent Collection Exhibition
“Things are better now than they ever have been for women and artists of color,” said the Guerrilla Girls, outspoken experts on equality in the art world. “Right now there is decent representation of women and artists of color at the beginning and emerging levels of the art world. At the institutional level however, in museums, major collections and auctions sales, things are still pretty dismal for all but white guys.”
Although the Baltimore Museum of Art had prominently featured a number of white male artists in its contemporary wing, the newly opened Contemporary Wing featured a number of women and artists of color, including an early Grace Hartigan abstraction, a Rirkrit Tiravanija installation, a square Elizabeth Murray painting, two Anne Truitt sculptures, a series of prints by Joyce Scott, a Jenny Holzer text piece, and a number of other works by artists formerly marginalized by museums, including Baltimore-based artists Richard Cleaver and Jimmy Joe Roche, all from within the museum’s vast collection.
Szechuan Best’s Vampire Travel Agency at sophiajacob
What happens when artists transform a storefront art gallery into the set of a fictional sitcom? People get confused, but mostly in a good way. During the opening reception of Vampire Travel Agency at sophiajacob, an art exhibit curated by Max Guy and Peggy Chiang, a woman marched up to the front desk and ordered some takeout. Possibly, she was lost and/or intoxicated. Or maybe the line between art and real life was blurred beyond the point to which even the exhibit’s curators intended. Either way, sophiajacob, a newish art space on Franklin Street, has been transformed to blend smoothly with the small, local businesses that surround it.
Vampire Travel Agency transformed the space into a fictional travel agency, allegedly for a television sitcom, where artwork, normally the center of the show, functioned as secondary props. Since opening in the middle of 2012, the gallery has featured a string of ambitious, cutting edge, and downright interesting shows. Szechuan Best is the curatorial team of Max Guy and Peggy Chiang, and Vampire Travel Agency was their first curatorial effort in a dedicated gallery space. The artists included are Milano Chow, Bea Fremderman, Pete Halupka, Rachel Lowing, Kat Schneider, Hayley Silverman, Colin Van Winkle, and Jee Shaun Wang.
2013: Lisa Dillin at Gallery Four, Caitlin Cunningham at sophiajacob, Seth Adelsberger at Springsteen
Lisa Dillin: Stopgap at Gallery Four
If Lisa Dillin’s previous bodies of work were about alienation, this one emphasized inclusion. If past exhibits were sly and cheeky, Stopgap at Gallery Four (H&H Building) was a belly laugh and bear hug. Although Dillin’s characteristic method of pairing natural and artificial was still at the forefront of her newest works, their participatory nature softened and warmed them.
Stopgap hosted a spray tan booth at the center of the exhibit, complete with color coordinated bikinis, shorts, and sarongs, where the artist airbrushed participants to a coppery bronze. At the opening, after tanning, the participants were allowed to hang out in a secret “club” area with faux stone benches, an amazing “stone” mini-fridge full of microbrews, and animal pelts on the wall—a modern caveperson’s paradise. Although they were scantily clad, most tanners chose to remain in costume for much of the evening, creating a party atmosphere full of giddy confessionals where embarrassment was transformed into a badge of honor.
Caitlin Cunningham’s Tan Penis Island at sophiajacob“Caitlin Cunningham’s solo show at sophiajacob, informally referred to as Tan Penis Island, is a carefully assembled collection of references around the subject of Tahiti and the insidious effects of Western hegemony, manifesting in a range of found ephemera and Cunningham’s own constructed pieces,” wrote Mac Falby in a review. “The show is preceded by online promotion and explication of Cunningham’s choice of subject, and the assumption that viewers have some prior knowledge of Paul Gauguin’s work and the story of Mutiny on the Bounty—both of these cultural touch points provide the show with the backbone of it’s content. The best art raises questions that it can’t answer. Caitlin Cunningham’s Tan Penis Island at sophiajacob pushed a lot of buttons, created a ton of discussion, and raised significant awareness of feminist issues within the art world.”
Seth Adelsberger: Surface Treatment at Springsteen
This exhibit practically glowed off the walls. Seth Adelsberger’s paintings and their accompanying scientific practice were tactile, sexy, and unexpectedly weird. As an exhibit, Surface Treatment at Springsteen examined the “chemical and scientific properties of painting.” In the series of works, titled The Submersion Paintings, the artist combined stains and washes over a gestural application of gesso to achieve formal variety within magenta and turquoise palettes. Adelsberger also successfully referenced synthetic pigments and printing processes (CMYK), as well as the computer LED screens where most art is viewed today. Adelsberger’s paintings possess an inherent glowing effect, similar to the backlit screens of smartphones and laptops.
2014: Camille Henrot at the BMA, Stephen Towns at Gallery CA, The Contemporary Speaker Series, MAP’s Homecoming, and FORCE
Camille Henrot at the Baltimore Museum of Art
In her award-winning video, Grosse Fatigue, French artist Camille Henrot used the Smithsonian archives as muse and subject for a dense, beautiful, and heady narrative about the origins of knowledge. Jen Coster reviewed the project for BmoreArt and compared it with an analogous project by Baltimore-based artist Geoff Grace, stating that “Henrot addresses our current means of perceiving the world and the split consciousness of the digital age. The video explores vast systems of knowledge and the human desire to create a cohesive image out of a fractured existence. The work was shot during a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, where she had access to museum archives. The result: a 13-minute video that attempts to explain the history of the creation of the world. The 35-year-old artist received a Silver Lion award for the video at the 2013 Venice Biennale, which designates the most promising young artist, and a solo exhibition surveying her video work, works on paper, and a new installation opened at the New Museum last week.”
Stephen Towns: co|patriot at Gallery CA
“Co-Patriot is a collection of new work inspired by Stephen Towns’ readings of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, and Harriet Ann Jacob’s Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl,” explained Ben Levy in an interview with the artist. According to Levy, “The classic works helped to inform and broaden Towns’ view of the systemic oppression that has affected black people in America. Each work of art examines the relationship African-Americans have had with their country and history, both known and lost.”
In our year end review, Lauren Van Slyke wrote: “Attending the opening for the Stephen Towns’s exhibit at Gallery CA was one of the highlights of my year. Short of the first time I saw examples of Kehinde Wiley’s work, this was the first time I experienced Black subjects being portrayed not in ‘Black Art,’ but art with Black subjects. Stephen’s use of saturated color and his talent for capturing the Black American experience in his work is exciting and refreshing.”
The Contemporary Cohost SeriesIn her year-end review, Amy Boone-McCreesh wrote, “I imagine that many will rank The Contemporary’s Speaker Series high on the list for 2014. With names like Nick Cave, Guerilla Girls, and Andrew WK, what’s not to love? Any opportunities for Baltimore to have a dialogue with the greater art world are a welcome departure from our Smalltimore (but lovely) artist community. I hope that the Contemporary will continue to act as a bridge to the art world outside of Baltimore.”
Best Homecoming: Maryland Art Place
In a separate year-end review, Ian MacLean Davis wrote about Maryland Art Place moving back to its original home on Saratoga Street. “Established in 2012, the Bromo Arts & Entertainment District in Westside Downtown Baltimore launched on the hardscrabble backs of Current Gallery, the H&H Building gallery venues, and other artist-run spaces on Franklin Street that have invigorating the area with arts activity for years (Hippodrome Theater notwithstanding),” he wrote. “This year Maryland Art Place finally divested itself of the beautiful, but awkwardly corporate home at Power Plant Live! on Water Street and returned to 218 West Saratoga St. where they previously resided from 1986-2001. Renovations aside, the staff of MAP has proven itself committed to working with neighboring independent galleries and BOPA to promote arts in the district.”
FORCE: Upsetting Rape CultureIn a Best of 2014 list by Will Holman, he recognized the efforts of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. “Celebrities from Bill Cosby to Ray Rice dominated headlines this year with news they had beaten or raped women,” wrote Holman. “Several universities have opened inquiries into uninvestigated campus assaults. GamerGate has brought out the malicious side of the Internet, with vicious trolling of female critics of the video game industry. Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle have waded into this fight with an army of volunteers and their participatory project Monument Quilt. FORCE emerged from 13-city tour this summer with an ever-growing quilt and a powerful testament to the stories of rape survivors across the country.”
2015: Miriam Simun’s Ghost Food, Lu Zhang at the Peabody Library, Hermonie “Only” Williams at Terrault, PMF at the Baltimore Design School, and Melani Douglass’ Love on the Line
GhostFood: Miriam Simun at The ContemporaryKatie Boyts, our food critic, reviewed GhostFood, a conceptual food truck designed to explore the future of cuisine, sustainability, and extinction, by Miriam Simun and organized by The Contemporary. “It was parked in front of Penn Station, serving a menu of Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Cod,” Boyts wrote. “The peanut represented the grassland, cod the ocean, and chocolate the rainforest. All three items carry an eminent risk of extinction linked to climate change. GhostFood doesn’t attempt elaborate on those stories, instead, focuses purely on the tactile experience in front of you. Like a weird pair of sunglasses without the lenses, the 3D-printed olfactory stimulation device administers the scent of one of the three threatened foods. While inhaling deeply, you eat a climate-change resilient food made to mimic the texture of the food you smell.”
Lu Zhang topo(log) typo(log) @ ICA at the George Peabody Library
In a review, Terence Hannum called Lu Zhang’s exhibition topo(log) typo(log) at the George Peabody Library an archive of archives and “focused on the forest itself—the library… After a yearlong residency, where Zhang kept a studio on the premises, this exhibit is an unusual partnership between the Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore, librarian Paul Espinosa, and the artist herself. Displayed simply as artist books on wooden tables in the center of one of Baltimore’s most dramatic buildings, Zhang has attempted to translate and synthesize the collection through her (decidedly un-Dewey Decimal) perspective as an artist. The yearlong residency culminated in six artist books dedicated to her experience of the archive, and each employ a distinctive approach, medium, and concept… Similar to Joachim Koester’s piece at the BMA, Lu Zhang’s intervention at the Peabody Library about the Library is full of referential and self-referential content. This circular narrative lays down a complex maze of fictions and histories that overlap and cancel each other out with a smart series of six books that act as libraries in miniature.”
Hermonie “Only” Williams SACCADE @ Terrault
According to Jack Livingston, who reviewed SACCADE, the title is French for “a brief, rapid movement of the eye from one position of rest to another.” The phenomenon happens when there is a sudden shift or change in optic signals. He said this was appropriate for an exhibit of sculpture by the artist for the first time. “Hermonie’s minimal usage of colors—white, black, red, and blue—unifies and heightens the ensemble,” said Livingston. “Accompanying the sculptures are five mini-drawings in graphite. They are also monochrome, with slight shades of gray. The tone generates a seemingly calm, orderly atmosphere that is present in all of her works.”
In our year-end list, Terence Hannum wrote about the same show, saying, “I’ve always found the monochrome to be an aggressive work, one that demands attention from its lack of anything else. The viewer has to look, can’t look away—no matter how frustrating. That inevitability really struck me with this work, the graphite drawings of planar forms, the oversized ‘game’ board. Saccade abruptly moved you somewhere between Sol Le Witt and Jennie C. Jones.”
PMF VI @ Baltimore Design SchoolThe annual Publications and Multiples Fair, originally conceived as a more affordable and accessible alternative to the BMA’s biannual print fair by Baltimore collective Open Space, was a thrilling shopping extravaganza, where prints, zines, and objects were scooped up at a dizzying rate. Once they began hosting the annual event at the Baltimore Design School, it really took off and combined work from book fair artists from across the country with Baltimore mainstays. Now, both the PMF and the BMA print fair have been discontinued, and these opportunities to buy high quality original art—from galleries and artists—are gone. Although unfortunate, it seems like there may be an opportunity and a need to create something to fill this void in the future.
Family Arts Museum’s Love on the Line pop-up series curated by Melani Douglass
“Love on the Line is proof that the arts send positivity throughout the neighborhood and help to establish tight-knight communities,” wrote Madeline Scharff for BmoreArt about Love on the Line, a curated series of performances and art in a laundromat by Melani Douglass. “Whether your art is folding laundry, singing, dancing, photography, playing an instrument, or practicing karate, you are participating in an act that promotes the ideals Baltimore strives to stand for. That is, strengthening community ties with individuals who are accountable, aware of the neighborhood’s needs, law-abiding, politically active, have a sense of purpose, and support the arts.”
In a year-end review, Kimi Hanauer recognized the event, saying, “A few days following the Baltimore Uprising, Melani Douglass mobilized an edition of the Love on the Line event that featured work by Pierre Bennu and Stephanie Safiyatou Edwards and performances by Jasmine Pope, Courtney Dowe, the Baltimore Girls, Lamar Anthony Hill, and others. There were a lot of meaningful, positive moments that took place around that time and this was definitely a memorable one.”
2016: Abigail DeVille at The Peale, Madame de Pompadour at The Walters, Matisse/Diebenkorn at the BMA, Stephen Towns at Galerie Myrtis, Theresa Chromati at Platform Gallery, and Cindy Cheng at St. Charles Projects
Abigail DeVille’s Only When It’s Dark Enough Can You See the Stars produced by The Contemporary at The Peale MuseumIn a review, Amber Eve Anderson immediately recognized the lasting significance of this exhibit. “Yes, this show is a heady plunge into the story of the first North American building erected for the purpose of being a museum,” she wrote. “Yes, this show is a reconstructed timeline of the building and the city since it was built in 1814. Yes, because the story of Baltimore from 1814 to the present is also a story of American racial politics from pre-Civil War slavery to #BlackLivesMatter activism, this show is a timely consideration of the American experiment. And, yes, this show articulates its own points of view about the relationship between disenfranchised people and various forms of economic, institutional, and state power.”
She continued: “More than anything, though, See the Stars is a shockingly emotional hijacking of that elite and sometimes state-controlled manufacturing industry we call history… It really doesn’t matter where you start in this two-story, eight-room and one outdoor installation exhibition—See the Stars‘ emotional intensity is cumulative, not sequential. Each installation is an essay unto itself, exploring and commenting upon uses of the Peale building during its past.”
Madame de Pompadour: Patron and Printmaker at The WaltersAlthough I didn’t review it at the time, this quietly relevant show has taken on more significance for me, well after it closed, with all the impending 2020 “Year of the Woman” headlines.
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, known as Madame de Pompadour, was the influential mistress of King Louis XV of France and is best remembered as a patron of the arts. However, she was an artist herself as well as a prolific collector. This exhibition at the Walters showcased selections from her Suite of Prints, a rare first-edition set of etchings created by Poisson in the 1750s, purchased by Henry Walters from a Parisian book dealer in 1895. Fewer than 20 of these suites were made overall and the Walters owns the only full remaining copy, which was also Madame de Pompadour’s personal copy. The exhibition also included engraved gems, and a few of the most stunning possessions she collected including a woven tapestry and two pairs of Sevres porcelain vases. The approximately 30 works in the exhibition in the museum’s Manuscripts Gallery are all from the Walters collection and served as a testament to the role that women, specifically women artists, played in art history—as visionary leaders, creators, and collectors.
Matisse/Diebenkorn at the BMA“An interest in re-thinking Diebenkorn’s interest in Matisse is also discernible in the show’s judicious and effective use of supplementary materials,” wrote Kerr Houston in his review of Matisse/Diebenkorn at the BMA. “Working with the Diebenkorn Foundation, the curators secured the loan of a number of books from Diebenkorn’s personal library. Over the course of his career, he collected more than forty books on Matisse (family members later recalled that they made terrific Christmas gifts), and several of them are on display here. The overall effect is compelling, without being intrusive or distracting: Diebenkorn’s worn copy of a catalogue of a 1966 Matisse retrospective, for example, touchingly evokes the regularity with which he consulted the work of his predecessor.”
While the exhibit focuses on a linear transfer of influence from Matisse to Diebenkorn, the exhibit, arranged to highlight specific techniques, compositions, and color invented by Henri Matisse and then borrowed and translated by Diebenkorn, there’s a larger sphere of influence that comes into focus. Both Matisse and Diebenkorn were rule-breakers in their day, especially in their insistence on making the process and act of painting central to the meaning of the work. While other painters cleaned up their surfaces and covered up changes and mistakes, both Matisse and Diebenkorn made their often lumpy palimpsest surfaces a hallmark of their technique. For anyone who has ever picked up a paintbrush, the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art is a holy grail. Both are considered titans of painting who irrevocably shaped the boundaries and vocabulary of painting in their day, when their prolific bodies of work frustrated, angered, and delighted the art world, and continue to influence generations of painters.
Stephen Towns: Take Me Away to the Stars at Galerie Myrtis“Often, major media coverage of protests and rallies against police brutality doesn’t dive deep into context or history to explain, in particular, black people’s (justified) anger and weariness of systemic racism and all of its symptoms and byproducts. It is so much to sift through and to process, but local artist Stephen Towns has dedicated his latest body of work to researching and unearthing aspects of one historic moment that is also shrouded in myth: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion,” wrote Rebekah Kirkman for the now defunct Baltimore City Paper, highlighting the seriousness and the historical integrity that is now viewed as integral in Stephan Towns’ work.
“The work in Take Me Away to the Stars uses an ecstatic revisionist aesthetic to chart the incredible saga of one of the most significant slave revolts in US history,” wrote Angela N. Carroll in BmoreArt’s end-of-year list. “The exhibition provided an inspiring rumination on the possibilities of myth and magical thinking as essential tools for past and contemporary freedom movements.”
Theresa Chromati: BBW at Platform Gallery
In her review of the exhibit, Angela N. Carroll wrote: “BBW is a journey into the surreal and psychedelic imaginings of Theresa Chromati, transforming Platform Gallery into a wilderness of sprawling foliage and glitter-bandana tartan. In this space, ink-black characters peer from masks into worlds beyond. You, the viewer, peek into windows where characters freely explore themselves and their environment… In Chromati’s paintings and colorful installations, the characters are nude except for matching masks and ‘pussy lip-ass strap-on’s’ (yes, I just said that). As an exhibit, BBW bridges the absurd and bizarre while also interrogating stigmas and cultural appropriations of black women’s bodies and lived experiences.”
In BmoreArt’s year-end review, Bret McCabe wrote, “Chromati utterly annihilated the consumerist objectification of the female body, and the black female body specifically, with this solo show at Platform Gallery. Her arresting works here depict a series of stylized female forms in surreally intimate settings, creating a vocabulary and body of work as singular and powerful as that of Leonor Fini or Marisol Escobar.”
Cindy Cheng: Whet Stone Hone at St. Charles ProjectsIn our year-end review, Amy Boone-McCreesh wrote about Cindy Cheng, faculty member at MICA and multimedia artist, within the context of a two-person show at St. Charles Projects with Rubens Ghenov. “Cindy’s work, titled Whet Stone Hone, felt like a personalized cabinet of curiosities, housed in sculptural furniture,” wrote Boone-McCreesh. “Eccentric hand-made objects pushed the boundaries of material presence and rewarded the viewers that spent more time creating connections between forms and colors. The work lived somewhere between design and relic, touching on formal concerns, while maintaining an organic existence.”
2017: Amy Sherald at the Creative Alliance, Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Counterparts at the BMA, Wickerham & Lomax: DUOX4Odell’s at Light City, and Malcolm Peacock at Terrault
About Face featuring Amy Sherald, Rozeal, Ebony G. Patterson, and Tim Okamura at The Creative AllianceIt’s shocking to realize how few depictions of black figures appear in major museums, and essential for contemporary figurative artists to substantially fill this void. Baltimore’s Amy Sherald, the first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Competition, creates portraits of black figures with exaggerated, gray-toned skin in order to expand and challenge the art historical cannon. In About Face, an exhibition in the Creative Alliance’s main gallery, Sherald and contemporaries Rozeal, Ebony G. Patterson, and Tim Okamura presented a delightful mishmash of styles acknowledging a diverse range of contemporary figurative depiction specifically for and about black subjects. Despite the narrow genre of portraiture, the show was ambitious and varied enough to suggest a radically expanded future for an art historical cannon where black faces and figures are the rule, rather than an exception.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Counterparts at the Baltimore Museum of ArtCrosby, confirmed as a MacArthur genius in 2017, offers the laser-sharp observation of a Vermeer through similarly quiet interior paintings but smartly updated with contemporary materials and message. Her solo exhibition in the BMA’s Front Room Gallery curated by Kristen Hileman featured six large site-specific mixed media paintings on paper and is a testament to her skills as a conjurer of visual intimacy, a strategic thinker, designer, and accomplished student of art history.
As with Vermeer and other masterful painters of interior spaces featuring humans like Bonnard, Matisse, Ingres, and even Diebenkorn, Akunyili Crosby is able to create a palpable sense of intimacy and make it immediately available to anyone gazing into her dreamy vignettes. It’s not so much the artist’s technical skill, which is considerable given four years of classical training at the Pennsylvania Academy, sandwiched between undergraduate study at Swarthmore and graduate study at Yale, but her ability to distill elusive memory, the feeling of sitting within ones own swirling narratives, into an accessible visual composition that makes her work special.
Wickerham & Lomax: DUOX4Odell’s, a Light City Neighborhoods ProjectDaniel Wickerham and Malcolm Lomax, also known collaboratively as DUOX, have been making theatrical, multimedia installations that use digital collage, animation, interactive video, and web design to posit queer-centered narratives since 2009. For Baltimore’s second iteration of Light City, a citywide art and technology festival, the duo was selected to explore Odell’s, a historic dance club that existed from 1976 to ’92 on North Avenue and served as an exclusive cultural hub for Batimore’s African American community.
After conducting exhaustive research and interviews, rather than attempting to replicate the dance hall as it was, Wickerham & Lomax envisioned the collective memory as it currently exists: a mythic, disco-laden haven. The result was an ambitious digital playground with dangling disco balls, larger-than-life cut out screens depicting 1970s style silhouettes, music, and documentary-style video interviews. A radical departure from linear or historical storytelling, You’ll Know If You Belong captured the essence of a legendary place and time in Baltimore’s history through shocks of color and maximal design inspired by fashion.
Malcolm Peacock: The Museum of Trayvon Martin at Terrault“Malcolm Peacock’s three-part installation at Terrault Contemporary and a separate location on Calvert Street provided a critical and moving analysis of Trayvon Martin’s life, not just a recant of his murder at the hands of George Zimmerman,” wrote Angela N. Carroll. “The great success of Peacock’s ‘museum’ is its determined and persistent visualization of Trayvon not as a victim, but as a teenager. His life, his joys with family and hobbies, are highlighted and remembered. Peacock’s exhibition stressed the importance of not just looking, but seeing Trayvon, and acknowledging that his life is reflected in all of our lives. Peacock considered him a brother, because he could have been his brother, and is in many ways a little brother, nephew, or cousin to us all.”
2018: Jack Whitten at the BMA, Roberto Lugo at The Walters, Meleko Mokgosi at the BMA, Ronald Jackson at Galerie Myrtis
Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 at the Baltimore Museum of Art“Throughout his career, Jack Whitten was a consummate innovator who explored and refined new techniques to visualize what he called ‘symbolic abstractions,’” wrote Angela N. Carroll in a review of the exhibition. “Rather than subscribe to traditional narrative painting formulas, or the idea that a painting must illustrate a particular idea, Whitten focused on the materiality of the paint and the process of making the artwork to construct meaning. Although he graduated from Cooper Union in 1964 and taught painting there from 1974-95, he did not gain significant fame until near the end of his life. Whitten recently passed away, at the age of 78 in January 2018.”
Roberto Lugo at The Walters Art Museum
Although contemporary ceramics tend to be technique- and materials-focused, mostly formal and often functional, Lugo transitioned from making work to please the majority of his white classmates and teachers at the Kansas City Art Institute in the early 2000s into depicting his own lived experience—as an Afro-Latino man in an urban setting—in order to draw attention to the significant social issues of our time that inspired him the most.
It was Lugo’s dedication to current social justice issues and urban identity, inspired by hiphop and graffiti, in America that made him a perfect fit for the opening of The Walters Art Museum’s opening of 1 West Mount Vernon Place, formerly the Hackerman House, a space used historically to exhibit ceramics. The newly finished mansion, now open to the public, was designed to exhibit selections from the Walters’ vast selection of ceramics, which are enlivened and challenged by the presence of Lugo’s vases, urns, and sculptural works inspired directly from the museum’s permanent collection.
Meleko Mokgosi: Acts of Resistance at the BMA“The installation at the BMA developed through an intimate dialogue with Kristen Hileman and the European collection at the museum.,” said artist Meleko Mokgosi in our interview with Michael Anthony Farley. “The paintings in the exhibition make up the sixth chapter of a larger project, Democratic Intuition (2014-present). However this new chapter, Acts of Resistance, departs from previous installations because it responds to both the architectural site and permanent collection at the museum. After doing numerous site visits over the course of two years, and as a result of incredible and instructive conversations with Kristen, we opted to forego the contemporary art section in the museum and instead conceptually and physically situate the installation in close proximity to the European permanent collection.”
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mokgosi, who hails from Botswana and now lives and works in New York, has quietly ascended as one of the greatest living painters,” writes Farley. “His epic works blend the European oil painting tradition with contemporary African imagery and the sensibilities of an installation artist. In this latest show curated by Kristen Hileman, Mokgosi responds to the BMA’s permanent collection. Installed in the museum’s European wing, Acts of Resistance defiantly subverts and compliments the centuries of Western art history it follows.”
Ronald Jackson: Profiles of Color III: Fabric, Face and Form at Galerie MyrtisThe contemporary art world is experiencing a renaissance in Black portraiture. A new generation of master realist painters like Kehinde Wiley, T. Eliott Mansa, Jas Knight and Ronald Jackson build upon a foundation laid by earlier figurative artists like Charles White, Augusta Savage, John Biggers, and Elizabeth Catlett. Their figurations not only visualized black identities with agency and humanity, but exuberantly revised histories of portraiture that uniformly presented non-white representations as submissive props. In those historical portraits, Black subjects were often painted in acts of service and relegated to the background of elaborate renderings of white nobility. Jackson’s portraits counter these histories by rendering Black subjects in imaginative and layered narratives that he calls “collage portraits” or oil paintings that incorporate stylistic approaches of collage.
Profiles of Color III: Fabric, Face, & Form, Ronald Jackson’s latest collection currently exhibited at Galerie Myrtis, references Arkansas rural culture and violent racist history, the fantastical elements of Magical Realism and the emotional and psychological tropes of Romanticism to offer a stunning appraisal of Black aesthetics. Floral and geometric prints and vibrant fabrics are harmoniously incorporated in large expressive oil paintings. Masked and fashion forward subjects confront your gaze, peer into the heart of the matter with unabashed directness, as if they were proclaiming, “You will see me and know that I am beautiful, powerful, and worthy of representation.” The collection is breathtaking, incredibly inspiring, and exquisitely executed. (Angela N. Carroll)
2019: Deyane Moses at MICA, Generations at the BMA, The Collection of Darryl Atwell and Lisa Gregory at Silber Gallery, and Joyce J. Scott and Elizabeth Talford Scott at Goya Contemporary and the BMA
Blackives: Deyane Moses at Maryland Institute College of Art
One cannot underestimate the power of a student exhibition which caused a college president to issue an institutional apology for historic racist practices, specifically the school’s policies for exclusion. Rebekah Kirkman wrote about this project last February and reiterated its power in BmoreArt’s 2019 year end review writing, “Deyane Moses, a recent MICA Photography graduate and current Curatorial Practice MFA student, earned national headlines at the start of this year for her on-campus exhibition Blackives and her expansive online platform, the Maryland Institute Black Archives, which scoured archival sources for information about the school’s racist history, including a policy from 1895 to 1954 that explicitly excluded students who weren’t white. The exhibition was remounted elsewhere on campus twice, and featured ‘reproductions of archival photographs and newspaper clippings, along with photos of current students, to ‘revive the voices’ of black artists who have been systematically silenced and denied entry into the institution.'”
“You can’t delve into the past without considering its reverberations in the present, though, so Moses also collected oral histories and photographic portraits of Black artists, instructors, administrators, and other current staff members at MICA,” explains Kirkman. “The project ‘struck a chord with MICA President Sammy Hoi, who pointed to Moses’ work in a memo released to students, faculty, and alumni to apologize for the institution’s racism,’ specifically for that egregious policy of exclusion. As part of the overdue apology, the institution announced a more robust diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. Time will tell how that plays out. Amplifying the experiences and stories of people at her own college, Moses takes on a global problem from a local setting, letting audiences grapple with a hideous, honest legacy while also uplifting the school’s current Black community.”
Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art
It still feels too soon to tell what the most lasting impact of this exhibition will be. At the press preview with curator Katy Siegel, she said the goal of this exhibit was to rewrite the history of abstraction in America and to correct gross historic omissions from the art historical cannon. For me, this exhibit is a unique opportunity to comprehend the impact of contemporary art collectors, as well as the galleries they purchase from, in writing the art history of the future, and to consider the power in collecting very specific works of your place and time and the impact the act of collecting may have for the future.
Generations is drawn mostly from the collection of Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida, and riffs on the earlier traveling exhibit Solidary & Solitary, but with added selections from the BMA’s collection. According to the Smart Museum in Chicago, one of the hosts of Solidary, “For Black artists, abstraction is charged with the refusal of representation that is socially dictated, both by racist stereotypes of the dominant culture, and the pressure from within the Black community to create positive imagery. Abstract art as a practice embodies the possibility of individual freedom and autonomy, even within larger social identities.”
At the BMA, Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art exhibits more than 70 paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media installations by a combination of celebrated and lesser-known Black abstract artists, including Kevin Beasley, Mark Bradford, Sam Gilliam, Jennie C. Jones, Norman Lewis, Lorna Simpson, and Alma W. Thomas. “Generations explores the materiality of abstraction as a dialectic on freedom,” wrote Angela N. Carroll in our review of the show. “The ceaseless interplay of color and form, context and subject, medium and technique, deepens critical engagement with the complexity of Black abstractions. Each work is a defiant rebuttal to historically limited characterizations about the concepts Black artists have been expected to resolve explicitly through folk art and figuration. Abstraction has been documented as a prospect of brooding white masculine genius. This collection revises art history by dismantling, decolonizing, and rightfully chronicling abstraction.”
Permutations: Concepts 1 at Silber Gallery at Goucher CollegeBuilding upon the idea of visionary collectors shaping a collective art history for the future, a smaller but no less potent show of contemporary Black figuration at Goucher’s Silber Gallery showcases works owned by DC-based art collectors Darryl Atwell and Lisa Gregory. Curated by Alex Ebstein (and in part a result of BmoreArt’s Connect+Collect speaker series featuring Atwell), Permutations: Concepts 1 includes works by contemporary giants like Titus Kaphar, Laylah Ali, and Nina Chanel Abney with Jarvis Boyland, Zoë Charlton, Noah Davis, John Edmonds, Derek Fordjour, Jerrell Gibbs, Delita Martin, Naudline Pierre, Tajh Rust, and D’Angelo Lovell Williams.
In her interview with Atwell and Gregory, writer Angela N. Carroll set the scene by describing one painting hung at the far end of the gallery. “In Push (2011), an oil-on-canvas portrait by Titus Kaphar, a working African woman massages the vacant limbs of the excised subject—a curvy figure has been removed from the frame, leaving a white void where a body once lay. Kaphar’s masterful, intentional act of redaction overtly critiques the colonial histories of portraiture, ‘the gaze,’ and relegation of Black subjects to scenes of labor. By removing the sitter who receives the luxury of labor, viewers are forced to focus on the African woman, a worker who would otherwise be ignored.”
“For art to inspire, it must be seen,” Gregory and Atwell said during the interview. “One of our greatest joys is sharing our collection and hopefully spurring further thought in young minds.”
Joyce J. Scott and Elizabeth Talford Scott: Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Reality, Times Two at Goya Contemporary
The two related shows featuring Joyce J. Scott and Elizabeth Talford Scott—Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Reality, Times Two at Goya Contemporary—highlight their creative lineage featuring a digestible selection of the prolific artists’ work from the early 1970s to the ‘90s, and of Joyce’s through the present day. They also offer a loose narrative of making something—in community with others, often out of on-hand materials, with excellent craftsmanship—because it needs to exist, because its critical engagement can benefit the world, at least as the first drop in a ripple.
Located in the small Berman Textile Gallery of the BMA’s American Wing, Hitching Their Dreams feels like a coda to the abundance of Reality. But what rings loud to me in both spaces is the artists’ dedication to detail, every stitch and bead intentionally, lovingly secured. It can feel gauche to talk about art and love at the same time—a holdover perhaps of the western-white-supremacist-capitalist art world’s tendency to divide art from culture and craft and life—but in their respective practices, Joyce and Elizabeth Scott have re-emphasized the value of art suffused with devotion and care, and the change that can emerge from that.
Not that the content of these works is particularly tender or soft—in Joyce’s case, it’s often brutal. Typically what sticks to my ribs for days or years after I see her work are the intense images and acts of violence depicted or implied. Joyce is celebrated for her mastery of beading, sewing, and glass-blowing and for her dexterity in creating disturbingly gorgeous pieces of art that challenge white supremacy and racism, sexism, and the other -isms that provoke violence. A common line about her work is that it’s a one-two punch; she draws us in with impeccable craft and colorful, gleaming materials and then, once we’re seduced, the implications of both blatant and covert violence—be it through guns, stereotypes, colorism—become clearer. (Rebekah Kirkman)
It’s quite difficult to predict the future and sometimes it takes decades before we can recognize, let alone process, the significance of past events. It is highly probable that we will feel differently about this list in ten years, that future events will shape their meanings in unpredictable ways, that some will grow in influence and others will wane. As with all “Best Of” and End of the Year lists, I am sure there are artists, projects, and exhibitions that our team has missed and others that will reveal themselves to have a lasting impact well after they are gone. While it is tempting to predict the breakout success of certain artists, like Amy Sherald or Stephen Towns for example, and to hedge our bets for the future, I believe that this list should be considered as a whole, a continuum of relationships and collective success that we can all claim.
Rather than focusing on individuals, this list is an opportunity to consider the potential for doing our best work in the future, especially in collaboration with one another. Whose work are you interested in learning more about? Whose studio do you want to visit? Which galleries do you often intend to visit but haven’t made time for yet? How do you envision your own potential being realized in the next decade and who do you want to spend your precious time with?
Last, how can an independently run art publication in a small city make an impact upon lives, careers, community, and a city as a whole? It’s been a wild and fascinating growth cycle, this past decade, and BmoreArt intends to continue to grow and evolve as a locally grounded and community-accountable publication, despite a lack of any established publishing model to emulate, locally or nationally. This is just fine with us, as BmoreArt is a publication run by artists. We are comfortable with innovation and collaboration and we look forward to creating new models for arts coverage for the future because we know that Baltimore will never, ever stop producing art that deserves a much larger stage and smart, well-informed, and creative press coverage.
Cheers, twenty-teens! Thanks for the memories, Baltimore.
Editor’s note: This document quotes from a number of different BmoreArt writers and collaborators from the past decade in a variety of forms. Some of the writing is paraphrased from original sources, while others include quotes. All other text is written by Cara Ober, unless otherwise noted
Header photo by Jill Fannon