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Galleries: Artfully under the radar

Artist-run DIY spaces and galleries keep Baltimore scene vibrant

By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

7:01 AM EST, November 12, 2010

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Beyond the mighty Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum, beyond such long-established, up-market spaces as C. Grimaldis Gallery and Thomas Segal Gallery, a world of artistic enterprise thrives — some of it off the radar or almost literally underground.

Baltimore has its share of artist-run, DIY spaces where the emphasis is more on encouraging and showing new work than selling it, as well as others that are very much in the commercial trade. Some venues are a little hard to find, located in low-foot-traffic areas and in buildings that, at first glance, might be mistaken as abandoned; others occupy inviting, street-level spots. Some keep regular or quasi-regular hours; others are best visited by appointment or on reception nights.

All of them are worth a look. And if there's one thing all of these places could use, it's more people looking. A common observation heard in this grass-roots community is that Baltimore has plenty of creators but not a lot of collectors.

Here's a sampling of places where fresh art is the order of the day, including painting, sculpture and video installations, and where the common thread is the cutting edge.

Current Space Gallery

421 N. Howard St., currentspace.com

Flanked by boarded-up spaces on a block of Howard Street ripe for renewal, Current Space's current space couldn't look more underground if it tried. The storefront gallery, which moved here in May after six years on Calvert Street (the spot was sought by developers), needs some TLC. But the pioneering artist-run enterprise has been churning along in its new digs.

Wrapping up this weekend is an in-your-face show, "Force: On the Culture of Rape." Created by Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato, the installation includes eclectic, often graphic videos by several artists, running on TV monitors. For the finale, a kind of performance art called "Darb TV" will be presented; it's an imaginary kids' show dealing explicitly with sexual trauma and abuse.

"We're open to all formats, genres and styles," said Monique Crabb, one of Current Space's three directors. A future project will turn the gallery "into a kind of grocery store/mini-mart. The art will mimic products that would be sold at a store. There will be aisles and shelves, shopping baskets and a cash register," Crabb said.

There are plans to build studios in the basement, which would provide some income from artists renting them — and give Current Space a literally underground vibe.

"Force: On the Culture of Rape" will be on view from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday; performances of "Darb TV" will be at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Jordan Faye Contemporary

1401 Light St., 443-955-1547, jordanfaye.com.

Since opening 14 months ago in an 1880s Federal Hill building, this gallery has presented no less than 18 shows. Technically, it's an artist-run space — owner Jordan Faye Block is herself an artist and lives there — but it's a commercial establishment aimed at showcasing a varied sampling of local talent and getting work into the hands of collectors.

Opening Friday and running through Sunday is No. 7 in the gallery's Salon Series, featuring a dozen artists of different ages, backgrounds and artistic styles. (Disclosure: The lineup includes work by a Baltimore Sun employee, news and sports designer Scott Ponemone.)

Block puts out an open call for submissions to the Salon Series; selected artists choose what they want to exhibit. "I help them with marketing," Block said. "And I bring in a visiting artist to give input, to mentor the emerging artists."

Scheduled in December is "Small Wonders," a show featuring modest-size, modest-price works by about two dozen artists. "I think everyone should have art," Block said, "and this show offers very affordable art. My motto is 'Your collection begins here.'"

Salon Series No. 7 is on display noon to 9 p.m. Friday (with a reception 6-9 p.m.); noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Positron Gallery

210 W. Read St., 551-697-3790, positrongallery.com.

Elise Siegal takes the DIY philosophy to heart. The young art collector (and chemist by day) turned the first floor of her Mount Vernon rowhouse into an intimate gallery about a year and a half ago. "I just wanted to have a place for artists to show their work," she said.

Adding a twist, Siegel typically picks a theme and invites artists she admires to create fresh works inspired by that theme. She focuses on 3-D, mixed-media works, guaranteeing a heightened sense of texture for her shows.

The next Siegel-generated show is due next month. Meanwhile, Positron offers "Eschatology II," curated by Cheri Landry, creator of a business called Divergence Fine Art that specializes in cutting-edge work.

"Eschatology II," offering works by artists from Baltimore and beyond, includes a pair of haunting pieces by Jordan Eagles that use animal blood — procured from slaughterhouses — to create a kind of abstract memorial on Plexiglas. On a lighter note is Emil Alzamora's sly "Plank," an 8-inch sculpture of a man wearing a business suited, on a plank in the about-to-jump mode.

Count on finding Landry's curatorial work elsewhere around town. Since her former base, Gallery Imperato in Locust Point, closed, she's spearheading what she calls "pop-up" galleries. "I'm just popping up wherever I can," she said. "As long as there's track lighting, I'm ready."

"Eschatology II" is on display Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Nov. 20.

H&H building

405 W. Franklin St.

The H & H Building gives no outward sign of the activity teeming inside, where several artists have studio and living spaces. Over the front inside doorway, someone has painted "God Bless This House." Colorful graffiti fills the stairwells.

On the third floor, Seth Adelsberger and Alex Ebstein created a gallery called Nudashank (443-415-2139, nudashank.com). It's typically packed with people on opening and closing nights, like last week's finale for the gallery's first solo show, a vivid sampling of works by Michael Dotson. (Nudashank is taking several of those items shortly to the high-profile Art Basel Miami Beach.)

Nudashank offers a new exhibit every month. The next one, opening Nov. 19, is devoted to Walter Carpenter, a young Baltimorean who died last year.

"Our philosophy is to show local artists," Adelsberger said, "but also bring in artists from other cities." Adds Ebstein: "That provides a way for local artists to have their work seen in context with other people's, and not just hanging in coffee shops until they're discovered."

Dustin Carlson spent several years working on Gallery Four (fourth floor; galleryfour.net), helped along by the occasional bit of luck, as when he secured track lighting from a Smithsonian gallery in Washington that was being tossed during a renovation.

The gallery covers 10,000 square feet, enough for six individual live/work studios and remarkably large exhibit rooms. "We're not so concerned with selling work, but giving artists a chance to create a tour de force in this space," Carlson sad.

There's nothing on view right now. Carlson is heading to Art Basel, too, where he'll be seen with his Bicycle Gallery — pedaling around the area pulling works of art behind him. (He demonstrated the mobile innovation at last year's Artscape.) Something new should be on display at Gallery Four early in 2011.

Area 405

405 E. Oliver St.; 410-528-1968, area405.com.

Located in an industrial 19th-century warehouse, Area 405 opened in 2003 and has been a contributor to the emergence of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. "We are an all-volunteer-run gallery," said Stewart Watson, director of Area 405. "Everyone does 5,000 other things. We've got 25 artists in the building."

Given the building's 66,000 square feet, there is no shortage of room for exhibitions. "We are more of a sculpture, installation and experimental media space. We just encourage artists to take the space on and make work. We're kind of diverse, open to all sorts of ideas. We encourage experimentation. And we certainly don't limit ourselves to things for sale."

There's nothing currently on display. Watson is considering shows for next year, and she's always open to proposals from artists.

Although Area 405 is also a site for music, dance and some theater, new art from throughout the region is the primary focus. "If people are looking to be surprised," Watson said, "then come to our gallery."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

More off-beat spaces

Rogue art venues can be found throughout Baltimore. Here's a few of them:

•Gallery 788: 788 Washington Blvd.; 202-210-8361; gallery788.com.

•21g Gallery, 782 Washington Blvd.; 21ggallery.com

•Open Space Baltimore, 2720 Sisson St.; openspacebalitmore.com

•Penthouse Gallery, Copycat Building, 1511 Guilford Ave. penthousegallery.tumblr.com

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