A deliberately cracked ceramic platter, entitled "Platter," hangs prominently on a wall at the new art gallery Schulman Project, on The Avenue in Hampden.
Made by artist Steven Young Lee, director of the Archie Bray Foundation, in Helena, Mont., it sells for $1,500.
On a nearby shelf sits a ceramic casserole dish called "Play?" The handle of the lid is shaped like a dog lying on its back, its paws in the air. Is it dead, or playing dead?
"It's that open-ended narrative," said the artist, Nick Ramey, of Hampden.
The two artists from opposite ends of the country have a fan in Benjamin Schulman, the owner of Schulman Project, which opened with a public reception Sept. 6 at 840 W. 36th St., in the 1,000-square-foot space where the Angela Lynn and Curvy Doll boutique clothing stores used to be. A private reception was held earlier in the week.
Schulman said he loves "Platter," because, "It questions what is the value of art?"
As for Ramey, a resident artist at Baltimore Clayworks in Mount Washington, "I always told him how much I loved his work," Schulman said. "It was a no-brainer" to showcase Ramey's work at the gallery.
Schulman, 41, is former executive director of Baltimore Clayworks. He resigned in June 2012, after a year on the job, amid controversy over his decision to lay off two popular resident artists. Schulman, who succeeded 32-year director Deborah Bedwell, said at the time that the layoffs were a result of financial difficulties.
After going through what he calls "that difficult time," Schulman said, "Thee's no hard feelings," but added, "This is a better fit."
He has moved from Mount Washington to Hampden to be closer to his gallery. He said his mission is to bring unique artists, exhibits and programming to the area. The artists get commissions, he said.
"The city doesn't have a lot of commercial galleries," said Schulman, who divided his gallery into a retail section in the front room and exhibits in the back, where he plans to feature solo exhibitions by artists he represents — "artists who are really progressive in their thinking," he said.
Schulman also is an artist and instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He and his gallery assistant, Tom Doyle, of Bolton Hill, a MICA student, are focused not just on pottery, but on a wide range of contemporary crafts and art, from metal sculpture to cut paper. The most expensive artwork on display, "Tower of Babble," by Jamie Langhoff, of Washington, looks like a painting of a utility tower against a dark sky, but is really thread sewn on fabric. It sells for $3,000.
Schulman said he has maintained good relationships with Clayworks board members and artists such as Ramey, and that some board members attended the private reception. He also prides himself on his relationships in the arts community that led to artists being willing to let him represent them, especially artists from Baltimore Clayworks and MICA, such as David East, chair of ceramics at MICA.
"It's the relationships," he said. "The majority of the artists, I'm familiar with them and their careers. It wasn't like making a cold call."
And for some of the artists, signing on with him was "a leap of faith."
"It was a great opportunity to get my work out a little bit in Baltimore," said Ramey, 31, who also exhibits his work at a gallery in Leesburg, Va.
Schulman thinks of his gallery as a haven for young artists — "a manageable space where they can put together a body of work."
Time will tell if they stick with him.
"You just have to prove to the artists that you're selling their work," said Schulman, also plans to sell their artwork on his website, schulmanproject.com.
Schulman's father, Alvin, who attended the reception from Doylestown, Pa., is a former modern dancer in New York, who now owns an agricultural export company.
Schulman is following in his father's footsteps artistically and as a business owner, but hoping to do what his father couldn't, make his living in the arts.
"It's my first small business," he said. "It's terrifying."