A few weeks ago, I started corresponding with Brooks Kossover after I heard his gallery, AmEx Contemporary, was asked to quit using that name by the American Express Corporation. I examined the letter and reached out to the credit card company, who neither confirmed nor denied the report. And so all I could say is that either Kossover, who changed the name of the gallery to Terrault Contemporary, after the street he grew up on in North Carolina, was playing a good prank to bring publicity to his name change, or that the credit card creeps were being proprietary dicks.
But in the end, it doesn't matter, because, whatever the fuck the 21-year-old Kossover calls it, he has put together a hell of a gallery.
The first thing that distinguishes this gallery from other Copycat galleries is the street entrance. Instead of waiting on the sidewalk for someone to come down, I pushed open the door and walked in. Kossover jumped up from behind the desk. He introduced himself and pretty much kept talking the rest of the time I was at the gallery, as if he had materialized from the talky script of an old David Mamet play.
"That's one of the best things about the street entrance," he says at a fast clip as we walk from the front room of the gallery—which is done up rather impressively with nice hardwood floors, good lighting, a black box as good as the BMA's, and shelves of zines and cassettes—to its other space, which includes a performance stage and a retractable screen for video artists in one corner, and has its walls covered with Kossover's own larger-than-life portraits of denizens of Baltimore's demimonde.
"We're right by the Design School, and kids will just stop in and be like 'This is sick!' I want to be able to embrace the community because I'm very cognizant of the fact that 12 years ago this wasn't Station North, this was Greenmount West," he says. He talks about neighborhood kids, video artists, Peabody, MICA, Dan Deacon, DIY spaces, noise music, zine culture—
At this point, Nicky Smith, a writer, filmmaker, musician, and the son of Russ Smith, the founder of City Paper, walks in looking groggy beneath his tousled orange hair like a young Thurston Moore.
A couple years ago, Smith and Kossover—and the space that is now Terrault Contemporary—were known more for their parties than their art.
"It was just warehouse party space. We'd have hundreds of people in here. DJs, all sorts of crazy parties," Kossover says. "But I was wanting to do this for a while."
"We had bad roommates for a while," Smith adds, draping himself over the gray couch.
"We ran into so many different problems, but eventually, because this was one big studio, I was sitting on the couch . . . and all of a sudden I saw it: Just cut this in half and have an art studio over here and a gallery over there," Kossover recalls.
"It went from what it was to what it is now in two months," Smith adds. With some personal money and contributions from other parties, Kossover completely rehabbed the space.
A little bit later, a tall guy named Josh Dean walks in. Kossover says he did much of the work on the space and ended up getting a job as a maintenance guy at the Copycat. "Today was my first day," he says. "It was weird."
It's weird because the city is about to inspect the building and everything needs to be in top shape.
When I ask Kossover why he would put his personal money into a space in the Copycat, from which they could conceivably be evicted if the inspection does not go well, as opposed to a building he might own, like Lydia Pettit owns Platform Arts Center on the West Side, Kossover says that he worked closely with the building's owner Charles Lankford. "I have no doubt whatsoever that the Copycat will be in operation for a long, long time," he says, and stresses that he wants to help the arts community.
Kossover is friends with a wide swath of that community. He shares space with Sam Herring from Future Islands and did an internship with the street artist gaia. The show, up in the front room, is by CP columnist Lexie Mountain. Though Mountain can occasionally blow her deadlines, she is an astoundingly cool artist and her reflections on Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" are both uncomfortable and profound (the video in which she brings the iconic painting to life by crawling through the field toward the house is a hypnotic critique of male-dominated art history while also being almost painfully awkward). The next show, "Nirvana Bleach" by D'Metrius John Rice, opens Sept. 5 (I know Rice and own two paintings by him).
And, for an old guy like me, it's exciting to listen to Kossover and Smith. There are still people randomly walking in and out of the door with 12-packs of Boh, of course, but, in this new space, it seems as if these once-party guys are bringing their abundant youthful energy to more adult enterprises.
"It can only be a lifestyle for so long," Smith says of the party scene. "People didn't even pay attention to bands or anything. It was just a place for people to drink or smoke pot, you know."
"A lot of people might be like, 'the Copycat has art galleries? I remember when it was a fun place.' But when it was a fun place, hundreds of dollars were being spent to get rid of graffiti and cleaning up all the glass out front that was cutting dogs' feet. That's not a fun place, in my opinion," Kossover says. "If there's ever going to be a party here again, I hope it will be a for-charity, catered, sit-down event."