If you're a New York art critic or curator coming to Baltimore to visit artists' studios and select work for an exhibition, what agenda do you bring?
In a word, none.
"I was looking for variety and quality," said Robert Atkins. "And I am interested in issues of identity." Broad enough, but Susana Torruela Leval was even broader: "I like to think I didn't have preconceived ideas."
Then it's no wonder the exhibit "Critics' Picks," now at Maryland Art Place, consists of a range of work -- such as Linda Day's photographs of people on North Avenue, Heidi Lippman's flowing lead sculptures, Matt Walker's animal-like golf bags on tripods, and Tom Mendell's paintings based on a scene from the movie "Red River."
What knits this together is the strength of the individual works. But that's not surprising considering the pickers. Atkins and Leval were this year's Maryland Art Place critics-in-residence, now in its eighth season.
Atkins, 42, is an award-winning critic for New York's Village Voice and curator whose exhibition "From Media to Metaphor: Art About AIDS" is on a tour of nine museums. Leval, 49, is acting director of El Museo del Barrio in New York.
The show "Critics' Picks" is a by-product of the residency. After reviewing slides submitted by artists, each critic selects 10 artists then visits their studios to select works for the show. The critics subsequently write essays on the artists' work to appear at the show. They also participate in a writing workshop with aspiring critics.
"Working with people writing about art is a new component for me," says Leval. "The chance to have an exchange, and be in touch with talented, young people is always welcome."
Atkins praises the residence program's breadth -- "the writing component, the seriousness, the fact that you have to come back and write about the [art], and the intensity of it."
In Baltimore for the show's opening Thursday, both critics called the show well-installed and picked several artists for comment.
In his essay about Matt Walker's lively painted golf bags, Atkins wrote of the artist's "interest in consumerism and media brain washing." At the show, he added that "while Walker's work seems to have nothing to do with issues of identity, it's fresh, inventive, clever, wry."
"Susana and I are both interested in Luis Flores," Atkins said. "He belongs to the late '70s conceptualist generation of artists who put process ahead of everything and use the gallery as a kind of studio space -- a place to explore." And of Tom Mendell's "Red River" paintings, which underscore the homosexual overtones of a scene of two men fooling around with a gun, Atkins said, "It's about one of those loaded, poignant, male bonding moments from film history."
Leval singled out Day's photographs of the African-American community on North Avenue for comment. "She is a person who sets out to document her own community," Leval said. "I have an interest in artists with strong ties to their communities."
And of James Colwell's paintings of ordinary situations that are skewed in disturbing ways, she said, "To me he has a surrealism that's an interesting current in Latin American art, where the line between fantasy and reality and otherworldliness is very permeable. His images seem day-to-day but have the potential to be dangerous, menacing."
What: Critics' Picks
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Jan. 15
Call: (410) 962-8565