BMA tightens its belt, but just a notch; Art: Because of the 1998 stock market downturn, the Baltimore Museum of Art defers hiring, trims its magazine and cuts staff travel; Fine Arts

The Baltimore Museum of Art's budget for fiscal 1999 has been adjusted slightly downward, due to the loss of a small amount of endowment income because of the stock market downturn in the second half of 1998.

The adjustment amounts to about $200,000, or two percent of an operating budget of about $10 million. The museum has deferred purchase of equipment and hiring of positions, reduced the magazine IBMA TODAY from 10 issues a year to six (but the magazine has been enhanced by a full-color cover and inside spread), and instituted savings on advertising, marketing and staff travel.

In other areas, cutbacks have been minimal to nonexistent. Although the museum has lost corporate sponsorship of its First Thursday program known as Freestyle - which includes performances, gallery tours and music and attracts about 1,600 people each month - the program continues in force, according to BMA director Doreen Bolger.

"For the long run, we seek other corporate sponsors for Freestyle," Bolger said. "In the short run, we have made a miniature correction, going from two bands to one, a difference of about $500 to $750. Freestyle is healthy and alive. We are totally committed to Freestyle."

As part of its long range strategic planning, not because of current budget considerations, the BMA has decided to put more emphasis on major shows and the permanent collection and less on small traveling exhibits. Bolger cites the just-closed major show "Degas and the Little Dancer," which was enhanced at the BMA with an added exhibit of works on paper and sculpture from the permanent collection and a family activity center. The recent renaissance prints show was enhanced with a 16-page booklet on the history of renaissance prints. As a result of these and other activities, the BMA 1999 budget for exhibitions, at $444,000, is higher than the average of exhibition budgets for the last five years, at about $415,000. (These figures do not include expenses for the $3.6 million blockbuster exhibit "A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum.")

Bolger also points out that in the next year and a half, the Cone wing for modern art will be renovated and reinstalled at an estimated cost of $1 million, followed by renovation and reinstallation of the Jacobs wing for old master paintings, at a cost to be determined later. These projects are part of the BMA's commitment to its permanent collections.

Delicate and strong

Twin worlds exist in Soledad Salame's prints of insects and foliage: a world of beauty and a world of implication.

Just inside the door of Gomez Gallery, the viewer encounters both in one of the smallest works in the show, "To the Light." A dragonfly, its pencil-like body and translucent wings depicted in pellucid blue, shimmers above a gold background like a burst of sun, as black shadows encroach from the corners toward the center.

This image, which couldn't be simpler, testifies to the beauty of nature with utmost clarity. In choosing the dragonfly, a fragile and vulnerable creature, Salame shows how easy it is to destroy the natural world, as her shadows threaten to do at any moment. The choice of insects - mainly bees, beetles and dragonflies - also indicates the tenacity of nature. As the industrial world destroys nature, billions or trillions of these tiny creatures may succumb, but others will take their place.

Salame limits her imagery and her palette in these works, often to a few bamboo shoots and insects, rendered in greens and blacks with touches of blue and yellow. But her mastery of the medium of solar etching enables her to achieve richness, depth and subtlety of tone, enlivened by flashes of brilliant color. And all these qualities are underpinned by the fineness of her drawn line, at once delicate and strong like the natural world she depicts. Complementing them at Gomez this month are a group of still lifes by British-born, New York-based photographer John Stewart. Printed in France by a method known as charcoal printing, these black and white images of fruits and nuts and everyday objects - "Oil Jar and Bell," "Six Pears in Leaf" - achieve a seemingly limitless tonal range and depth. Occasionally Stewart's virtuosity leads him astray: "The Great Cloth," a picture of a hanging cloth, is something of a gimmick that refers to an early 19th-century trompe l'oeil painting by Raphaelle Peale, "Venus Rising from the Sea - A Deception." But for the most part, these photographs combine dignity with a rare degree of sensuousness.

Gomez Gallery, at 3600 Clipper Mill Road, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The show runs through Jan. 31. For information, call 410-662-9510.

Register for tour

School 33 Art Center has announced a call for artist registration for the 1999 Open Studio Tour. The tour, to take place the weekend of April 24 and 25, is an annual affair organized by School 33 that attracts about 100 professional artists with studios in Baltimore City to open them to the public for one day.

Studios south of North Avenue will be open Saturday, April 24. Studios north of North Avenue will be open Sunday, April 25.

To register, artists must submit a registration form, a current resume, 10 labeled slides in a 9- by 12-inch plastic slide sheet with a self-addressed stamped envelope for their return, and a registration fee of $20 for members of the Friends of School 33 and $25 for nonmembers to: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St., Baltimore, Md. 21230. Registration deadline is Jan. 30. For information and registration forms, call 410-396-4641.

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