New galleries seem to be breaking out all over Baltimore this spring. One of the most interesting is the new space opened by Chinese emigre artist Hai-ou Hou on Charles Street, which she has named Gallery International.
Located at 523 North Charles St., Gallery International is on the lower level of the building occupied by C. Grimaldis Gallery, one of the city's premier exhibition venues for contemporary art.
The recent arrival, which opened last week in a beautifully renovated space after months of construction work, could bring a synergy to the locale that benefits both venues as well as the entire Charles Street arts corridor.
Gallery International plans to specialize in works by internationally recognized contemporary artists. Its first show, which runs through May 20, presents 35 paintings, sculpture and photographs by 15 artists from seven countries, including Spain, Brazil, China and Norway.
The most familiar artist in the show is probably American Chuck Close, who is represented by one of his signature daguerreotypes and by a limited-edition print of the contact sheet from which he selected the 1968 self-portrait, possibly his best-known image.
In recent years, Close has been experimenting with daguerreotypes, created through the original photographic process invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1839, which produced a positive image of great beauty and subtlety directly on a polished silver plate.
Close's daguerreotype, a portrait of New York art world figure Bill Barton, harks back to an earlier era in which photographic images were one-of-a-kind objects, like paintings, with their own aura of mystery and uniqueness. The Barton portrait is part of a series of daguerreotypes the artist has completed of fellow artists and friends over the past decade or so.
Close is one of the stars of this show, but there are many others. Spanish painter Jordi Fulla is represented by a pair of striking images of what appear to be geologic fragments painted in a vividly realistic style.
Despite their apparent solidity, these surrealist-inspired objects are visually unstable, so that they seem to float above or even move across the neutral backgrounds behind them.
But the most striking images in the show are surely the trio of monumentally scaled color photographs by Spanish artist Alex Frances, whose work deals with gay life and sexual mores.
These are daring works of imposing size whose potential to shock seems reminiscent of the homoerotic photographs of the late Robert Mapplethorpe.
Yet unlike Mapplethorpe, whose photographs of gay men often evoked images of violence and brutality, Frances seems more interested in portraying the tenderness and intimacy of such relationships.
In each of the three works on display, two male figures embrace each other in gestures that literally get under each other's skin. It's not clear whether the photographs have been digitally manipulated to produce this effect or whether the models were wearing some sort of remarkably life-like costume and makeup.
But the theme of the images obviously relates to the desire of lovers everywhere for physical and spiritual union.
Other artists in the show include Daniel Senise of Brazil, Raul Urruhkoetxea of Spain, Nicola Tyson and Chris Webster of Great Britain, Jon Bon Paulsen of Norway, Pedro Morales and Nela Ochoa of Venezuela, Frenchman Charles Pavan and Ou Yang De Biao, Jia Bao Hua and Tian Guang Hua of China.
Gallery director Hou envisions an ambitious schedule of exhibitions based on her contacts with European and Latin American galleries.
This is a potentially exciting development for Baltimore that holds the promise of bringing a wider range of international artists to the city and promoting high-quality contemporary art in one of the city's most elegant settings.
Gallery International's hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For information call 410-230-0561.
Darkroom is darkened
Area photographers are lamenting the abrupt demise last month of Photo Works, the 2-year-old darkroom and digital imaging center in Hampden that offered local artists one of the few public darkroom facilities on the East Coast.
Photo Works was the creation of two local photographers, Bob Creamer and the late J. Michael Welsh, who had become frustrated by the difficulty of finding access to darkroom space in Baltimore.
Their solution was to renovate the old post office building at 3531 Chestnut Ave. in Hampden as a combination gallery space, private and group darkroom and digital imaging center.
In recent months the center had been struggling. Welsh died of cancer last year and Creamer left the center soon after. The staff that took over after these changes had excellent technical qualifications but seemed unable to build on the vision of the center's founders.
The loss of Photo Works is a blow to local photographers who depended on the center's excellent rental facilities and equipment as well as to Baltimore, whose cultural life was immeasurably enriched by the vibrant community of artists and photographers the center encouraged.