Grimaldis loosens its tie for the summertime


One of the small pleasures of the summer arts scene in Baltimore is the cheerfully laid-back attitude and casual acceptance of life's little vicissitudes that descend upon the city's art galleries during August, perhaps in self-defense against the stifling heat and humidity.

Even at the courtly C. Grimaldis Gallery, which is exhibiting a potpourri of works by its stable of house artists this month, the eternal struggle against inelegance waged by its dapper owner and his assistant seems to have been at least temporarily relaxed, in favor of something a little more (dare we say it?) funky -- in the charming, Baltimore manner, of course.

According to a well-placed source who spoke on condition of anonymity, in recent days, requests by gallery visitors to see additional works by the artists on display led Grimaldis staffers to haul out a dozen or so more works from the vault, which they hastily propped against walls or in other handy niches until virtually every available square inch of space was chock-a-block with stuff.

Then, instead of returning everything to its proper place at the end of each day, the genial dealer simply locked his doors and went home -- leaving behind a suggestive jumble of painting, sculpture and works on paper that made his minimalist, white-walled gallery look more like a busy creative artist's atelier than a chi-chi New York-style temple of commerce.

As a result, visitors to the gallery this month will experience the delightful sensation of being in the midst of an unfolding work in progress, a place where art beckons from all sides in a happy babble of voices orchestrated as much by chance and happenstance as by design.

At the entrance to the gallery, a large, self-posed painting by Beverly McIver hangs near the threshold, as if the artist -- wearing her trademark black-face makeup and maid's attire -- were symbolically greeting visitors at the door.

The piece, titled Dora's Dance, was part of McIver's debut one-person exhibition in Baltimore this year, in which she reprised her recent experiences traveling around the South collecting the stories of African-American domestic servants and transforming them into poignant, bittersweet painted narratives.

McIver is one of Grimaldis' most recent discoveries. By contrast, Grace Hartigan, who began her career as an abstract-expressionist in New York during the 1950s, has been one of the gallery's most long-running associates and, at 80, one of the most long-lived as well.

Hartigan's huge, boldly colored Tristan and Isolde, which hangs on the gallery's rear dividing wall, depicts the legendary, star-crossed Teutonic lovers as almost ghostlike figures whose fatal destiny has already been sealed despite their still vibrant forms. It's a picture that recalls all the opulent, unruly passion of Wagner's famous opera of the same name, yet it achieves its effects with minimalist economy of means.

Last winter's dreadful snowstorms, which buried the city in ice and slush and immobilized pedestrian traffic along Charles Street for weeks on end, prevented many art lovers from attending the photography exhibitions devoted to Alexey Titarenko and Christopher Myers, both conceived as part of the city's Vivat! festival celebrating the 300th birthday of Russia's St. Petersburg.

Titarenko's hauntingly atmospheric photographs of his native city, in particular, have the incontrovertible visual authoritativeness of historical documents, yet they also manage to convey something of the mysterious, unstable quality of memory and dreams as filtered down through the collective unconscious of centuries' bitter human experience.

Another terrific photographer is Dimitra Lazaridou, the Greek-born artist whose luminous, large color photos of Athens at night brought the new German and Northern European style to Baltimore with a bang when she made her debut at Grimaldis this spring. And sculptor Chul-Hyun Ahn's fantastic light boxes simply must be seen to be believed. These two are definitely ones to watch.

No summer show would be complete without a selection of Maryland landscapes, served up here with characteristic exuberance and imagination by the redoubtable Eugene Leake, still going strong at the amazing age of 92 (though he no longer paints), the incredibly prolific Raoul Middleman (more than 6,000 paintings and counting) and Henry Coe, whose Deer Creek Morning, a lovely study in light and color, is one of the show's enchanting gems.

Look on the gallery's floor for Anne Truitt's minimalist abstractions in acrylic on paper and Dimitri Hadzi's huge bronze and marble sculptures. Tucked in among the regulars are also art-world superstars Elaine de Kooning, Jules Olitski and Hans Burkhardt -- not gallery artists but great fun to pick out in the helter-skelter, atelier-style installation. See how long it takes you to find them. Good hunting!

C. Grimaldis Gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 410-539-1080.

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