Often compared to London's fashionable Bond Street, Maryland Avenue in downtown Annapolis got even better with Saturday's grand opening of Gallery Third Millennium Designs.
Along the first block of this historic street leading from State Circle, a restaurant offering live classical jazz and a distinctive array of established galleries featuring excellent traditional art provide an appealing ambience.
Now Maryland Avenue also offers a splash of contemporary art. Michael Allen, the owner of Gallery Third Millennium, hopes his business can add more diversity to the art district. His gallery promises to offer "fine art impossible to ignore."
Allen always dreamed of owning a gallery. He moved from a career teaching film studies to owning his first gallery in Bowie in 1991.
At Millennium, Allen offers arresting contemporary art not chosen to blend with anyone's particular living room decor but to be relevant in reflecting a wide-ranging vision of where everyone lives.
He encourages the viewer to "step out of their comfort zone, think outside the box and engage beyond the banal."
Allen describes the process of viewers connecting with a work of art as: "The artist has an inspiration and exuberantly produces a work, and someone approaches this work and has a 50-50 relationship that may lead to ownership. In this process, our business is a lot like facilitating falling in love."
Viewers might not feel love, but they will experience a number of feelings, including delight at a familiar object, the excitement of space travel on an interplanetary voyage and perhaps a revealing trip within the psyche.
Featured artist Sara Larkin has traveled widely in her career. After doing postgraduate work in Asian art, Larkin owned a gallery in Hong Kong for five years. In 1982, Larkin was a NASA-commissioned artist who documented key U.S. space program events. Closer to home in Annapolis, she has been an artist-in-residence at St. John's College.
Her work has been exhibited widely in Washington at NASA headquarters, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and in Florida at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
A number of Larkin's works are displayed at Gallery Third Millennium.
Allen describes her work as "unique because within a single work they transition from highly abstract pastel color field to hyper-realist views of space. Her work illuminates the passage of a generation from a state of speculation about outer space to close and direct encounters of its concrete realities."
Her nearly photographic representations exhibited at Gallery Third Millennium achieve a realistic quality as she superimposes her pastel planetary subjects on a shiny black lacquer surface that simulates outer space.
These works run in contrast to some of her other more earthbound, brilliantly colored nonrepresentational works. Larkin explores outer space and, through her more abstract works, seems to encourage viewers to explore their inner space.
Impressive technique is apparent in the serene realistic paintings of Annapolis resident Bill Garner, a political cartoonist for The Washington Times, who won the National Newspaper Association Award in 1992 for best original cartoon. Perhaps his political cartooning encouraged his delving into a more serene realm of artistic realism where old barns invite us to stop or where boys lazily blow bubbles.
Garner's works displayed at Gallery Third Millennium evoke pleasant and serene feelings. His works are created through a technique that Garner describes as "working in layers with thin washlike paint using a dry brush" that results in exceptional smoothness and photographic realism with soul.
Other artists featured at Millennium include Laura Higgins Palmer, who has worked with Ballet Theatre of Maryland creating drawings that explore the movement of dance.
Palmer conveys dance and the joy of motion in a series of expressive curves in luminous color that in their simplicity and assuredness are reminiscent of Matisse cutouts.
Another artist associated with the local theater scene is Richard Montgomery, a British theatrical designer, art director and production designer for film and television.
Montgomery has lent his talents to theatrical productions at the Naval Academy. Winner of numerous awards, he has been nominated for a Helen Hays Award for outstanding set design in the 2003-2004 season and again in 2005-2006.
The paintings and drawings of the Annapolis resident are featured in juried exhibitions in the United States, United Kingdom and in the Caribbean. He has created a number of oil stick sketches of Annapolis that are displayed at Gallery Third Millennium.
The gallery is providing exciting challenges to Allen as he has had to cope with the sudden departure of one of his artists.
"You never know what to expect from interesting people, and that is precisely the challenge in having a gallery filled with anything contemporary which isn't boring," he said. "It is my challenge and my pleasure to be left scrambling."
Gallery Third Millennium is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 1 to 9 p.m.; Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.; and other times by appointment. For more information, go to gallerythirdmillennium.com or call 410-267-6428.