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Sculptors Ann Kelly and Christina Martinelli are engaged in the hot pursuit of something that does not and can not exist. The quintessential ‘artist’s search’ for enigmatic, ephemeral expression is nothing new, but its earnest pursuit is a fitful and frustrating process. Younger artists tend to be the best examples of raw, passionate energy, but their output is typically uneven. Among more mature artists, there are few who can sustain this type of hot and fast intensity for long. For this reason it is rare to encounter strong, professional works in an established gallery that don’t resort to some type of safe repetition of past success. Falling Off the Edge: New Works by Ann Kelly and Christina Martinelli at Open Space is a rare opportunity to experience the unbridled energy of young artists who have the training and editing skills to properly harness their ideas.

Ann Kelly’s sculptures are constructions featuring natural and industrial materials, including stone, wood, concrete, mirrors, and tile. Kelly’s work emits a youthful optimism and a confident, collage aesthetic – she combines unrelated objects and materials in order to showcase their disparate essences, rather than coaxing them to conform to a uniform vision. Assembled in human-sized piles, like wonky obelisks or totem poles, the inherent qualities of individual elements are emphasized, especially the raw beauty of materials which are traditionally used in home decor.

Kelly moved to Manhattan after graduating from MICA with a BFA in 2010. She continues to use a variety of disparate materials to keep her process fresh and her problem-solving unique, without formulaic solutions. “One piece uses rocks and chunks of concrete I collected from the beach below the Brooklyn Bridge; this is the best place I know to get rocks in Manhattan,” says Kelly. “For another work, I bought a stone for carving from sculpture store, the stone is Red Raspberry Alabaster.” No matter which type of material she chooses, one senses that each piece is a swan song – Kelly seems to put all her energy into each one and never uses a material in the same way twice.

Despite a graduate degree from MICA’s Rhinehart School of Sculpture, Christina Martinelli’s  contribution to Falling Off the Edge is a series of works on paper. Like Kelly, Martinelli has also relocated to New York since her 2010 graduation and, in the same way that Ann Kelly investigates the ‘thing-ness’ of specific materials, Martinelli’s drawings are inquisitive, experimental, explorations into a range of mark-making. Created with India Ink, acrylic, graphite, pencil, charcoal, sandpaper, and, even, coffee on paper, Martinelli actively investigates a variety of possibilities for each media and how they react to one another. “The drawings are entirely abstractions built upon by an initial mark which I react to,” explains Martinelli. Her focus on materials takes precedence over any certain color, shape, or visual motif.

“What attracts me in drawing is something which can be complicated to achieve in sculpture:  a complete and contained world. I still think of these drawings as sculptures in a sense, or at the least I consider them incredibly related to the three dimensional object and to environment,” says the artist. In a series of small, rectangular pieces, whirling layers of wet and dry marks coalesce into fields and aggregate into curving forms, which resemble galaxies or cellular organisms. “The drawings are points of entry into another place,” says Martinelli. “Its important for me that people can get somewhere by looking at them, but their destination is up to them, and can change, and depends on the viewer.”

Curator Neil Reinalda is one of the founding members of Open Space and this is the second exhibit he has curated there. When he conceived this exhibit, he was attracted to aesthetic similarities between the two artists and also their experimental approach to materials and process. “I was interested in having Ann and Christina show together because their work seems to be at odds with a lot of younger artists work, who want to encompass an entire idea in a work, to make a ‘watertight’ argument,” says Reinalda. “Ann and Christina tend towards an open interpretation and let the work stand on its own. I think they both have a lot of faith in art, that art can really be profound and transformative and personal.”

Baltimore’s Open Space has existed since the summer of 2009, organized by a handful of recent MICA graduates with an interest in curatorial practice. The space, which was formerly a Remington auto body shop, was named “Best Art Gallery” by the Baltimore City Paper in 2010, with The Suspended Moment, also curated by Reinalda, named as one of City Paper’s “Top 10 Art Shows of 2010.” Open Space exhibits tend to be intelligent and edgy, without being too cynical or self-indulgent.

Open Space is similar to many artist collectives in that each participant is required to volunteer a number of hours in order to participate in gallery decisions. What makes Open Space unique among collectives is that its members don’t exhibit their own art in the gallery – their role is purely curatorial. All programming decisions are democratically selected by the group, after individuals submit proposals for intended projects. In Baltimore’s cultural landscape, Open Space bridges a gap between the young, warehouse art spaces and the more traditional, commercial gallery, offering professionally curated shows of work that is both challenging and emerging.

“Since we don’t show any of our own work at the gallery, I think that Open Space is really about curating, and what makes good, interesting and progressive curating is definitely up for debate,” explains Reinalda. “I think good work is good work and we shouldn’t be holding Baltimore to a different standard than other cities. It’s like anything… if you think you can do it better you should do it! That’s what makes a healthy cultural scene. I think that was our approach to Open Space… this was how we thought a gallery should be so we tried to do it, we learned a lot along they way and got, and will continue to get, better.”

Falling Off The Edge: New Works by Ann Kelly and Christina Martinelli will be on display from January 29th – March 6th 2010 at Open Space Gallery, located at 2720 Sisson Street, behind the giant alligator mural.