I will admit 2012 has not been the greatest for arts in Baltimore. We lost the Contemporary Museum. The Creative Alliance finally lost Jed Dodds. And I lost my job as arts writer at The Urbanite, which still sucks. Looking longterm, the cultural trend of purchasing New York art over Baltimore art continues unabashedly, which doesn’t bode well for local galleries. However, there were some high points to 2012 as well, mainly in the form of mind-blowing local exhibits, so we might as well pop open the bubbley and celebrate. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Baltimore exhibits of the year.

Stroke: Gesture, Mark, Muscle at School 33

Stroke: Gesture, Mark, Muscle in School 33′s Main Gallery, curated by René Treviño, featured a number of local and regional painters who have built a career on intuitive process. The show packed a lot of solid work that isn’t necessarily fashionable at the moment, and produced a wide range of potential outcomes and directions for painters who choose to work abstractly. Artists include Jim Condron, Nicholas Cairns, T.J. Donovan (pictured), Kay Fenton, Laura Judkis, Matthew Langley, Jon Marshalik, Steven Pearson, Regina Tumasella, Carly Witmer.

 

New BMA Contemporary Wing

Although this isn’t a specific exhibition, no 2012 ‘Best Of’ list would be complete without mention of the New BMA Contemporary Wing. Besides warmer flooring and nuanced lights, the curatorial depth and breadth in this section of museum, including new acquisitions (reviewed here),  interactive workshops, and rotating exhibitions of drawings, local installation work, and international contemporary artists is nothing short of top notch. We’re looking at you, Kristen Hileman, and can’t wait to see what 2013 brings. (photo Baltimore Sun).

 

Geo-Structure at Goucher’s Silber Gallery

I walked away from Geo-Structure, a group exhibition curated by Goucher College curator Laura Amussen, thinking, “She really nailed it this time!” The show filled the lofty walls and even the ceiling of the Silber Gallery with dramatic installations and more traditional works that explore geometry and structure in myriad ways. As always, Amussen selected a deft range of emerging and mid-career artists, as well as a democratic and accessible range of media and style, to create a cohesive, yet kaleidoscopic vision that leaves the viewer feeling humbled and awestruck. Artists included Ryan Browning, Mimi Frank (pictured), Magnolia Laurie, Bill Schmidt, Jessica van Brakle, Richard Vosseller, and Jowita Wyszomirska.

 

Joyce J. Scott: On Kilter

My favorite solo show this year was On Kilter, curated by Amy Raehse, which featured mostly sculptural works by Joyce J. Scott at Goya Contemporary. As I wrote in September, “Sharp as a razor and powerful as hell, Scott’s newest exhibition plucks you out of your comfort zone and drops you naked, on the front line without a weapon.” I have to admit a strong preference for Scott’s sculpture and beadwork over her prints, which were featured in numerous exhibits this year, including the BMA Contemporary Wing, Stevenson University’s First Impressions, and a second solo exhibit at The Creative Alliance, but this doesn’t matter. This artist is going places way beyond Baltimore and we’re lucky to still have her here.

 

 Szechuan Best’s Vampire Travel Agency at sophiajacob

sophiajacob is a pint-sized storefront gallery, and it might have a bit of a Napoleon complex, but I’m not complaining. Since opening in the middle of 2012, the gallery has featured a string of ambitious, cutting edge, and downright interesting shows. Szechuan Best is the curatorial team of Max Guy and Peggy Chiang, and Vampire Travel Agency was their first curatorial effort in a dedicated gallery space. The exhibit transformed the space into a fictional travel agency, allegedly for a television sitcom, where artwork, normally the center of the show, functioned as secondary props. Does context create content? Hell yes. The artists included in the exhibition were Milano Chow, Bea Fremderman, Pete Halupka, Rachel Lowing, Kat Schneider, Hayley Silverman, Colin Van Winkle, and Jee Shaun Wang.

 

Primary at Nudashank

This exhibit, composed by secret guest curator aka Jamillah James, featured a strong roster of NY-based female artists who make lumpy, bumpy, colorful paintings and sculpture. You know when someone looks at a piece of art and says, “My kid coulda done that!” Well, that’s what we’re talking about here, a ‘Primary’ or direct approach. Described as ‘abject expressionism’ and possessing a ‘rogue’ sense of beauty, the work in this show brimmed with an unbridled, unapologetic approach to materials and composition. Feel free to encourage your children to work in this direction, but don’t be shocked if they don’t achieve NY representation like these folks. Artists included: Katie Bell, Tatiana Berg, Susan Bricker, Stacy Fisher, Amanda B. Friedman, Joanne Greenbaum, Clare Grill, Fabienne Lasserre, Lauren Luloff and Elisa Soliven.

 

 Kathryn Cornelius: Save The Date, A performance at The Corcoran Gallery of Art Washington, DC

I know, DC is a whole hour away, but I don’t care. Kathryn Cornelius’ wedding and divorce marathon kicked the asses of so many other well-meaning performances and exhibits. On August 11, from 10 am – 5 pm, the artist wed, toasted, danced, canoodled, and divorced seven different people who applied to be her spouse, one chosen by fans on Facebook. The event was a real spectacle, shocking and confusing and gorgeous, leaving guests teary, stunned, frustrated, and amused. You can read the original review here.

 

Division of Labor at Current Space

Division of Labor, a group exhibition curated by Christian Donnelly, Skye Gilkerson, and Jason Meyer, featured some of the usual suspects, but also wove in a number of new names with shockingly strong work. Although the premise of the show was vague – laborious craft? really? – the selections of artists and work made it clear that meticulous process can function as content, especially in the digital age where art seems to be created specifically for online viewing. What I liked best about the show was the essentiality of experiencing each work in person, and the staunch emphasis on diligence as a source of marvel. The show featured Jordan Bernier, Christian Donnelly, Mike Ellyson, Skye Gilkerson, JK Keller and Keetra Dean Dixon, Marian April Glebes, Jason Meyer, David Prince, Michael Rea, Mary Smull, and Renee van der Stelt.

 

The Sum of the Parts at Maryland Art Place

This show was ridiculously well-attended, after a string of exhibits by out-of-town curators which were mostly overlooked. In past years, Curator’s Incubator selections were split into small, separate exhibits, but in 2012 MAP gave curator Amy Boone-McCreesh the whole, cavernous space, a great move. The show featured four contemporary East Coast artists who employ a repetitive process to build large and ambitious works. Boone-McCreesh used this simple idea to select four artists (Emily Barletta, Lauren Clay, Jerry Kaba and Nikki Painter) with local ties, who are taking their careers to the next level. The ample space, as well as artist talks, at MAP allowed each artist to make the most of the experience and amplify the power of their work. Exhibition photos here.

 

Jordan Bernier: New Waves at Nudashank

I have to admit I am still pissed that I wasn’t able to purchase any of the affordable pencil drawings in this stunning solo show at Nudashank. In the past year or two, no doubt you’ve seen Bernier’s work all over town, but it’s a rare treat to see a whole exhibit of his new, raw-ish ideas in the making. New Waves also included included screenprints, animation, and video work by the Towson MFA candidate. The variety of media in the show created a nuanced journey to unexpected challenges and esoteric thought processes, which, in turn, elevated the message of the pattern-based prints and drawings to a place well beyond pretty.