In August of 2013, Ben Schulman moved in and remodelled 840 W. 36th Street, known as The Avenue in Hampden. He painted the walls of the recently goth-themed store from black to warm white, and left the porch aqua-blue to retain the building’s unique look.
Schulman earned his MFA from the Tyler School of Art in 1999, and taught sculpture at Drury University for 7 years. During this time, he curated a number of shows emphasizing a commercial gallery outlook. He believes that artists should be able to sell and make a living from their work. When he moved to Baltimore a few years ago, he saw a need for more local galleries to make sales, rather than settle for nice shows without profit. After making controversial layoffs and resigning as director of the Baltimore Clayworks in 2012, Schulman decided to relocate his ambitions to support Baltimore ceramic artists through a gallery/store, which became The Schulman Project.
Schulman understands that galleries tend to rarefy artworks in lieu of selling many pieces, while more profitable art/craft stores tend to commodify their works on sale. Gallery artworks grow aloof, while shop crafts lose their aura of uniqueness, mostly because a ware-crowded shop and a spaciously hung gallery simply carry different associations.
By dividing his new Main Street store into two rooms, Schulman aims to literally combine two business models, so that the pretenses of each commercial setting cancel one another out. The selection of decorative and functional ceramics in the front showroom is elevated by the presence of more ambiguous and reserved bodies of artwork in the inner gallery. The art exhibits, which rotate on a regular basis, are anchored to the down-to-earth commercial vibe up front. There is no sense of irony to this unique division of the space – the gallery and shop connect seamlessly, a single whole rather than contrasting halves.
Both of the displays represent contemporary artists from states all around the country. All of these artists’ work shares strong craft, whether kitschy or highbrow. It remains to be seen how well the Schulman Project does in the long-term, although business has been going well according to Ben. In December and January, the Project hosted a holiday market, filling the back gallery with shelves and pedestals like the front room. Schulman wants events like this to keep the Project flexible and a bit unpredictable.
Next to the homey Hampden front porch, the gallery’s clean interior feels calculated and dry in a professional way, although the strongest works on display escape this coolness and command my attention. Overall, the artwork really does feel like the focus of this modest venue, and it feels like neither a store or a gallery
More info can be found at The Schulman Project Website.
Their current exhibition is Julie York: Revisited In White in the gallery, up through February 16, 2014.
According to the gallery, York is Widely recognized as a protagonist within the field of contemporary ceramic art, York has played an influential role in reshaping the use of clay as a medium in craft. Her work embraces and draws inspiration from ceramic’s prodigious history yet moves beyond the discipline through an unconventional approach to her studio practice. York’s work challenges the conventional perception of clay in craft by broadening the field into uncharted, yet fertile grounds.
* Author Mac Falby is studying photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art and will graduate in 2014.