If you’ve ever watched “Being John Malkovitch,” the adventure of getting yourself to the SubBasement Artist Studios in Baltimore will bring on an odd nostalgia. You enter a chic condo building through big glass doors on Howard Street, exchange pleasantries with the doorman, and take the elevator to the basement. Then you walk down a small gray hallway to a different elevator, and press SB. When the elevator doors open, you have reached the basement under the basement, or sub-basement and it’s not what you’d expect. Walking into the bright light, a shockingly cavernous space unfolds, usually filled with a selection of contemporary art.
After a decade of being the largest art gallery in Baltimore, Jeffrey Kent, the founding director, announced that the space will officially close at the end of this year at the request of his landlord, Southern Management Corporation, who plans to use the space for a different purpose.
“I consider myself very fortunate as an artist to have had landlords like David Hillman at Southern Management Corporation and Toby Bozzuto [at The Fitzgerald], who were willing to rent huge commercial spaces to me at prices well below market value,” says Kent. “I understand that real estate development changes and my landlord has always been an incredibly gracious person.”
In the past ten years, Kent has used the vast space as a studio for himself and others and hosted a series of curated exhibitions for hundreds of artists. It was named ‘Best Art Gallery’ in 2005 by the City Paper for its “overall high quality of artists shown,” citing exhibits of Larry Scott, Don Griffin, and Kent himself, as well as a number of group shows. In addition, the CP said that “Sub-basement displays a refreshingly restless spirit, unwilling to settle into anything remotely resembling a comfort zone and consistently emphasizing works that grab the eye, engage the brain, and sometimes even rattle the nerves.” And that was nine years ago.
According to Kent, “What I am most proud of is putting together so many different kinds of exhibits for artists over the years. So many artists, from Baltimore and across the country, exhibited at the SubBasement and many got there first legitimate show there. It’s been very special to be a part of artists’ lives and careers in this way.”
Although this chapter of his life is ending, Kent is characteristically positive and is looking forward to new projects, including finding a new studio in Baltimore to continue making his large oil paintings. In addition, Kent is Co-Owner and Curator of Unexpected Art, which is functioning as a pop up gallery in the Fitzgerald Building and in Silo Point. At this point, he’s not sure if he wants to run another gallery in the future, but says he would be open to it if the opportunity presents itself.
Kent will be hosting one last exhibition in the Subbasement Studios, an exhibit of his own paintings and collaborations with other artists he has worked with over the years in the space. The exhibit will be available to view by appointment from November 1 – 29, with a closing reception on November 29, 2014.
“I never expected this space to be what it was and it’s been a super opportunity,” Kent says, with genuine appreciation. “It’s been a great experiment and I feel very lucky.”
SubBasement Studios is located at 118 N. Howard Street.
Top Feature Photo of Jeffrey Kent is by Colby Ware for The Baltimore Sun / November 6, 2013.