Alex Ebstein’s Favorite Exhibitions of 2015

2015 was an exciting and important year for the arts in Baltimore. Many of the exhibits and projects that made it unique and special have already been celebrated, reviewed, and listed including spectacular projects by The Contemporary (Ghost Food by Miriam Simun and Bubble Over Green by Victoria Fu), Lu Zhang’s epic exhibition at the Peabody Library, Duox’s prize-grabbing Sondheim installation, and Paul Rucker’s weighty Creative Alliance and Baker shows.

New grants funded large scale projects and creative partnerships with new audiences. The local art community has been active in efforts to expand and include and to enter this new year with these priorities forefront. In an active and diverse art scene, sometimes great exhibitions slip through the cracks of our handful of media outlets and aren’t remembered with as much clarity as those that benefitted from documentation and critical attention.

Below is a short list of a few shows that flew under the radar in 2015 but deserve a second and closer look:

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​Gary Mullens with his interpretations of Tom Miller’s Murals at School 33 
Exhibit: Beautiful Walls For Baltimore at School 33 Art Center (up through January 30)

This massive exhibition and history project, organized by Maggie Villegas, brings together a photographic history of the city’s most iconic murals, presented alongside new pieces created specifically for the show. Beautiful Walls For Baltimore highlights the works created with the Baltimore Mural Arts Program from 1975 to present, pairing names to familiar, beloved imagery that defines the landscape of our communities.

Gary Mullens’s elegant, graphic murals are a stand out, as well as an entire wall by the collaborative duo Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, and the black and white photos of the seventies-era murals in their prime.

Image courtesy of School 33 Art Center.

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Elana Webb: You & Island at Grey Matter 

You & Island, the first solo exhibition of sculptor Elana Webb, had a lot of ideas hanging precariously and exquisitely in the balance. Investigating the concept of Paradise as artificial and commodifiable,Webb glommed together the found and the raw, the organic and synthetic punctuating the space with crisp decisive gestures such as a rack of hand-cut metal weapons and a thin, sculptural base for an amorphous plume that reads “bad gal.”

Finding a meeting point between Rihanna, construction materials, the artist’s midwestern upbringing and channeling it into a foreboding and exciting installation is no small feat. You & Island demonstrated the artist’s dexterity with material and installation, filling the unique venue with strong works that overlapped into memorable vignettes.

Image courtesy of the artist.

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Cross-Pollination: Hybrid Art Abuzz at Towson University’s Center For The Arts Gallery 

This giant exhibition curated by animation, video and performance artist Lynn Tomlinson featured works that escape the confines of a single classification, with most focusing on a broader approach to video and moving imagery.

The works also focused on an interest in and overlap with nature in one way or another, as with Allison Schulnick’s epic, painterly claymation titled “Mound” that greeted viewers in the front window of the gallery.

In addition to artists whose intent is to make artwork, the exhibition includes images and video that are byproducts of other pursuits, the most notable example is the video produced by the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of their costumed staff memebers’ efforts to protect and study the Whooping Crane.

​Photos: Craig Saper/Lynn Tomlinson

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Libby Rothfeld at First Continent 

First Continent is an exciting new addition to the local gallery scene in and of itself, but its most recent exhibition, a solo show of mixed media pieces by Libby Rothfeld, really saw the program hitting it’s stride.

Rothfeld cast a series of Ikea storage bin lids in concrete, making minimal, familiar slabs. Adorned with photographs, jewelry and painted surface details, the pieces are held up with lumpy pairs of pallid hands and are at once simple and intimate. A soft palette persists throughout the found and formed materials. Central floor works appear to be clusters of utilitarian and decorated cubes and plinths, each precise but hard to place outside the specificity of the contained environment.

Image (including installation view at top) courtesy of the gallery’s website.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-11-at-11.56.28-AMCaprice & Longing for Leisure at Open Space

In a pair of back to back exhibitions, local painter Sean Boylan (and now co-director of Rope) showcased the work of seven London-based artists at Open Space this summer. The two exhibitions combined painting, video, sculpture, digital prints, and bold installation gestures in a quirky, refreshing way.

Organizing and transporting the work and hosting some of the artists who traveled for the exhibition demonstrates an admirable effort on the part of the curator and artist run venue.

Image courtesy of the gallery’s website.

DDD-2015-04Drip Drop Drag /// Discomfort Zone by Chiara No and Nick Mayer at Current

In an epic collaboration, artists Chiara No and Nick Mayer (both of whom used to reside in Baltimore and have since moved to other cities) brought together their tandem and sometimes overlapping practices into a deliberate, singular, focused installation.

Taking visual, technical, and thematic cues from one another, the two made works in a continuous conversation, initiated through ACRE residency in Wisconsin and resulting in a Drip Drop Drag later in the summer. The artists worked together to install the pieces and transform the space, many of the raw, handmade materials not fully taking form until they were installed on site.

Image courtesy of the artists.

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Charlie Roberts: Palm Palm at Randall Scott Projects

Easily one of my favorite painting shows in Baltimore in 2015, Charlie Roberts’ casual paint handling and carefree imagery made Palm Palm, his solo exhibition at Randall Scott Projects, equal parts psychedelic and lighthearted.

Roberts, an Oslo-based artist, presented brightly colored works with a humorous set of repeating iconography: money, clocks, beaches, food etc. Ambitious while still managing to be flippant and, for lack of a better word, “cool,” Roberts’s narrative pieces felt incredibly cohesive, pleasantly confusing, and slyly inviting.

Image courtesy of the gallery.

 

Author Alex Ebstein is a Baltimore-based artist, curator, professor, and writer.