A Day of Gallery Hopping in Baltimore including Spacecamp, Galerie Myrtis, Phoebe Projects, Gallery 4, and Current

by Cara Ober

Although I shouldn’t need an excuse, an out-of-town guest is often a great motivator in visiting a number of different galleries in Baltimore. On Saturday, June 21, a group from Transformer Gallery in Washington, DC came for a visit. The nonprofit organization is building an arts writer mentorship program as a special project this summer and BmoreArt has agreed to serve as a partner. As part of an assignment, the would-be arts writers came to our office at Motor House and then we attempted to visit as many art spaces as possible that afternoon.

The Transformer art writers will be submitting their own reviews and reactions shortly, but in the meantime, I wanted to present a selection of all that we saw because it’s still on my mind. Although much of it was uneven, and unevenly presented, viewing our galleries and artist-run spaces and artwork through the eyes of outsiders was illuminating. Here’s just a snippet of what we saw.

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Eva Wylie: Down the Line

Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore at Spacecamp
16 West North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201
June 11 – July 1, 2016 (open until July 17th by appointment)

This exhibit was simultaneously beautiful and also disappointing. Wylie’s work, especially when screen printed directly onto the gallery wall, verges on magical. Viewed as close up as possible, it bursts with sharp, stream-of-consciousness detail and shifting colors which are organic and subtle.

From a distance, and there is so much distance in Spacecamp’s cavernous gallery, Wylie’s work falls apart. It either needs more contrast and scale to hold up, and I would argue against that, or simply a smaller and more forgiving space to view it in.

This is a problem for many artists like Wylie, who are most interested in intimate detail and relationships, rather than 3D issues of scale, monumentality, and theatrical drama — all required elements in a giant solo exhibit. Although the work is a pleasure to experience, this show is a reminder that sometimes more is less, curatorially speaking, and that one space does not fit all work. Art should be selected and matched with a space that increases and enhances its power, or sometimes should change radically to fit the exhibition space.
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To Be Black in White America at Galerie Myrtis

On exhibit through July 30
2224 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21218
[email protected]
Hours: Thursday – Saturday, 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm or by appointment: Tuesday – Wednesday
Closed: Sunday and Monday

From SpaceCamp, we walked north just a few blocks up Charles Street to Galerie Myrtis. As she was finishing the installation of the show, gallery director Aden Weisel explained that the concept originally came together around the work of Larry Cook, a current Sondheim finalist and represented gallery artist.

According to the release, this exhibit “explores the politicization of the Black Identity in the United States. From legalized slavery to the most recent, hateful thing that Donald Trump said, a minority of Americans have been desperately and diligently fighting against a White power structure for equality throughout the nation’s relatively short history.”

The exhibit presents a variety of media, approaches, and artists, and works are really crammed into the unique space, which offers gallery walls within the context of a Peabody Heights rowhouse. Although it distracts from some of the subtler works, the crowding also creates a sense of solidarity and community, a palpable feeling of urgency and emotions bursting from the surface. The artists include Larry Cook, Wesley Clark, Linda Day Clark, Oletha DeVane, Nehemiah Dixon III, Susan Goldman, Curlee Holton, Wayson R. Jones, Jeffrey Kent, Wendel Patrick, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Stephen Towns. The exhibit as a whole requires time to process the densely laden narratives and statements.

Whether you respond more to photos, sculpture, paintings, or video, there will be a work or two in To Be Black that will resonate with any and every aesthetic possible. Beyond this, there’s an opportunity to communicate honestly within and across communities.

Although this exhibit features Black artists who present their own personal, as well as historical, American experiences, this show is a must-see for all White artists in Baltimore who understand that racism is a very real and crippling problem in our city. For all those asking how they can be a meaningful part of the struggle, White audience members, collectors, and artists can, as a starting point, educate themselves about the experiences of Black artists in Baltimore by visiting this exhibit with an open mind and heart, and they can bring others to do the same.

IMG_1067 Linda Day ClarkIMG_1065Wendel Patrick (center) and Nehemiah Dixon III “Suits of Armor” on either side

IMG_1064Jamea Richmond-EdwardsIMG_1063 Oletha DeVaneIMG_1059 Stephen Towns and Wayson R. JonesIMG_1058Wesley Clark “Open Season”

IMG_1057Wendel Patrick “Dance”

Soft Symmetry at Phoebe Projects

Julia Bland, Evie Falci, Jessie Unterhalter & Katey Truhn, Curated by Alex Ebstein
May 21 – June 19, 2016

Geometric and psychedelic symmetry abounds in this exhibit, harkening back to Alex Ebstein’s days as co-curator at the former Nudashank Gallery. All three artists in this show, including muralist-duo Unterhalter & Truhn, use “traditional crafting techniques” to construct mixed media works, which resemble quilted paintings and macrame drawings.

Most striking are the metal studded on leather paintings of Evie Falci, which conjure up Leather Daddies at a Quilting Bee. Why not? They’re gorgeous and powerful formally, and challenge assumptions of traditional masculinity and femininity.IMG_1088

IMG_1069 Evie FalciIMG_1070IMG_1079 Jessie Unterhalter & Katey TruhnIMG_1077 Julia BlandIMG_1073 Evie FalciIMG_1071 Jessie Unterhalter & Katey Truhn
IMG_1087The Transformer crew with Alex Ebstein and Cara Ober

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Hermonie Only: Not Now at Gallery Four

 June 18 – July 22, 2016

405 W Franklin St, Fl 4 
Baltimore, Maryland 21201

This solo exhibit is a must-see for a variety of reasons. Hermonie Only is one of Baltimore’s quietest and most mysterious artists, and she’s been living and working here for about a decade. The award-winning MICA graduate has had only a handful of shows, which includes a Baker exhibit at the BMA, but each one has been painstakingly, exaggeratedly pristine.

In Gallery Four’s sprawling warehouse galleries, Only’s tiny, monochromatic works should be lost, yet they actually absorb more power from the empty spaces around them.

One way that they manifest power is through their exquisite, almost other-worldly construction. Each piece offers a puzzle to the viewer, in terms of materials and process. The tiny, mostly black, geometric works, which include sculpture, drawing, and prints, function like tiny monoliths or ancient pyramids. Although their purpose and message is obtuse, and this can feel initially exclusionary on the part of the artist, each possesses an element of surprise, a kind of “How’d she do it?” question that is irresistible. As you investigate the materials and their industrial-minimal shapes, a beautiful violence comes into focus, where systems are both loved and feared, where the individual finds solace in the creation of new and rigid problems.

The second way these works achieve power is the artist’s insistence on lighting and placement in the gallery that reinforces the singularity of each. In Not Now, there’s no negotiation between the art and the environment. Rather, the work was designed for this space. No matter how ridiculous the shifts in scale between object and wall space, or perhaps because of the intentional weirdness of it, each piece feels as if it couldn’t be placed anywhere else in the gallery. There’s a non-verbal conversation that flows through the entire exhibit, and works placed in disparate and discreet spots still impact those around them.

This is a masterful exhibit by an artist who appears not to be in a hurry to get anywhere else. It feels grounded and this can be a rarity in a city full of young artists.
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Current: Wilderness and Household: Yhelena & Michael Hall 

On exhibit through June 26
Current Gallery
421 N Howard
Baltimore, MD 21201

Our next stop was Current, with Wilderness and Household: Works by Yhelena and Michael Hall in the main gallery. This show overall gave me a ‘Meh’ feeling, but some of the Transformer fellows loved it and there will most likely be more writing about it coming.

It’s quite possible I’m still processing this work, which included a decomposing T-bone steak in a glass case, slabs of concrete, fans, and projectors. There was a lot to take in and the husband and wife team are obviously making a statement about domesticity and the structures that hold it in place. However, this work felt like it was in its beginning stages, like exciting ideas and a dry sense of humor are percolating in certain pieces, but a clarity or concise language has not yet emerged. There were too many concrete slabs, which lacked specificity in making a statement about building materials, home, domesticity, advertising, and construction. For me, there were too many blurry ideas presented at once in these pieces, and even the metal girders embedded as armatures under the concrete seemed misplaced because they were perfectly clean. I’m used to seeing them rusty, fulfilling a structural purpose. As a detail or clue, they seemed underdeveloped and this permeated this body of work.

In contrast, the more delicate and complicated works that assembled disparate, and often bizarre, objects captured my attention. Each felt specifically composed and the grotesque and even abusive treatment of everyday domestic objects started to build an interesting and macabre, possibly dystopian, narrative about marriage, home life, and consumer culture. These works were the ones I spent the most time with and I’m curious to see more of them.IMG_1118 IMG_1115 IMG_1125 IMG_1124

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So-And-So in Current‘s Project Space, also up through June 26

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I absolutely loved this show, and I am aware of my own bias for pop and material culture coupled with willfully dumb and wicked humor. So-And-So featured a video made up exclusively of Chewbaca footage. There were mud flaps emblazoned with Yosemite Sam. There was a giant daycare-colored cutout of the state of Wisconsin, that resembled a podium or end table. There were silver ceramic ears of corn, painted with a sad and happy face, like cheesy dramatic masks. There was a breast implant. There was a French baguette with plastic eyes and a duck’s beak added onto it, Mr. Potato Head-style, sitting on a shelf. Get it? It’s a duck face. On a baguette. I don’t even know why I think this is hilarious, but I do.

After going through the exhibit, I was vexed to find the artist’s name NOWHERE. Not on the wall, like the other show and not even in the notebook provided with artist statement and a number of different texts. Did the artist simply forget to include their name??? Was this an anonymous show? Ugh. So annoying.

As I searched throughout the entire notebook for the artist’s name (which I would never have done had the artist’s name been provided), I realized that there were multiple artist statements and different lists of work titles. One read, “List of works if they were titled based on clickbait headlines I saw this week.” This one included The Inside of Leonardo DiCaprio’s House is Far From What You Would Expect for the looping video and Scientists Have Learned Something Horrible About Prairie Dogs for the baguette piece. The next page has a similar looking list of titles but this one was called, “List of works if they were titled based on tracks from Living Color’s 1998 debut studio album Vivid” and the same works are called something completely different.

For the artist statements, the artist chose interchangeable texts and titles as well. One was called “In Lieu of an Artist Statement, the first few paragraphs of ‘The Ring that Binds’ by Linda G. Morris as it appeared in the 1984 Issue of Baltimore Magazine.” And also, my favorite version, “In Lieu of an Artist Statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments to a reporter regarding quantum computing, personally transcribed.” It was a pleasure reading the range of seemingly random quotes in representing the ideas behind the work, which were clever and funny in an inclusive way.

However, it was more interesting was to consider the meaning of the works as a culturally shifting signifier, to comprehend the way even common crass items can be viewed in a multitude of ways, and to appreciate the power of art and media to shape perception. And of course, it was just plan fun to thumb one’s nose at the tiresome gallery texts required of every exhibit for people like me.

Now that Seth Crawford has gotten away with this – and of course I did find out the artist’s identity, thank you, internet! – I know I will see copycat silly artist statements and refusals to title works, or share those titles in an actual list. Please know, just because this particular artist has done this successfully, it doesn’t mean you can too. Despite a veneer of haphazard silliness, this is an artist who understands his materials and content, and who willfully and expertly manipulates them for a chosen purpose.

Words of advice: Don’t do this until you’re Seth Crawford or have achieved the power of Seth Crawford.
IMG_1149 IMG_1144 IMG_1143 IMG_1141 IMG_1140 IMG_1139 IMG_1137 IMG_1135 IMG_1132 As you can probably expect, our group collapsed in a good kind of exhaustion soon after our last visit and I am thrilled that we took some sustenance in the form of brilliant Trinicria prosciutto and pesto sandwiches.

Although it’s always a great excuse to take out of town guests on a Baltimore art tour, and I love giving these types of tours, I want to remind you – and myself – that there is an incredible cultural richness in this city that we seldom take advantage of. This is sad and impoverished thinking. Our artists, art spaces, and arts organizations are working for a reason. It’s up to us as the viewing audience to reinforce, support, critique, and energize these resources.

Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt.