The 2017 Sondheim Finalists Include Three Former Finalists and Four Newcomers to Baltimore’s Most Prestigious Art Prize by Cara Ober

Puzzling out the whys of juror choices for Baltimore’s top art prize is always a curious experience. In its 12th year, the Walter & Janet Sondheim Prize is the crowning jewel of each annual Artscape, a festival that has grown into a vast network of exhibits and events. This year, Artscape will include dozens of Gallery Network exhibitions, a sprawling show of approximately 50 semi-finalists at MICA, and a museum exhibit of seven finalists which packs the excitement of a horse race.

The show opens before the prize is awarded, encouraging audience members to not only view the exhibit, but be drawn up into the drama of the competition. It’s anyone’s guess who will win the top honors, and this structure, with its eventual culmination in a live, on-stage presentation of the top award, presents an opportunity for all to consider: Who is the best artist of the group? What is the state of contemporary art in Baltimore? And, of course, who would I choose if I were the  juror?

This year’s jurors–Ruba Katrib, Clifford Owens, and Nat Trotmanselected seven finalists, and what’s interesting about the group is that three of the seven have been Sondheim finalists in the past. The 2017 Sondheim Finalists are Mequitta Ahuja, Mary Anne Arntzen, Cindy Cheng, Sara Dittrich, Benjamin Kelley, Kyle Tata, and Amy Yee, with Ahuja, Kelley, and Tata as former finalists. This repetition might incur frustration among the ranks of the many artists rejected for the prize, except for the fact that Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, responsible for all things Sondheim and Artscape, keeps this process transparent and chooses different high profile jurors from outside Baltimore each year.

 

The 2017 Sondheim Finalists are Mequitta Ahuja, Mary Anne Arntzen, Cindy Cheng, Sara Dittrich, Benjamin Kelley, Kyle Tata, and Amy Yee.

 

Why do jurors make the selections they do? Why would different jurors select the same artists over multiple years? It’s worth considering–are certain artists simply better than others? Or, are those chosen the right artists for right now? You’ll be pondering these questions alongside many other members of the arts community, making for an energetic dialogue about the purpose of the visual arts in culture, the pros and cons of competitive art prizes, and what we value as artists and consumers of art.

This year’s museum exhibition of Sondheim Finalists will be hosted at The Walters from June 17 – August 13, 2017 with free admission for all visitors. Besides a Saturday, July 15 award ceremony and reception, the museum is planning to host a series of artist talks with the finalists that will be open to the public. In addition, BmoreArt and Area 405 will curate an Artscape Gallery Network exhibition to recognize the past decade of Sondheim Finalists, approximately 70 in all, with a reception June 30.

Despite the awarding of just one annual $25,000 prize, the Sondheim has helped to cultivate a spirit of participation and community over the past decade. It has encouraged other art prizes to emerge in the region, created a legacy of success for finalists and semi-finalists, and gives the art community a cutting edge contemporary offering as part of Artscape, a sprawlingly huge and intentionally populist art festival.

More information on each finalist is provided below. After you’ve conducted all your research, we want to encourage you to share your opinions – Who should win? Who will win? We hope you’ll join us in an online poll.

Mequitta Ahuja (Baltimore, MD) makes large, figurative paintings that reference her African-American and East Indian background. Ahuja has an extensive exhibition history that includes exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery (London, UK, 2015), the Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD, 2015), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, MN, 2014), the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, AR, 2014), The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, NY, 2012, 2011, 2010), the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (Washington, DC, 2012, 2009), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX, 2008), The Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, NY, 2007), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (Chicago, IL, 2005).

Ahuja has participated in artist-in-residence programs at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX) , the Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD), the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, NY), the Siena Art Institute (Siena, Italy) and at the Dora Maar House (Menerbes, France). Mequitta’s work has appeared in the publication Modern Painters, and in 2010, she was featured in ArtNews as “An Artist to Watch.” Ahuja received her Masters of Fine Art from the University of Illinois in 2003, and her Bachelors of Art from Hampshire College in 1998. Ahuja was a finalist for the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize in 2015.

Mary Anne Arntzen (Baltimore, MD) is a painter whose work explores interactions between non-representational forms. Her work has been shown locally and nationally, including a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore (Baltimore, MD, 2013), as well as group exhibitions at Hillyer Art Space (Washington, DC, 2015), Arizona State University Art Gallery (Tempe, AZ, 2015), Salisbury University Gallery (Salisbury, MD, 2014), and School 33 Art Center (Baltimore, MD, 2012.

She has completed residencies at the Wassaic Project (Anemia, New York), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT) and Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild (Woodstock, NY). Arntzen teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art, George Washington University, and the Community College of Baltimore County. She is also a member of the Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore advisory board, and in 2016 she was awarded the Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award in painting.

Cindy Cheng (Baltimore, MD) creates complex constructions and installations that investigate the relationship between drawings and objects and are incubators for history, memory and reflections on the physical and abstract self. Her work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions at St. Charles Projects (Baltimore, MD, 2016), ‘sindikit (in collaboration with Cheeny Celebrado-Royer) (Baltimore, MD, 2016), Present Junction (Toronto, Canada, 2015), Thomas H. and Mary K. Williams Gallery at Mount Saint Mary’s University (Emmitsburg, MD, 2016), Flashpoint (Washington, DC, 2014), E-merge Art Fair (Washington, DC, 2013) and has an upcoming solo show at Ditch Projects (Portland, OR, 2017).

Cheng received her BA from Mount Holyoke College. Cheng received a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2008 and then earned her Masters of Fine Art from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2011. She is currently teaching at MICA in the Drawing Department, and has been a resident at the Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT) and at the Anderson Ranch Artist Residency (Snowmass Village, CO). In 2016, Cheng and was a finalist for the Trawick Prize and in 2013 a semifinalist for the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize.

Sara Dittrich (Baltimore, MD) is an interdisciplinary artist creating objects, installations, and performances that investigate and amplify the dynamic rhythms of the body, and the interconnected patterns that reside in everyday life. Dittrich received her Bachelors of Fine Art in interdisciplinary sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014, and has exhibited her work in numerous exhibitions including solo shows at the Washington Project for the Arts (Washington, DC, 2017) and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI, 2015).

Dittrich has also exhibited her work internationally at KIV Gallery (Prague, Czech Republic, 2014) while studying sculpture at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. In 2013, Dittrich was awarded the Beers Contemporary Award for Emerging Art and has completed residencies at Sculpture Space (Utica, NY), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE).

Benjamin Kelley (Baltimore, MD), is a 2010 Masters of Fine Art graduate of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Driven by the smell of oak, the cult of commodity, and the elegance of precision, Kelley re-contextualizes found objects with altered and fabricated structures. His works have been exhibited locally and nationally, including solo exhibitions in the Icebox Project Space at Crane Arts (a project of the Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore) (Philadelphia, PA, 2016), CONNERSMITH, (Washington, DC, 2013), Open Space (Baltimore, MD, 2011), Patti and Rusty Rueff Gallery at Purdue University  (West Lafayette, IN, 2009), among others.

This work has also been featured in several group exhibitions, including those at the Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD, 2015), the Katzen Arts Center at American University (Washington, DC, 2014), the Contemporary Museum (Baltimore, MD, 2012), Maryland Art Place (Baltimore, MD, 2011, 2010), Gallery Four (Baltimore, MD, 2010), and the Creative Alliance (Baltimore, MD, 2009). Kelley has been awarded the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship (Richmond, VA) and the GoGo Emerging Artist Projects of CONNERSMITH., (Washington, DC). His work has also been featured in publications such as the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, and the Baltimore City Paper. Kelley was also a finalist for the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize in 2015.

Kyle Tata (Baltimore, MD) is a native of Baltimore City and a 2012 Bachelors of Fine Arts graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. His work primarily uses photography, printmaking, and artist books to explore the themes of history, design and architecture. Tata has an extensive local and regional exhibition history, including exhibitions at the Hamiltonian Gallery (Washington, DC, 2016, 2015), Area 405 (Baltimore, MD 2016), Spudnik Press & Gallery (Chicago, IL, 2014), Silvermine Arts Center (New Canaan, CT, 2014), Current Space (Baltimore, MD, 2013), the International Print Center (New York, NY, 2013), Furthermore Gallery (Washington, DC, 2013) and Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (Philadelphia, PA, 2013). His artist books are held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA), The International Center for Photography (New York, NY) and the Indie Photobook Library (Washington, DC). Tata is currently in the fellowship program at the Hamiltonian Gallery, and since 2013, has been an arts instructor at the Baltimore School for the Arts. In 2014, Tata was also a finalist for the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize.

Amy Marisa Yee (Baltimore, MD), explores the intersection of popular culture, simulacra, and professional sports through her work in 3D installation, photography, and video. She is a 2015 Masters of Fine Art graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Rinehart School of Sculpture, where she was the recipient of the Amalie Rothschild Award, and a 2011 Bachelors of Art graduate of Smith College.

Her work has been exhibited locally at Current Space (Baltimore, MD, 2017), School 33 Art Center (Baltimore, MD, 2016) and Terrault Contemporary (Baltimore, MD 2015). And featured nationally in exhibitions at the Diego Rivera Gallery at San Francisco Art Institute (San Francisco, CA, 2012), Crane Arts’ Icebox Project Space (Philadelphia, PA, 2016) and Vox Populi (Philadelphia, PA, 2015). Yee was also awarded an artist residency in 2015 at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (Nebraska City, NE).

 

More on the 2017 Sondheim Jurors:

Ruba Katrib is a curator at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, New York, where she is responsible for organizing exhibitions, educational and public programs, publications, and for coordinating all aspects of program presentation. At the SculptureCenter she has produced the group exhibitions The Eccentrics (2015), Puddle, Pothole, Portal (2014) (co-curated with artist Camille Henrot), Better Homes (2013), and A Disagreeable Object (2012); and exhibitions with solo artists Rochelle Goldberg (2016), Anthea Hamilton, Gabriel Sierra, Magali Reus, Michael E. Smith, and Erika Verzutti (all 2015). Recently, she has also co-curated Visitors (2015) with Tom Eccles, a group exhibition of public art on Governors Island, New York. In her previous post as the associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), North Miami, Florida, she organized several solo and group exhibitions including Dark Continents (2008) and The Reach of Realism (2009), which explored the traditions of realism within the digital age, as well as the first museum retrospectives of Cory Arcangel and Claire Fontaine (both 2010). Katrib has contributed texts for a number of publications and periodicals including Art in America, Parkett, and cura. magazine. Katrib received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where as an undergraduate in 2003 she co-founded the Chicago based non-profit arts group Threewalls. She received her Master’s degree in Curatorial Studies from Bard College in 2007.

Clifford Owens is a New York-based contemporary artist who works in multiple media: performance, photography, text and video. His work, often combining more than one of these media, serves to challenge expectations of race and gender, time and space, power and permission, performer and spectator. His recent solo exhibitions include Hard & Fast, INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York (2016); Clifford Owens: Selections from Anthology, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California (2015); A Forum for Performance Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York (2014); Five Nights’ Worth, Performa 13, New York, New York (2013) and Clifford Owens: Anthology, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York (2012). Owens has performed or has also been included in dozens of group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including those recently at the Walter Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2014); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York (2014, 2013, 2012); Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, Texas (2013, 2012, 2011) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York (2011). Owens’ work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem. He has been awarded the William H. Johnson Prize (2012) and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award (2007), and has been an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine (2004); as well as a visiting artist at dozens of universities throughout the country. Owens was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland; he received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998 and his MFA from Rutgers University in 2000.

Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media, joined the curatorial department at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2001, working on the blockbuster exhibition Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle. Since this triumph, he has curated several other large scale exhibitions for the Guggenheim campuses, including the exhibition currently on display, Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin: . . . circle through New York, Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better, co-curated with Nancy Spector and shown in New York (2016), James Turrell, co-curated with Carmen Giménez and shown in New York (2013), Pawel Althamer: Almech, shown in Berlin (2012), Found in Translation, shown in New York and Berlin (2011, 2012), Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance, co-curated with Jennifer Blessing and shown in New York and Bilbao (2010, 2011), and Catherine Opie: American Photographer, as assistant curator with Jennifer Blessing and shown in New York (2009). He has also developed performative and site-specific projects for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum rotunda in New York in collaboration with artists such as Susan Philipsz (2010), Tino Sehgal (2010), Sharon Hayes (2009), Meredith Monk (2009), and Francesco Vezzoli (2007), among others. He is also charged with helping develop the Guggenheim’s collection of photography, video, and film, and is closely involved in the museum’s performance programming. In addition to catalogue essays for several of the above mentioned exhibitions, Trotman has published on Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys, Jane and Louise Wilson, among many others. Trotman holds an M.Phil. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he focused on performance, photography, and time-based art, and is a graduate of the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program.

Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Timeline:

Finalists Exhibition at the Walters Art Museum: Saturday, June 17 through Sunday, August 13, 2017
Award announcement: Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 7pm; Galleries open at 6pm
Semifinalist Exhibition at MICA: Friday, July 21, 2017 through Sunday, August 6, 2017
Semifinalist Exhibition opening reception: Thursday, July 20, 2017 from 6pm to 9pm
Artscape: Friday, July 21-Sunday, July 23, 2017

More info can be found at BOPA’s Sondheim Page.

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Author Cara Ober is Editor-in-Chief at BmoreArt