In a city teeming with artists, Baltimore could use a few more galleries showing work by artists emerging enough to offer manageable price points but poised for the national museum career that will significantly increase the value of their work. Many of us see the potential for this type of elevation, and the relevance of collecting the art of our place and time, but for this to happen the work needs needs to be seen in a context that feels serious and sophisticated, one that also manages to be approachable.
The new Catalyst Contemporary art space, located in the storefront gallery underneath the C. Grimaldis Gallery on Charles Street, could be such a place, if its first exhibition is any indication. The gallery itself, a basement storefront with a giant picture window, open floor plan, good lighting and floors, as well as its proximity to Baltimore’s most prestigious and longest-running contemporary gallery in the heart of Mount Vernon, lends itself to contemporary art that takes itself seriously. However, proximity is clearly not enough. Over the past decade the space has hosted a series of new galleries, project spaces, and pop-ups, which opened for a time but then disappeared.
Wickerham & Lomax
However, Catalyst is unique because it is the sister project to Full Circle Photo, an established gallery, frame and print shop, and darkroom, located on the cusp of Charles North and Old Goucher, owned and run by Brian Miller and Julie Funderburk.
“For a few years, I was interested in working with artists of many types in a gallery setting,” says Brian Miller. “But Full Circle Gallery is a dedicated space for artists working with photographic techniques and ideas. With a national and international cohort of professional and personal artistic contacts, I dreamt of finding an opportunity to work in a more comprehensive way in exhibiting and representing arts of all media. And last autumn, this opportunity arose, so I decided to pursue it.”
In the new space, chief curator Liz Faust will run the programming. “Although Julie Funderburk and I own both spaces, there will not be concurrent exhibitions or any other relationship between the programming,” explains Miller. Faust is also the co-curator at Full Circle.
Catalyst’s first exhibition, titled Catalyst, features a range of ambitious and sellable works by Kate Kretz, Ajay Malghan, Wickerham & Lomax, Erick Antonio Benitez, and Damon Arhos, all artists with established track records of exhibitions in Baltimore, DC, and New York, mostly in galleries but also a few museum shows, as well as a smattering of significant grants and published reviews. According to the curatorial statement, the show’s theme is “artists whose work act as a physical catalyst in the scientific sense of the word or as catalysts within the arts and their communities.”
This is convenient, given the name of the gallery, but not enough to create thematic synergy between the selected artists. Thematic relationships are not a deal-breaker, though, and it makes sense for the gallery to establish an aesthetic barometer with this first show. What these six artists do share are strong craftsmanship, a sturdy work ethic, and ambitious exhibitions records, which results in a consistent level of quality throughout the gallery.
Miller says that Catalyst’s next show will explore love and identity, and the website describes their gallery’s goal as creating “sustainability for artists in order to continue the development of their personal and social narratives, from which the larger cultural community can benefit.”
Catalyst certainly presented works that I would want to live with and artists I would like to add to my collection, and offers a solid balance to the photographic exhibitions at Full Circle. As with other galleries that have occupied this hallowed ground, only time will tell if Catalyst can succeed in this particular space, but I hope that it does. If Full Circle’s recent gallery programming is any indication, Catalyst will be a productive addition to Baltimore’s contemporary art scene and market, and a viable platform to “create sustainability” for artists and build relationships with collectors in the region.
Erick Antonio Benitez
Catalyst at Catalyst Contemporary is up through June 8.
523 N. Charles St., Baltimore, 21201