Bmoreart’s BEST Arts of the DECADE – really?

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I am hardly qualified to make a judgement call on the past ten years of arts in Baltimore, but I am feeling the pressure. Everybody’s doing it. Ten years ago I was a high school art teacher living way out in the county, hon, and the bright lights and artistic genius of Baltimore’s art scene was but a distant beacon. Since then, my involvement with the arty people and places of this city has been a game changer for me, a whole new way of life. Let’s clink our virtual fizzing wine glasses together and toast some of the people who have made an impact on the arts here in Baltimore!


Joyce Scott: Kickin’ It With the Old Masters is really the only show I remember. This was the show where Joyce Scott infiltrated the BMA’s collection with beadwork, paintings, and sculpture. It was brazen and obnoxious, it was colorful and celebratory. The BMA was alive, not just with curious patrons wanting to visit this unusual exhibit, but with interpretive dancers, singers, and performance. This was the exhibit to see here in Baltimore. Joyce is definitely a Baltimore treasure.

The infamous Joyce J. Scott

The Walters’ snazzy new facade.

This was the year the Walters Art Museum finished its rennovation of the Centre Street Entrance with a contemporary glass and steel structure. I love the giant doors on Charles Street, but this four story glass entry is inviting, light-filled, and incorporates the permanent collection into the actual structure. A step up for the Walters and a giant set of stairs for the rest of us. Oh, and the Manet show wasn’t too shabby, either.

Photograph by Michelle Tecco at Mission Space
I loved the Mission Media Space on Charles Street. Who remembers this spot? This Mt. Vernon Web Design business office plus gallery, founded by Todd Harvey and Joe Loverde, devoted its whole first floor to art exhibits, film screenings, and musical performances. Always high caliber, many emerging artists like Michelle Tecco, William Downs, Taryn Wolf, Jessica Coven, Julie Benoit, and many others cut their exhibiting teeth here and lots of good energy followed. I saw Devandra Banhart perform here, way before he became a regular dater of movie stars as seen in  in US weekly and I saw Joanna Newsome play her harp here in sweltering heat. What a great spot to see art and music. Alas.

Installation by Ming-Yi Sung

Does anyone remember this three person show at MAP? Three full rooms of sensational installation work by local artists Tabatha Tucker, Ming-Yi Sung, and Lisa Dillin. This was my first visit to Maryland Art Place I believe – my graduate program at MICA held an event there. These installations were all unique – Dillin’s room of giant baby toys, Ming-Yi Sung’s lorax-esque forrest and animals, and Tabitha Tucker’s giant ‘brick’ mattress-couch thingy – but tactile and weird enough to resonate together, too. This show made a lasting impression on me and just shows how an innovative and professional space, our own MAP, continues to be a shining ray of light for regional and local artists.

Did Goya-Girl Press / Goya Contemporary really not exist before this time??? It did, but it didn’t. After owner Martha Macks-Kahn renovated the Hamden Mill Center Space and Amy Raehse became director, this gallery became the closest you could get to Chelsea, wrapped up in a cute little Baltimore package. White walls and wood floors, large slabs of glass and exposed industrial beams, and solid, cutting-edge contemporary art. The show there that changed my art practice, as well as the way that I teach, was Melodie Provenzano’s exhibit of cheeky, Porter-esque still lives featuring tchotchkes in compromising positions. Goya is a terrific space, simultaneously warm and intimidatingly professional, and Baltimore NEEDS this desperately.

A couple of things: Beautiful Losers at the Contemporary Museum, Slide Show at the BMA, the invention of the much needed and loved Current Space, and Larry Scott and Don Griffin at the Sub-Basement Studios. Enough said. This was also the year that Radar, the pocket-sized bi-montly guide to art and culture in Baltimore edited by Jack Livingston made a huge splash. Art mavens are still waiting dutifully for this publication to return. Pretty please??? Check out its online incarnation, Radar Redux, here.

Who didn’t love Spare Room Installation space? Cindy Rehm’s spare bedroom on Greenmount Ave. was such a terrific hub for art and conversation, and for installation artists to have an opportunity to transform an entire space. Between 2005 and 2007, many artists including Leslie Mutchler, Denise Tassin, duos Ric Royer and Kevin Thurston, Glen Shrum and Lynn Silverman, and Julie Benoit and myself, had the excellent opportunity to do whatever we wanted in Cindy Rehm’s spare bedroom. Go to Spare Room’s online archive to see images.

Louise Bourgeois

Oh, and I have to say my favorite show of the year was Louise Bourgeois: Femme, at the Walters and the Contemporary museum. The clandestine placement of Bourgeois’ pieces amongst the Walter’s antiquities made me actually interested in their collection! Who knew?

And also, of course, this was the first year of the Sondheim Prize. Yay for $$ for Bmore artists!

Dan Steinhilber: Front Room at the BMA

Lots of good stuff this year and, yes, my memory is growing clearer. Gee’s Bend Quilts, BMA’s Front Room, Rob Sparrow Jones at Gallery Imperato, and Load of Fun was just a wee little baby! Back at the BMA, Darsie Alexander really did transform the contemporary wing into a living, breathing entity, literally with Dan Steinhilber’s styrofoam peanut storm and metaphorically with Luisa Lambri. This emphasis on living artists, as well as a few local ones, begins to forge a personal relationship between the museum and local scene. A great follow-up was Mark Alice Durant’s guest-curated Notes on Monumentality in 2008.

What’s a blog, anyway? This was the year that BmoreArt was started, on a dare from a fellow MICA student. I don’t remember what I did with my spare time before I started blogging, but let’s just say I have less of it now.

Maren Hassinger Pink Pyramid at the BMA Sondheim Exhibition

This was the year of free stuff. Free admission at major museums, a free studio at the Bromo tower, lots of great free blogs for you to read, and free websites and, potentially, cash, from the Baker Artist Award Site. This was also the year of Maren Hassinger’s giant pink triangle at the BMA, Jeffrey Kent’s Good, Bad, & Ugly at the Creative Alliance, and Mina Cheon Addressing Dolls at the Grimaldis Gallery.

If I had to say, this was the year of the independent theater in Baltimore. Single Carrot Theater, Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, Lof/t, the Annex, The Charm City Kitty Club, the Transmodern festival, the Baltimore Rock Opera society, and Fifth Dimension are just a few of the events and venues that have cropped up in the last few years, possibly inspired by a very special night of Beauty and the Beast at Wham City? Or possibly not. Either way, the DIY theatre is thriving here and we like it that way. As everyone already knows, my favorite exhibit was Laure Drogoul at MICA, which definitely fits into this vein of art-as-theater and theater-as-art.

I have to send a shout out to Nudashank, the new artist-run gallery that is kicking some ass in promoting artists in Baltimore this past year. Along with them, I would also like to recognize the entire H&H building, which really is becoming, along with Load of Fun and Area 405, of course, an excellent and supportive community of professional and devoted artists. Yay for DIY spaces, now and in the near future!

AND, last but not least, Bmoreart presents an ALLTIME MVP of the Decade Award! For the longest running commitment to white walls, wood floors, minimalist sculpture, good lighting, Bud Leake, Raoul Middleman, Grace Hartigan, tiny plastic wine glasses, brisk commercial sales, a white beard, a Greek accent, and a whole new generation of top notch emerging artists we salute you, Costas Grimaldis. A great big hug and Συγχαρητήρια to you, sir. What would Baltimore do without you? It’s time for you to get a facebook page.

And for 2010? What are my predictions? More of the same, people. A lot of new multi-purpose art spaces will crop up and a lot will fade away. MICA will continue to bring in top-notch artists and exhibits to the area and crops of newly minted artists will fan out across the globe. Like Charlotte’s spider babies, a few of these young’uns will stick around and enrich the community here in numerous and unpredictable ways. Hopefully the trend of free money, in grants, prizes, and honorariums, will continue because, let’s face it, the commercial thing is not really happening too much here.

A small number of excellent galleries will mount mostly excellent exhibitions, a larger number of experimental and upcoming art spaces will give new artists the opportunity to participate in the public art arena with mixed results. Curators will continue to grumble that they make no money and get even less recognition. Artscape will continue to be a big, hot mess. The Citypaper will continue to be a beacon of fair and balanced art criticism, without making too many people cry, and the Baltimore Sun will continue to fade away quietly. Blogs and online publications will need to pick up the slack here, so I hope that many of you readers will start typing! Baltimore needs you and it is nice to be needed, isn’t it?

I am sure I have forgotten lots of important names, places, and events. I need to drink more coffee. Please feel free to remind me of some of the best things I have left out of my list! Happy New Year.

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