Helen Glazer on the Golden Age of Art Criticism in Baltimore

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In mid July, Helen Glazer sent the following letter to the editors at the Baltimore Sun. She did not receive a response.

In her letter, the Baltimore-based artist and former exhibitions director at Goucher College raises several significant points about the purpose of art criticism in the community, and the current lack of coverage, especially in contrast with her experiences of it in the 80’s and 90’s. As the national and local media hierarchies continue to shrink and transform, we at Bmoreart think observations and opinions such as Glazer’s are valuable and even essential to solving the ongoing problems of arts coverage, media funding, and a lack of experienced art critics.

Dear Editors:

I was glad to see the Baltimore Sun editorial board express strong support for the Baltimore art scene and the role that organizations like The Contemporary play in the vitality of the city’s cultural life on Monday, July 9. Yet it is with some irony that I note the editorial’s enthusiastic endorsement “for what a Sun critic once called ‘the art of right now.'” The Sun has not had a full-time art critic on the beat for 15 years, since John Dorsey retired in 1998. I am an artist and former exhibitions director at Goucher College (1986-1998), a golden age of Baltimore art criticism when all four shows we put on each season were likely to be reviewed by both the Sun and the City Paper. I can’t overstate how important those reviews were in terms of driving audience and helping the artists involved by giving them useful feedback and raising their local profile.

With all due respect to other critics at the Sun since that time who have contributed the occasional art piece, but whose main areas of expertise have ranged from architecture to theater to music, if the Sun is truly interested in supporting the visual arts, it will make more space for art criticism and reviews — not just human interest stories or descriptive reporting — by someone with a commitment to following the visual arts who can put the city’s art and artists into a wider context of past art history and current national and international trends. The city’s many non-profit art galleries, college and university art galleries and commercial galleries all put on dozens of quality exhibitions that get no attention in the newspaper aside from a brief calendar listing. As Baltimore’s paper of record, I hope the Sun heeds its own call for more attention to be focused on the local art scene by rectifying the situation and bringing back regular coverage of the visual arts.

I noticed that in recent weeks there have been articles about shows at C. Grimaldis Gallery, the Walters, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and a local artist’s exhibit at the Phillips Collection. That’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Helen Glazer

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