A Conversation with Curators Peggy Chiang and Elspeth Walker by Emma Jo Shatto
C. Grimaldis Gallery operates as the oldest, established commercial gallery space in Baltimore. Following nearly forty years of representing artists, the gallery continues to exhibit a diverse range of artists from Korean light artist Chul Hyun Ahn to Abstract Expressionist Grace Hartigan to American traditionalist painter Raoul Middleman. The C. Grimaldis Gallery celebrated opening of C. Grimaldis Projects in November 2016, a unique new gallery downstairs from the main one, with the inaugural exhibition Back In A Moment.
The exhibition features paintings by artists Ylva Ceder and Gretchen Scherer posed together in the newly renovated ground floor of 523 N. Charles Street. Walking down the stairs and into the white-painted space with the project curators, Peggy Chiang and Elspeth Walker, I wanted to explore the relationship the project space has with the gallery’s history and the goals Peggy and Elspeth entertain for its future.
BmoreArt: C. Grimaldis Gallery has been open and exhibiting in Baltimore for nearly forty years, how do you think the gallery’s history will play into the new project space downstairs?
EW: 2017 will be the gallery’s 40 year anniversary. The gallery has an incredible legacy which is really due to the work that Costas has done supporting a host of important artists from the very beginning of their careers– people like Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Anthony Caro, Alice Neel, Beverly McIver, William Kentridge, and so on. We hope that C. Grimaldis Projects can function in concert with the programming upstairs; that it can be a foil to it at times or present something really different, but that it can also relate the gallery’s history to contemporary work at large and draw these artists who are now established, mid- and late-career artists, into a conversation with works by younger artists who are currently making work. Basically, expanding the scope of the program and returning to the initial mission of the gallery, which has always been about supporting artists first and foremost and encouraging innovation.
PC: The project space serves as an alternate platform for C. Grimaldis, so the legacy of the main gallery will certainly have influence on how the new space is viewed. As Elspeth mentioned, the gallery has a lot of history that should be acknowledged, and in the past had really sustained a critical viewpoint for art in Baltimore. The project space will certainly leverage C. Grimaldis’s influence as a longstanding commercial gallery, while engaging in a contemporary dialogue…
Is there particular criteria for artists to meet to exhibit downstairs, or is there a specific perspective that you want to portray while choosing artists and curating exhibitions?
EW: I don’t like the word criteria really because it communicates that only a certain type or ‘level’ of artist could show with us, which simply isn’t how I ever want to approach things. The whole point of the project space is to create a zone where experimental presentation and new thought can be fostered and have the support of an established Baltimore institution. We’re trying to create space. If anything, I think Peggy and I are both drawn to artists who think about things differently or who when thrown the ball will take it and run with it. Artists who would use a show with us as an opportunity to think differently about their work; make it bigger, more site-specific, or take it in an unexpected direction.
PC: I agree. Right now the program is so open, and I can only say the general consensus is that we want to work with living artists who are under represented.
Back In A Moment, C. Grimaldis Projects: courtesy of C. Grimaldis Gallery
When we spoke, there was emphasis on inviting and hosting artists from other cities, states, and countries?
EW: Peggy and I have both lived in New York (I still live there part-time), and I’m from the West Coast, so our awareness is kinda wide in that way. And those connections certainly factor into the programming just because that’s our perspective, that’s where we come from. C. Grimaldis Gallery has always presented a mix of international artists alongside Baltimore-based people, so that part isn’t new.
PC: There’s that and also facilitating collaborations with artists. In comparison, Baltimore has little capital for art so there is some obligation for us to bring people in. Back In A Moment, for instance, is the first gallery exhibition Ylva has had in the U.S.
EW: I feel like the interesting thing for artists who show with us, hopefully, would be to have their work placed in a provocative context where it otherwise wouldn’t be. Or to develop a new conversation. Like Peggy said, Ylva Ceder has been widely shown and collected in Sweden but is not as well-known in the United States, and Gretchen Scherer is a painter from Brooklyn. But their work is eerily related in terms of sensibility– so all these rooms which originate from totally different places come together to create a very uncanny common locale. This kind of haunted dialogue or interplay is what I’m interested in.
What do you want the project space’s relationship to Baltimore’s local community of artists to be?
PC: I hope it will foster criticism and engage Baltimore-based artists. C. Grimaldis is a commercial gallery, but Elspeth and I are both artists who have been working in the artist-run scene for awhile. I think more and more that line is being blurred anyways, in a positive way.
EW: Peggy and I both come from DIY roots and a number of self-driven curatorial initiatives. If anything I hope that CGP might be an attempt to bridge what I see as a severe gap between the many artist-run spaces in Baltimore (which have really been holding it down for young artists for years and largely operating on their own dime with little institutional support) and the established, profit-oriented gallery model which seems quite disconnected from that world and even willfully unaware of it.
There simply shouldn’t be just one of two ways to do things. It’s reductive. So I think it’s really positive to continue to extend the gallery’s focus in this way, to both ground ourselves and try and do it all if possible, and basically to elaborate on C. Grimaldis’ history of being kind of a rock for Baltimore and ensuring the city’s artists stay in conversation with a larger picture.
How does collaborating, as an action or discussion between yourselves and artists, impact your decisions as curators in Baltimore City?
EW: I have always been collaborative in my practice. That’s just the way I do things… like I have to involve other people or it doesn’t feel worth it to me somehow I guess.
PC: I don’t know of any other way to work!
As curators of a commercial gallery space, what sort of spotlight do you see C. Grimaldis Gallery casting on Baltimore with the project space?
PC: Honestly that spotlight is already there thanks to the galleries here that have been doing awesome work. We’re just riding that wave.
EW: That’s not really the focus for us. We just want to concentrate on putting on good shows.
What type of audience do you aim to draw in and exhibit to? In the long run, what are your goals for the space, and what is the bottomline for you as a curator?
EW: Like I said– just showing the work of artists we believe in and who are otherwise underrepresented or deserve a voice or discussion. For me it’s people who are pushing the envelope or who are investigating a kind of poetry or feeling that is resonant or needed.
Now that Back In A Moment has closed, what is to come in the new year?
EW: We’re opening a group show on February 4 featuring work by Dan Herschlein, Ann Greene Kelly, Chris Lux, Nick Mayer, Vanessa Gully Santiago and Flannery Silva. We have a lot on the burner for 2017 but you’ll just have to stay tuned.
Back In A Moment closed on December 22nd. The exhibition displayed evocative vacant scenes painted by Ylva Ceder, positioned between the cluttered networks of rooms, passages, and stairs in Gretchen Scherer’s small paintings. The presence of someone missed followed you out of the building after you leave.
Author Emma Jo Shatto is a senior at MICA and an editorial intern at BmoreArt.
More information about the C. Grimaldis Gallery is available at their website.