Friday Gallery Roundup: Three Short Reviews

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MONO Practice, ICA Baltimore, and School 33 Art Center

The Friday Gallery Roundup is a curated compilation of three short reviews of three current exhibitions worth your time and consideration. There’s so much to see and do in this town every day—check out our calendar and weekly picks for even more options—but here’s a doable list of shows you can check out this weekend.

 This week: the austere but elegant Transom at MONO Practice, an epic art collecting opportunity of Black Friday proportions at ICA Baltimore, and three gorgeous and immersive experiences at School 33.

Paper Installations by Alex Paik at MONO Practice

Transom: Magnolia Laurie and Alex Paik, on display through February 23
MONO Practice, 212 McAllister St., Baltimore 21202
Closing Reception: Saturday, February 23, 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

Based in a tastefully renovated carriage house near Penn Station, MONO Practice has established a polished and minimal aesthetic with its third exhibition, a two-person show featuring Baltimore-based painter Magnolia Laurie and NY-based artist/curator Alex Paik.

Laurie’s tiny ink drawings brim with a desolate beauty where fugitive pigments and controlled bleeds conjure lively abstract landscapes seemingly out of nothing. Alex Paik’s proliferating wall installations of white paper spindles, with surprising pops of bright colors glowing from side angles, function like ice crystals or faceted gems translated into the humblest of art materials. In both cases, the artists transform paper into unexpected outcomes that initially seem subdued but offer a slow burn when you give them a chance.

Although the artists don’t share obvious aesthetic similarities, both offer a striking and spare intentionality; their works reflect the aesthetic of the gallery space as well, which wows as much as the art does, with exposed white ceiling beams and a gleaming concrete floor. It might seem silly to mention the way the gallery looks, but it’s an equal player here: For the art to succeed in this space it has to play by the same rules and, when it does, the space enhances the power of the work.

ICA Flat File Exhibition, on display through February 24
ICA Baltimore, 16 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201
Weekend hours: Saturdays and Sundays noon–4 p.m., or by appointment

There’s a palpable sense of “Everything must GO!” the second you walk into ICA Baltimore’s newest exhibition. This is a good thing. The nonprofit art organization’s new flat file program is cause for celebration for anyone who wants to make a painless investment into affordable Baltimore-based artwork. The exhibit presents 64 smallish works diverse in style and media, offering a compelling range of drawings, editioned prints, collages, zines, tiny sculptures, and paintings. I was immediately seduced by “43 words to describe the color of the sky,” an inky cyanotype with text by Julie Willis; “Baltic Portraits (10 Seconds),” a solemn Sugimoto-esque photo by Lynn Cazabon; and “Wakulla,” a charming drawing by Zoë Charlton featuring her signature visual move: a nude figure with conspicuous blue balls. I’m not going to lie; I was equally intrigued by the price points.

This is a show designed for shopping, rather than staging a grand spectacle (unlike last month’s monumental project by Liz Donadio and Shannon Collis). Other favorites include a series of ICA limited-edition prints created in tandem with former exhibitions, still-life photos glowing with a garnet-red hue by Ding Ren, Alexander D’Agostino’s hot pink page from his “Book of Sodom” (featuring Gogo Witch Leo Sigil), BmoreArt staff writer and columnist A.F. Oehmke’s Kim Kardashian-themed “Shit’s Fucked Up” limited-edition tabloid, and Benjamin Kelley’s incredible faux-futuristic artifact “Iphone chassis” made of iron oxide inside sealed plastic. If you’re looking for a savvy purchase, at $500, Kelley’s is the piece to buy. Maybe I’ll go back and buy it before you do.

The Mother of Invention, Amy Helminiak: Modern Language, and Ben Piwowar: soft obstacle, on display through April 27
School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St., Baltimore 21230
Gallery Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

It’s conspicuously dark in School 33’s Main Gallery. A buzzing sound and flash of potentially seizure-inducing light pulls me into The Mother of Invention, a group exhibition of short animated videos. In this dramatic cinema, two looping series of animated shorts are projected large in two separate galleries, where music and sound careen off empty surfaces. Veering from “Babel,” Kelley Bell’s dizzying, symmetrical sequence of melting architecture, to the absurdist romp “Horse Goddess” by Aidan Spann, to the lush “Pest in the Garden” by Jennie Thwing—an animation of richly colored paper cuts—the viewer experiences a range of visual narration strategies that, thankfully, all offer a plot sequence to hang onto, rather than pure abstraction. This sense of ascending drama, climax, and denouement, as well as a purposeful variety of visual stimuli, holds the viewer rapt for the entire 20-or-so-minute loop. Two dueling galleries, both projecting animation with sound, might sound distracting, but the space feels comfortably full instead. You can freely roam back and forth between the two and make loose connections between competing animations. A cushy leather couch in each gallery (and popcorn) would seal the deal.

Upstairs, I did not expect to fall in love with Modern Language, a solo exhibit of Amy Helminiak’s emoji-inspired digital collages. I’m glad I gave them a closer look, prompted by her deadpan titles; each work thrums with hilarious specificity and pristine, over-the-top detail, telling a familiar story gone awry in the best possible way. In one piece, the artist pairs scrunchies and cacti in dense alternating grids, while in another she matches baroque painted fingernails and palm trees. The titles for each explain that they remind the artist of sexual organs, and their depiction as cheeky wallpaper is provocative. These images are intensely loveable and have great potential, but are unsatisfyingly realized as printed “paintings” here. I picture them proliferating down walls, projected and moving, or functioning as wrapping paper for mysterious objects; either way, they want to be bigger and activated in a manner equal to the imagery’s specificity.

In the small project space, Ben Piwowar’s soft obstacle is like stepping into a dreamy post-apocalyptic world, strewn with colorful detritus formed from paper, plaster, and plastic. It’s interesting to see the artist’s transition from painter to installation artist and sculptor, and I get the sense that this process will continue to evolve.Amy Helminiak, detail from “Scrunchies and Cactuses Remind Me of Sex Organs,” 2016

Top Image Grid: (L to R) Amy Helminiak, Sara Dittrich, Alek Paik, and Julie Willis

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