Friday Gallery Roundup: Exeter Gallery, Current Space, Reginald F. Lewis Museum

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This week: Tintypes, landscapes, and systematic oil paintings at Exeter Gallery; a recalibration of Matisse and reclamation of the nude by Se Jong Cho at Current Space; and Linda Day Clark’s photographs of the Gee’s Bend community at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

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 now.

Photos courtesy Jay Gould

Low Light, through April 30
Exeter Gallery, 241 S. Exeter St., Baltimore 21202
Hours: Gallery open by appointment: (443) 250-2345, [email protected], or through the gallery’s Facebook page

Exeter Gallery is hosting a tintype event on their rooftop on Sunday, April 14 from 2 to 6 p.m. You can sign up for a session here: Gould will also be making tintypes at our Issue 07: Body release at the Parkway Theatre on May 23.

Little Italy’s Exeter Gallery, which opened last year, is one of the more becoming white cubes in Baltimore, and with new dark wood floors and track lighting, it manages to feel inviting while still being rather small. This month’s show, curated by painter and gallery director Matt Klos, features paintings by Raleigh, NC painter Brett Baker and photography by Baltimore’s Jay Gould, better known around town as Wormhole Workshop or “the tintype guy.” Baker’s jewel tone, abstract paintings take months and sometimes years to complete; they are so thick with oil paint that he applies first systematically and then with less control as the layers build up. He told me he is working towards having less structure and knows a painting is done when it has made this transformation.

Gould is displaying two bodies of work in this show, a collection of tintypes of his friends who will be familiar to many in the Baltimore area college arts community —MICA faculty Nate Larson and Christine Manganaro are among his subjects as well as Towson’s Sean Scheidt and AACC’s Matthew Moore—as well as a set of American landscapes for which he has made custom-shaped frames. The tintype portraits are mounted on what Gould calls “ziggurats” molded from plastic, which push the images away from the wall and closer to the viewer, and which has the effect of modernizing this pre-Civil War technology.

Gould said he is “always thinking about the container and the object together” which, I pointed out, is unusual for a photographer, who might primarily focus on capturing moments in time, and not on building a unique method of display for each body of work. The landscape images—featuring mostly Maine and Minnesota (where Gould is originally from)—combine several black and white contact prints to recreate a single image, reminiscent of the method David Hockney used for his “joiners” series. These combinations of elements update processes and genres that could be read as pure nostalgia, making what is old feel new. (Suzy Kopf)

Se Jong Cho

Se Jong Cho: Matisse in Bath, through April 20 (with works by Kottie Gaydos)
Current Space, 421 N. Howard St., Baltimore 21201
Gallery Hours: Fridays and Saturdays, noon–4 p.m.
Closing Artist Talk: April 20, 7–10 p.m., talk starts at 8 p.m.

I usually avoid reading artist statements, but in the case of Se Jong Cho’s writing about her painting series Matisse in Bath, I found myself laughing and mm-hmmm-ing and wanting to high-five the artist after reading both of them. Her exhibition, a series of female nudes bathing in surrealistic bathrooms with smart geometric tile, uses Matisse’s “Large Reclining Nude” (1935) as the starting point for paintings that are stylistically distinct from the modern master’s but capture aspects of their spirited freedom. Cho, a Baltimore-based scientist born in South Korea, explained that the paintings were directly inspired by sketches displayed next to the painting at the BMA, showing an evolution from a precise depiction of the figure into streamlined abstraction and color shapes. “It struck me that this generalization required rigor and imagination, and I decided to explore Matisse’s paintings as a way to expand my understanding of creative expressions,” she wrote.

I marveled at the simple audacity of the artist’s goal: to find new strategies to represent visual complexity by riffing off of an established master, and doing so in a way that is both respectful and revolutionary. Perhaps because Cho is a scientist, used to posing problems and then finding provable solutions to them, she was able to approach the visual and conceptual challenge directly and arrive at “a compromise between Matisse’s beautiful generalization of figures and my inclination toward precision.”

Cho’s second statement addresses her own hesitation to portray nude women in her painting, given their fraught history in Western art, and specifically in the case of Matisse’s “Large Reclining Nude,” where the female figure strikes a pose for a male gaze. I love that she rose to the challenge decisively, stating, “they are not nude, they are naked because it’s necessary for bathing.” Sure, it’s a semantic distinction, but Cho’s naked female figures are comfortable taking up space in the world because she says they are.

Floating in an ecstatic state in magical bathtubs with puffy clouds floating overhead, these women are luxuriating in a private moment. Cho’s figures are sexy in the same manner of a Matisse bather, capturing a delicious freedom, a sensuous hedonism. However, they are not posturing for an audience or meeting a viewer’s gaze; they give no fucks about you, and it is so refreshing. (Cara Ober)

Linda Day Clark

Linda Day Clark: The Gee’s Bend Photographs, through September 1
Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 830 E. Pratt St., Baltimore 21202
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday noon–5 p.m.

In one of Linda Day Clark’s photographs, Addie Pearl Nicholson sits on a bench on her porch, trimming the collard greens that are set in her lap. The house’s facade, a humming red brick pattern, behind her composes a quieter backdrop to the bright, rainbowed quilt in the foreground, which has been hung out on the lawn for air. Nicholson’s foot casually slips out of her shoe. Maybe she’s humming too.

The women of Gee’s Bend began making these quilts in the 1800s to fill a practical need of keeping their families warm. The artistry and experimentation with pattern, geometry, rhythm and color that have made the quilts iconic developed naturally. In 2002, the New York Times sent Linda Day Clark on a photography assignment to the tiny, inland peninsula of Gee’s Bend, Alabama (it was renamed Boykin in 1949, but continues to be commonly known as Gee’s Bend).

The quilters of Gee’s Bend, whose inventive, hand-stitched quilts made from repurposed scraps of clothing and rags started to gain popularity around the Civil Rights era, welcomed Day Clark warmly. The artist has gone back each year since. Something that tied the artist to this small African American community was a “200-year-old unbroken thread”: many Gee’s Bend inhabitants are descendants of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and slaves forced to work on that land. Arlonzia Pettway, the subject of several of Day Clark’s photos and the maker of one of the quilts on display, remembered sitting on a quilt as a young girl, hearing stories of her great-grandmother being captured and sent to America on a slave ship. Although the Gee’s Bend inhabitants are still beset by poverty, despite the quilters’ global fame, Day Clark is clear that the Gee’s Bend story is neither a “slave narrative” nor a simple story of survival. These things are part of the story, and they are explained in the exhibition and evident in some of Day Clark’s photographs. But what resounds in this photo-documentation of these women and their families and home is the legacy of life-giving resilience, joy, pride, and community that the quilters have stitched together. (Rebekah Kirkman)

Photos taken by the authors, except where noted.

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