Living With Art: Alex Ebstein and Seth Adelsberger

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BmoreArt’s Picks: August 4-10

“Collecting is a way to directly support artists we believe in strongly enough to show in the first place,” explain Alex Ebstein and Seth Adelsberger, partners in life, artists, and owners of Resort gallery. “We collect if and when we can, and we’ve learned to trust our instincts.  We continue to research and buy art directly from compelling emerging artists and try to support artist-run spaces when we can.” The two explain that their acquisitions from galleries have all been from artist-run, rather than commercial, because they know from personal experience that these spaces are the first to invest time, effort, and money on emerging artists before they’re deemed as marketable by bigger, more established entities. 

Developing a collection involves various dynamics, including relationship-building with artists, curators, other collectors and gallerists, visiting galleries and museums, and perusing social media for the next pieces that they plan to add. Together, Ebstein and Adelsberger have built a collection of more than 100 original works as well as prints, artist books, and artist-made goods like dishes, clothing, and jewelry from more than a decade of running galleries, curating exhibitions, and exhibiting as artists themselves. What doesn’t fit in their apartment waits in storage as they rotate pieces in and out periodically, rendering their home as both a gallery and a domestic space, enriched by their love for art and artists. 

The works that Ebstein and Adelsberger live with in their Charles Village apartment are inspiring, especially for those who envision an ideal future home-gallery hybrid, filled with the art of peers and also from around the globe. The pair’s taste and intentionality in building their collection reflect the connections they have created with artists from across the country over the past twelve years. This is inspiring for both emerging and established collectors because they demonstrate how curating a smart and fabulous collection is attainable, while also consistently producing exhibitions and maintaining expanding studio practices, all while earning a living for many years with gig work and on a shoestring budget.  

Both Ebstein and Adelsberger boast significant success as individual artists, with Adelsberger’s work in the BMA’s collection and Ebstein preparing for a NY show at Victori+Mo this fall. Together they founded, run, and curate the exhibitions at Resort, a contemporary art gallery located downtown that shows a combination of Baltimore-based emerging and established artists, as well as national names. This model, which builds connections and opportunities for the artists they show was established when the two founded and ran the now-defunct Nudashank gallery, located in the H&H Building from 2009-2013, as well as Ebstein’s former Phoebe project space on Franklin Street in 2016, which launched the of careers of many of their peers and colleagues.

Ted Gahl, Tomcattin’, 2009, acrylic and tracing paper on panel; Ted Gahl, Domestic Interior, 2010, acrylic, burlap, and masonite collage on panel

During the shutdown for COVID-19, they have adapted their workspaces (Ebstein is the director of exhibitions and curator of Goucher College’s art galleries and Adelsberger the owner of New Standard Frames) and made adjustments to work at home. Along with a dining room Zoom setup, they have used our apartment for filming a framing demo, framing projects, and photographing and inventorying works for Resort’s online art sales. The two are happily quarantining with their one-year-old rescue dog, Murray, who they adopted in mid-March, although they both expressed that not being able to see people, studios, galleries, and museums has been challenging, both personally and professionally. 

“I spent so much of my time working, researching, and socializing in these art spaces and I miss it,” Ebstein says. “While it is certainly possible to keep working and socialize over Zoom, I miss curating shows, handling artwork, and having conversations about the work. I miss going to artists’ studios and seeing the beginning of an idea and talking about how they expect it to change or resolve. I feed off the energy of working with creative colleagues, and I feel a little lost without it.”

When deciding what to collect, both acknowledge that there is no rigid, calculated formula or metric for them, although there are works by a number of internationally respected and highly collectible artists in their home. The first piece that Ebstein remembers purchasing was a $20 drawing by Jordan Bernier from Wise Guise, their first exhibition at Nudashank. Adelsberger began his collection with screenprints and unframed pieces by artists he admired at smaller art fairs in Miami, and says that those pieces typically ranged from $150 to $250. They’ve acquired some of the works they own through trades of their own art, while others were gifts from artists they’ve shown. “We’ve purchased work from shows we’ve curated and often, to our astonishment, our purchases have been the only ‘sales’ that have come out of the show,” they said, reflecting a lack of financial support for most contemporary artists. 

After years of living with other artists in communal spaces like the H&H Building and more recently with a group of friends in Mt. Washington, the two moved into their current home a few months ago. “We live with a lot of art, much of it is by Baltimore-based or formerly Baltimore-based artists,” they said. “It has been a long time since we have lived outside of a group situation and we are excited to finally have the wall space to display most of the work we have been collecting over the past 10+ years.” 

The work the two have selected for their new living space is textural and smart, colorful and abstract, with highlights from some of the most interesting and ambitious artists exhibiting today—like Gina Beavers, Ted Gahl, Karen Yasinsky, Jordan Kasey, Laylah Ali, and others—whose work promises to increase in influence and value. They graciously took me on a virtual tour of their space and we discussed some of their favorite pieces.

L-R: Ginevra Shay, Raum Bilder Series, 2014, inkjet archival print; Andrew Guenther, Untitled, 2014, ink on paper; Esther Ruiz, Untitled, 2014, cement, forged glass, shell; Beth Hoeckel, Snooze, 2011, collage

“A medium-sized, black and white photograph by Ginevra Shay from their Raum Bilder series is in our bedroom and is one of the first things we see in the morning,” they say. “It has a crisp composition and feeling of organization. The flickering light through the window from the trees on Saint Paul Street creates a varying interaction with the piece.” They appreciate this piece for its aesthetics, but also because of their friendship with Shay, from whom they purchased the work directly. “As Ginevra’s work continues to evolve, it is meaningful to have this piece from that moment in their practice.” 

In the apartment’s front room hangs a sculptural wall piece that reads “IT’S A TRAP” by Nick Van Woert, which was exhibited in a show at Phoebe, the gallery on Franklin Street that Ebstein ran in 2016. Ebstein said she was able to purchase it when someone else bought a piece of equivalent size and price. “We’ve worked with Nick and followed his practice since 2009, and it has been inspiring to get a glimpse into his research and process,” she says.

D’Metrius Rice is another artist that both have worked with for many years. Of the graphic ink on paper drawing in their collection, they say: “Abstract and figurative elements compete for attention and keep the narrative ambiguous. Living with this piece is a reminder of infinite possibilities and how much complexity and activity can unfold during the course of the day. All the details make it a piece that never gets old.” 

A large 2015 painting by Jordan Kasey, a Brooklyn-based painter (formerly based in Baltimore) represented by Nicelle Beauchene, greets them when they walk into the apartment. The painting, “Twins,” has a pair of faces, one in sunglasses, cast in shadow. Leaves creep from the lower right corner and echo the living plants in their front window. “This painting is the first piece you see when entering our space and its scale transforms the room,” Ebstein says. “I have set up my desk in front of it because I love looking at it in the background of my meetings. Jordan is an artist who made the transition from Baltimore to NY, and we’ve been very much a part of her early process of exhibiting in New York and supporting her work.” 

Ebstein exhibited the work in the 2016 show Headspace at Phoebe. “In order to be able to keep the piece, I purchased it with a friend and slowly paid them back over time. The painting had an instant impact on my mood when it was hanging in the gallery, and I knew I wanted to be able to access that sense of wonder and warmth in my home.”

Top left: Maria Fragoso, Untitled, 2019, ink on paper; Below: Karen Yasinsky, Untitled, 2019, ink on paper; Right: Nick Van Woert, It's A Trap, 2016, acrylic, urethane, plywood, steel frame
D'Metrius Rice, Manual Operator, 2011, ink on paper; Alex Kovacs, Pagoda Vase, 2019, ceramic

Also in this room is a ceramic piece by Wesley T. Brown, which Adelsberger acquired via the artist’s 2019 Baltimore Clayworks resident exhibition. Adjacent are two pieces by Karen Yasinsky, whose solo exhibition One Night Only was the last show at Resort before the pandemic closed things down. “Karen has been one of my favorite artists for over ten years, and I feel very lucky to have these pieces in our home. They remind me to be more free and have more fun in my own studio practice,” says Ebstein. 

This grouping also includes an embroidered painting by Sophia Belkin. “We met Sophia as a student at MICA many years ago, and have followed her work since. I have admired the tactility of her work and seamless blends between hand-applied and computer-aided processes.” 

Nearby are more works by D’Metrius Rice, Ryan Syrell, ceramics by E. Saffronia Downing and Jessica Hans, and various works by Cody Hudson, Cody Hoyt, Gina Beavers, Lizz Hickey, Ted Gahl, Saskia Fleischman, Grant Wells, and one of Ebstein’s pieces. “On our shelves are some of our art book collection and a number of editioned artist books and zines, many purchased from Baltimore’s Publications and Multiples Fair or directly from artists.”

At the start of the pandemic, Ebstein and Adelsberger organized a COVID relief sale featuring artists they’ve worked with over the years (works by Sophia Belkin, Natan Lawson, Rachel Hayden, and others are still available in Resort’s online shop). “We have also helped artists write and edit emergency relief grants, and shared links and resource information with our network,” they said.

More recently, they added a list of Baltimore organizations including the Pro Bono Counseling Project, Black Mental Health Alliance, Youth Empowered Society, and Baltimore Youth Arts to Resort’s home page, asking their network “who supports us and the artists we show, please consider contributing to these local organizations that are working in support of equitable society.” Going forward, 10 percent of Resort’s art sales will also go toward these groups.

Wesley Brown, Untitled, 2019, ceramic wall piece; Sophia Belkin, Heavy Dew, 2018, fabric, dye and embroidery, Karen Yasinsky, Untitled, 2019, collage and pencil on paper; Karen Yasinsky, Untitled, 2019, ink on paper; Jordan Kasey, Twins, 2015, oil on canvas. On bookshelf: Vessels by E. Saffronia Downing and Jessica Hans

Ebstein and Adelsberger have hope for a contemporary art scene in Baltimore, in a post-COVID-19 world, built on sustainability, with more robust support for local artists and galleries. “Our collective experience over the past 15 years has been that the cultural production by galleries receives little to no funding and even though new spaces have appeared over the past few years, the overall energy and activity seem to be winding down,” they say, citing the closures of The Contemporary, City Paper, Open Space’s Publications and Multiples Fair, Alloverstreet, and the galleries on Franklin Street downtown as examples of a loss of support, momentum and critical mass for the artist in Baltimore. “We’ve watched many artists leave the city because there just aren’t the opportunities or support available to sustain their careers,” they say.

From Left: Dominic Terlizzi, Folk Riot, 2013, acrylic on canvas; Sam Falls, Untitled (Drawings and Watercolors), 2011, archival pigment print; D’Metrius Rice, Manual Operator, 2011, ink on paper; Alex Kovacs, Pagoda Vase, 2019, ceramic

“The benefits of collecting the art of your time and locality are much more nuanced and impactful than a simple commercial transaction,” the two explain. “The art market bubbles of the past have exposed the shortsightedness of treating investment in art as something parallel or equivocal to the stock market.” They explain that, by purchasing someone’s work, you are directly impacting their finances and livelihood and investing in their future success, a journey the collector gets to participate in as well. The relationship between collectors and artists is a symbiotic exchange that becomes sustainable and fulfilling. 

According to Ebstein and Adelsberger, direct support to artists through purchases holds more than financial support and, for them, is about community support, living with art, and funding cultural production. “The morale boost an artist gets from making a small sale is sometimes worth infinitely more than the monetary exchange—you may be helping an artist out of a creative slump and into a new phase in their work.”  

For Ebstein and Adelsberger, living with art is more than a hobby or whim, it is a way of living that they are devoted to. The impact of their work as art professionals, and its far-reaching impact on artists’ careers, is matched by the beauty and strength of their art collection. Although they have devoted much of their lives to making and exhibiting art, they believe collecting is possible for everyone and they are happy to advise others in building their own collections. 

Top to bottom: Laylah Ali, lithograph, 2006; Sophia Belkin, Heavy Dew, 2018, fabric dye and embroidery on canvas

“We don’t have a ton of money, just persistence,” they say. The pair has been collecting art since 2008 and have each spent just $400 to $1,200 per year on art. They recognize the advantage they’ve had as artists themselves and their ability to trade works with artists they really like, but they have also added steadily to their collection in small dollar amounts over the past 12 years. At this point, they have to keep some of it in storage and rotate the work on their walls, and keep a keen eye toward the art they plan to collect in the future, although they both say that they do not keep a specific wish list for specific works or artists to add. 

“For us, collecting for us is serendipitous and about trusting our instincts in recognizing strong emerging work that shows promise and is in our price range,” Adelsberger explains. Ebstein concurs. “At this moment, the works I have my eye on are the small sculptures by Peggy Chiang in Springsteen’s BMA Salon exhibition, everything new by Ginevra Shay, a drawing by Mollie Goldstrom, Hasani Sahlehe’s paintings (who we are actually showing in late October), Monique Crabb’s fiber works, Carolyn Case’s piece in the Inertia Shop, and a Cindy Cheng ceramic… one day.” 

Ebstein also notes that she is particularly looking forward to an Amy Boone-McCreesh mixed media work that she is paying for slowly as well as a commission by Mollie Goldstrom for her parents, proof that her enthusiasm for the work is contagious in the best sort of way.  

Ebstein and Adelsberger with works by Karen Yasinsky, Rachel Hayden, and Jordan Casey

Photos by Jill Fannon, Caption for header image: From left: Jordan Bernier, Dream House drawing, 2008, ink on paper; Ryan Fenchel, Untitled, 2012, pastel on pap

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