ICA Flat File Offers a Starting Point for Baltimore-based Collectors

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Over the past few years, I have been approached more times than I can count by people who tell me they want to start purchasing art in Baltimore but don’t know where to begin. This season, Baltimore’s art community offered up a few excellent options for anyone who wants to purchase locally made art by professionals whose careers are on the rise, including MAP’s Under $500 Sale, the Creative Alliance’s 25th Birthday Exhibition, Necessary Tomorrow’s Immaterial Souls, and ICA Baltimore’s Flat File program. All four platforms are available to browse and purchase online with a range of price points to fit any budget.

Although your acquisition may not immediately increase in value, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t in the future. When buying a work of art, the primary question to consider is how an individual work makes you feel and if the idea of living  with it gives you that fluttery butterfly feeling, like infatuation or falling in love.

In addition, if supporting an artist whose name is on the rise adds to the excitement, you can assess the seriousness of the artist’s career by looking at their resume or CV on their website. Check to see if they have updated their website recently and if they have had regular exhibitions at a variety of galleries over the past few years (commercial, college, or artist-run, all are good), in Baltimore and in other cities as well. If they are included in museum shows or collections, this is an excellent indication that they are serious about their art career and their work will eventually appreciate.

Once you’re on their website, also check to see if this artist is someone you’d like to get to know personally by reading any links to press interviews or videos. The best artist-collector relationships evolve over time and the benefit of collecting artists who are locally based is that you can become friends, or at least friendly, through joining their mailing list or asking for a studio visit.

Bottom line, every time you buy work by an artist based in Baltimore, you’re putting more money into our local arts ecosystem (think: framing, photography, web design, fabrication, galleries, and small businesses who work with artists) and investing in the success of a community, not just an individual.

I reached out to Lou Joseph, an artist and the founder of ICA Baltimore, to talk more about their 2021 Flat File program and opportunities to collect the work of Baltimore-based artists.


Amanda Burnham, Annihilation, archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle fine art paper, 8x10in, 2020, $30
Gabrielle Lajoie-Bergeron, Mascha - Le gros party, inkjet print on paper, 16x20in, 2020, $350

Cara Ober: What is ICA Baltimore? How and when did it come to exist? 

Lou Joseph: ICA Baltimore is a volunteer-run art space that looks to promote the professional development of Baltimore and regional visual artists through our programs. We started eight years ago as a bit of a joke—the first show was mine and I had selected ICA Baltimore as a name to give the show a sense of officialness, like it was a franchise of ICAs in Philadelphia or Boston. Another artist asked about doing a second show, which we did, and then people at that opening were asking if the ICA was a real thing and if they could help, and it went from there.

What were its original goals and how have those evolved to the present moment?

We mostly focused on solo artist projects, as that’s what interests me the most and would also be the easiest for a bunch of volunteers to organize. We have experimented with a series of print editions, the flat file, an artist documentation assistance project (BADAS), and partnering with Baltimore organizations to produce projects, like last year’s La Track/The Track project with Pigment Sauvage.

All our artist projects had to be postponed in 2020 so we’ve been focusing on reconsidering our mission beyond the solo artist projects in our monthly meetings, considering our current organizational model, whether we should become a nonprofit, etc.


Lucky Lady by Becky Borlan, Acrylic on Bristol, 17 x 14 in, 2020, $250
Dicksonia by Liz Donadio, Cyanotype from digital negative, 14 x 9.5 in, 2020, $200

When did ICA’s Flat File Program start? How many artists participate each year and how does it work?

It basically started when we were gifted a set of flat files in 2018, and we realized there wasn’t a flat file program in Baltimore and decided it was worth giving it a try. The thing about mostly doing solo artist projects over the last eight years is that we only get to show around five artists a year. We thought this would be a good way to be able to engage around 30 or so artists and also see a wide range of work from the applications which could help with finding new artists for future projects.

The first two years, we put out a call at the end of the year and debuted the selected artwork in February (this was the end of our “season” as we would take a break when MICA would rent our gallery for March-May for graduate student shows). This year, with shows postponed, we decided to move up the call for the 2021 flat files to September so we could have the work ready for a mini-exhibition and on the website by the day after Thanksgiving, while also having work from the 2020 flat files also available.


Elli Maria Hernandez, suppress/repress #4, unique gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches, 2018, $250.00 (from 2020 Flat File)


How are the artists selected for the Flat File program?

Artists can apply each year to the open call with images of 5 works for a $10 entry fee. The work can be no bigger than 22 x 30 inches, 1/2 an inch thick, and cannot be priced over $500. We split the sales with the artists 70/30 to cover our costs and to cover our annual costs for running the ICA. A group from the advisory committee selects around 30 artists a year, between 1-5 works from each for a total of 60 works.

Former ICA artists are invited to submit work and we agree to show at least one piece from them. The selection of work is based on what is submitted, with the hope of having a variety of media, sizes, prices, etc.—like in previous years we didn’t have a lot of colorful artworks, and this year there was a ton, so some colorful work that may have gotten in previous years did not get in this year. I would say to artists who have not been accepted into the flat files to please apply again, I know it’s a cliche to say we received a lot of good work but we did, and artists who have reapplied have gotten in later.

We also have to thank Q Collective, who designed and built our website, for working on identifying how to integrate a sales site into our site seamlessly and making it look great!


Selina Doroshenko, Cat, watercolor, graphite, expanded metal, earth magnets, 18x14x.2in, 2020, $200

How can collectors access this year’s ICA Flat File artists? What are your average price points and what is the range? 

Collectors can view and purchase all work in the flat file from our website, We would normally have weekend open hours for viewing, but due to COVID-19 we have reduced that to appointment-only viewing. To make an appointment, email us at [email protected].

I would say the average price is around $200-$250. The max price for all works is $500, and the most inexpensive is $20. We let the artist determine the prices when they apply so they can factor in the 70/30 split, and what they have sold work for in the past. Some of the least expensive work is unlimited print editions, while the more expensive work tends to be larger, one-of-a-kind paintings and drawings from artists with gallery representation experience.

Unfortunately, I do not have solid advice about pricing—items I had thought were too high have sold and others I thought were a steal did not.


Wonderful Life by Patrick David, Graphite and colored pencil on paper, 8.5 x 11 in, 2020, $425


What kind of work is in the Flat File? Can you talk about the range of media?

Most of the artwork is works on paper—photographs, drawings, paintings, prints, and mixed media. Some, like the work by Seth Crawford, are on wood panel and are ready to hang. Selina Doroshenko’s piece “Cat” is a painting on paper attached to steel grating with magnets. Yunkyoung Cho and Gretchen Schermerhorn have works on circular and oval hoops, respectively, and Skye Gilkerson and Amanda Burnham have works that are unlimited editions; Skye’s is a book and Amanda’s a color digital print. We go into the selection process hoping to have a variety of approaches and I personally have a soft spot for work that is flat but not just on paper.


Magnolia Laurie, Float, ink on paper, 12x12in, 2020, $475

Can you explain the difference between an individual piece and an edition? How does this impact the value of the work and what kinds of editions are available through ICA?

Individual pieces, in our flat file, are usually singular artworks that are not replicable, like paintings and drawings or altered photographs you cannot make copies of. There are some limited editions, but usually, for the price point, they tend to be higher editions (more than 50 copies), and for most photography, it is in unlimited editions. This may be because of the lower price point or a desire by the artist to purposely remove the rarity from the equation and make it so the barrier to entry to owning the artwork is low.

So, just to reiterate, edition means that a piece is a reproduction in a certain number, like a photo or print. The  edition size is how many copies are allowed, with smaller editions making the works more valuable and bigger, or unlimited ones, make the work less expensive. 

What do all the participating artists have in common? Are they all from Baltimore? 

They are all from Maryland, DC, or Virginia, and not in school or at least 18 years old. I would say most of the artists are from Baltimore but we do factor in location into our selection process—we have really been enjoying finding more artists from outside the city and like the idea of having artists that viewers in Baltimore may not be familiar with and are producing amazing work.

For a beginning collector who’s interested in buying art, what suggestions do you have? And what questions do collectors most often ask you?

I would say start with what you like on a gut level. Especially in this past year, having and adding artwork in my home and having opportunities to pause and enjoy artwork really elevates my day, like reading a great book or listening to music. If you consider that, plus the idea of supporting artists and arts organizations as with other local businesses, you can start with different events like MAP’s Out of Order or Under 500, the Creative Alliance’s Big Show, or our flat files, and find something you like and buy it!

I would also recommend not starting out thinking you’re making an investment that will have a definitive monetary payout at some point. Someone who bought an Amy Sherald 5 or 10 years ago may find themselves in that situation, but starting out, go with what you like.


Seth Crawford, Practical and Colorful Tablecloth, 1979, Midsummer Sale, p.51, graphite on panel, 18x14in, $225


I have a lot of people who tell me they want to collect art by Baltimore-based artists but they do not know where to begin. ICA Baltimore’s Flat File seems like a great starting point. If I am a collector and I want to know more about the artist’s history or prior exhibitions, where can I find that information? How would you suggest I do additional research?

We have resumes on hand and can share with collectors as needed—most of the artists in our flat files have a website with images of current and past work, and with a bio and resume. I would say, perhaps when the pandemic is over, collectors could also reach out to artists directly if they are interested in discussing artwork with the artist and buy work directly from them. Other artists have commercial gallery representation and that could also be a place to reach out.


Discarded Monuments, Memento Park, Hungary by Matthew Moore, pigment print from scanned negative, 17 x 21 in, 2017, $350
This Place (diptych #2531-51) by Elena Volkova, archival inkjet print, 22 x 28 in, 2020, $500

What was the 2015 ICA Print Editions project? Are those still available?

In 2015 we decided to produce a print edition with each exhibition we did that year, in conjunction with the artist. I have a printmaking background so I printed work for Emily Campbell and Angela Conant; we worked with Baltimore Print Studios to produce editions by Graham Coreil-Allen and Lu Zhang, and Justin Strom, who teaches printmaking at the University of Maryland, printed his own. The prints were in editions of 30 or 50 and were priced between $40 and $75. Honestly, we sold some at the artist’s events and openings but not a huge number, though they have been slowly selling since 2015 (yes, they are available from our website!). With that sales history, combined with thinking we were adding another thing to the plate of an artist planning a large solo exhibition, we decided not to continue the program beyond 2015.

Collecting the art of your place and time can be overwhelming because typically art collecting is about following trends and following other collectors. But also it’s about having a beautiful object in your daily life as well as the story behind the object. Can you talk a little about the objects in your own art collection and what they mean to you?

Sure! I have many pieces by Andrew Liang—the shows those were purchased from were huge, hilarious installations of cut-out paintings or stuffed fabric sculptures, and seeing them during the day always makes my day. Andrew had purposely priced the work lower to make sure they found homes, and his work was the first I bought after mostly acquiring work in trades. I have a piece by Philadelphia artist Amze Emmons that has been a really nice work to stop and examine and have a peaceful respite from the occasional mayhem of raising a three-year-old. I also have a beautiful piece by Kim Faler, a twine drawing of two chinaware cups fitting perfectly in each other that was a wedding present to myself and my wife Miriam.


MK Bailey, Fever Dream #10, acrylic, flashe and iridescence on paper, 22x30in, 2020, $500
Andrew Geddes, Unclear Posting, resin, acrylic and petg, 4.5x6in, 2020, $60

Header Image: Runners, 2020, by Gretchen Schermerhorn, screenprint on paper, $500

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