Starting tomorrow, Baltimore will once again have a print fair. For the first time in five years, contemporary printmakers and studios from around the country will be gathering in the city. “We have such a dynamic town,” says Brian Miller, an organizer of the Baltimore Fine Art Print Fair, “I feel like Baltimore deserves this.”
Miller and his wife Julie Funderburk knew the local scene from running the printing and framing business Full Circle Fine Art and the gallery Catalyst Contemporary, and they wanted Baltimore to have an equivalent print fair to those of New York or Miami. The Baltimore Museum of Art previously hosted a print fair, but that ended in 2017.
“I peddled the idea around to potential backers, but frankly it fell on deaf ears,” says Miller, whose luck changed when Ann Shafer joined Catalyst Contemporary as a consultant. Shafer had been a curator at the BMA and organized its print fair in its last years. She, Miller, and Funderburk immediately connected on the idea for a print fair, and in 2020, in the heart of the pandemic, they set about making it happen.
The Baltimore Fine Art Print Fair will run from Thursday, April 28 to Sunday, May 1. Thursday will be a VIP preview party, followed by three days of general admission. Twenty-four galleries, dealers, and print publishers from across the country will be present, including Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl and Jim Kempner Fine Art from New York, Tandem Press from Madison, Wisconsin, Wingate Studio from Hinsdale, New Hampshire, and Catalyst Contemporary from Baltimore. The exhibitors will have contemporary works in the form of limited edition prints, monotypes, and artist books. These encompass a wide variety of physical printing techniques, including letterpress, woodcut, linocut, etching, photogravure, lithograph, and silkscreen.
The fair will take place on the top floor of the Baltimore Innovation Center at 1100 Wicomico Street in Pigtown. “The moment we knew we were really going to do it was when we found our event space,” recalls Funderburk. The Innovation Center came through a chance connection, but it quickly became the perfect place. “I have a unique history in Pigtown, since both sides of my family are from there,” says Miller. “I used to go just up the road from the Innovation Center to visit my grandfather.”
But the location is also connected to the wider history of Baltimore. The center itself was designed by famed Baltimore architect Joseph Evans Sperry, who designed, among other things, the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower; and its construction was funded by arts patron Jacob Epstein, an early contributor to the BMA. The building was once so integral to industry in Baltimore that the train line ran through it. “Having the fair in Pigtown, which isn’t the fancy or touristy part of town, brings a focus on the unique identity of Baltimore,” says Miller.
The organizers are hopeful that the print fair will be an opportunity for Baltimoreans to enrich their contact with the arts. “I think a lot of people feel like they have to leave Baltimore to go find art, be that New York or Miami,” says Funderburk, and she hopes to prove that isn’t true. They chose prints as their focus because the relatively low price tags offer an accessible way into art collecting.
“I call it the gateway drug to collecting,” says Shafer. “A fair presents a unique opportunity because often the artists are present at the booth, which allows visitors to form relationships with them.” Exhibitors from outside of Baltimore have been brought in to put the fair on a national scale and draw collectors from across the country to the city. The organizers hope that their fair will stimulate galleries and artists in Baltimore to invest more in printmaking so that a greater proportion of local art may be shown at future events.
Catalyst Contemporary will present the work of a number of local artists in their exhibition, including Joan Cox, who grew up in Baltimore. She eventually founded her own studio in New Orleans, but when Hurricane Katrina struck she made her way back to her home city. Her prints are largely figurative works, which seek to “validate the presence of dynamic, complex, sensual, sexual and loving relationships between women.”
As an art student, Cox fell in love with watercolor monotypes. “I’d paint the figures, walk away, and come back half an hour later to find that the pigments had moved around and blended together,” she says. “The hair would wisp into the sky and create this dynamic energy; it took the control a little away from me but brought its own magic to the work.” Her pieces at the fair will all be one-of-a-kind watercolor monotypes exploring the same themes of female relationships.
Randi Reiss-McCormack will also have her work in Catalyst’s exhibition. She moves between printing, painting, and textiles in her work. “I like each one because they have their own parameters,” she says. “If I’m having trouble with something in painting then print or textiles will help me open up my thinking on how to approach it.” Her works at the fair will comprise an array from ten years of work, and some will combine all three media of paint, printing, and textiles.
Planning for the Print Fair started 18 months ago. The organizers were cautiously optimistic that the worst of the pandemic would be over by April 2022. Conversations with exhibitors are ongoing, although, as Miller says, “Even in December and January, when things were ugly again, we had firm commitments from our collaborators.” Reiss-McCormack is happy for herself and her fellow artists that the fair and events like it are happening again. “It’s been rough having galleries closed,” she says. “It will be nice to share the experience of art with other people again.”
The organizers intend the print fair to provide a foundation for future art events. They hope, first of all, to make the fair annual. As of now, the fair is the only one of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region, so Shafer thinks there could be a print fair in DC, which also boasts a vibrant printmaking scene. Miller, who is a photographer, also dreams about a photography fair in Baltimore. These are just ideas at the moment, but they represent the purpose behind the fair to stimulate the Baltimore art scene at this moment when restrictions are lifting.
“Recognition” is a word that comes up around the print fair. “I think anyone around here would say that Baltimore deserves more recognition for its good qualities rather than the things that are often said about it,” says Miller. “I’m trying to bring attention to those good qualities in the art world.”
Cox echoes the same message of recognition for the art of printmaking. “I’ve probably made 150 prints and I’ve only shown like four of them because the so-called ‘more important’ work is always the oils on canvas,” she says. “Prints are a great visual storytelling medium, but they rarely get their due.” If all goes well, the Baltimore Fine Art Print Fair will bring recognition to Baltimore, to printmaking, and to all the members of the art community who are celebrating the return of public art events.
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