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It’s Never Over: A Collective Swan Song for St. Charles Projects’ 27th Street Home

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There is a cube on 27th Street. Like many of the structures of Charles Village, it blends into its habitat from the Druid Hill Park overlook. It occupies a familiar yet unnoticed aspect of our vision, a place that is unique in contrast to the nearby rowhomes, but something that a passerby might only have a glancing curiosity about.

The things that we see in everyday community life and the things that are sold to us as commercial space are inherently different, and as our common areas move further away from the commons and more towards exclusion, the remarkable quotidian nature of public and unused space feels lost. Baltimore artists like Graham Corriel Allan and Ada Pinkston have devoted whole bodies of work to this idea, and it’s something that has made Baltimore’s many pop up and DIY galleries feel special and serendipitous, especially St. Charles Projects.

Tucked into this modernist gray cube, the St. Charles Project space’s identity as a gallery feels surprising to an uninitiated perspective. Sparse and modern, but comfortable, the floor to ceiling windows on one side create appealing natural light. The relatively low ceiling creates the impression that if you turned your back, the staff of some unnamed bank would wheel out the desks from the backroom, and the fact that you were in a gallery would be some Michel Gondry memory within a Charlie Kaufman plotline.

 

This surreal feeling matched the impending atmosphere of this opening night. St Charles projects was a relatively new gallery in Baltimore before the 2020 pandemic enveloped its progress, and like most of these smaller institutions, they have had a stop-start reopening since.

With its founders, Domenic Terlizzi and Christine Stiver (director and co-director respectively), moving to NYC in the interim of the great shutdown, the future of the gallery remains in limbo with the building’s recent sale to Johns Hopkins University, an institution that had historically used the building for sleep studies. Like many smaller institutions in Baltimore, from bands to individual performers to galleries, the gallery and its community is beholden to larger forces. The final performance always feels imminent, yet can be overcome if more collaborators can be found. In speaking to Terlizzi, that was the energy behind the exhibition, It’s Never Over

Half possible farewell pop-up, half “Post”-Covid reunion, It’s Never Over drew on Terlizzi and Stiver’s extended network of collaborators, friends, contemporaries developed over the history of the gallery since it’s 2015 opening, featuring artists working at multiple points of their careers from within Baltimore and New York. The work drop-off and install happened in a single night, a massive undertaking starting ominously enough on Friday the 13th.

This quick turnaround, paired with the volume of work and the nature of the space, created an immersive experience at the packed opening. Like many of Baltimore’s smaller artist-run spaces, the aesthetic preferences of the curator were palpable, and this idiosyncrasy gets stronger if the artists running the space are as prolific as Stiver and Terlizzi.

Presented as an army of smaller works, most of which were pattern-heavy with muted secondary colors and a consistent dark warmth, the show featured a variety of media including printmaking, drawing, painting, mixed media collage, and sculpture—a staggering 88 pieces in total. The exhibition as a whole teased into abstraction, with some tactile emphasis on craft, such as in the work of Danni O Brian’s hanging wall piece “Stoney Baloney Jewelry Box” and Joe LeTourneau’s tufted rug cartoon panel “Potion #5.”

Other works, like Amy Stober’s protruding drum-shaped wall hanging, “A Few Of My Favorite Things,” blurred sculpture and illustration, featuring small diorama paintings on the outside of the drum shape, some depicting interiors reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom In Arles.” Works from artists Pol Morton, Jon Duff, Chris Retina, and Sarah Grass dove fully into illustration, depicting highly rendered subjects. Other works, such as Joyce Yu Jean Lee’s stained glass rollercoaster, and Katherine Mann’s monochromatic prints leaned heavily into the process of the work. A particular standout was Alex Ebstien’s abstraction, cut from yoga mats, creating an oddly comforting texture in its new context. 

 

Amy Stober
Alex Ebstein
Dominic Terlizzi
Cindy Cheng

Many of these curatorial decisions present work reminiscent of Terlizzi’s textural mosaic-like paintings, particularly his monochromatic body of work. In the work’s presentation on the marbled stone walls, we saw a macrocosm of pattern and color elements present in the exhibited art itself. The scale of all the work together recalled Co-director Christine Stiver mural based work, seen in her solo show How Many Nipples Does A Horse Have?

In the gallery’s online Padlet document of the show, the viewer sees the art on a gradient of aesthetic differences and similarities, a quilt created by the sheer volume of pieces alone. In the center of the space, there was a large table with sculpture, but those of Elliot Doughtie and Cindy Cheng in particular were striking due to these artists’ typically larger work. Doughtie’s piece was a small smooth ceramic piece reminiscent of a bell with twisted metal petals emerging from it and Cheng’s small ceramic face, displayed on this same table, acts in conversation with metallic, armor-like tears emerging from the bereaved figures’ eyes, executing a satisfying metaphor. These minute exercises between these two artists, and the scale and the accessibility of most of the work, leaves the viewer with an unintended take away from the show: An emphasis on portability.

While a typical result of pop-up salon style shows, this portable nature could be seen as a barometer of the current state of the art scene in Baltimore. If artists move into more modular ways of showing their work, there is more versatility where one can be shown. Modern culture lives a handheld life, and artists will be encouraged to think smaller and more portably if we are seeking to retain the idea of “ownership” and “space” in a world that is increasingly strapped with subscription as the main vehicle to life’s cultural amenities.

We’ve already seen this with the prevalence of new pop-up art markets and vendor opportunities in venues that historically didn’t serve this need, like the Ottobar. And as the once relatively “untamed” warehouse spaces disappear, the work of the mid-career artist intent on finding an audience will have to change as well. With a lack of larger space to play with, the work could follow suit.

 

Mary Anne Arntzen
Joe Letourneau

At the opening, as some attendees reviewed the growing list of other galleries that had recently shut, and DIY spaces that had been forced to close, aspects of the celebration felt like a wake. Taking these changes into consideration, a picture of a post-pandemic Baltimore art scene emerges with welcome new additions such as The Last Resort, The Black Artist Research Space, and the new Black Arts District, yet lacking in large warehouse “community” spaces.

Since the hastened closing of the Bell Foundry in the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy in 2017 (at the height of Bell Foundry’s cross cultural importance as an accessible space for young Black artists in the famously white-heavy DIY scene), Baltimore was left with a partially filled Copycat building, and a mid-renovation Area 405 with exhibitions on pause, in a neighborhood that now feels fully changed. Even the fully accessible Y Not Lot, once the inclusive center of the Station North Arts District, is gone with the simple non-renewal of a lease from a property owner not even in city limits, waiting for some developer that may or may not exist. 

In this context, what would normally be a more benign and possibly expected final punctuation of a gallery of this stature, for either life change or other reasons, feels like a stinging blow in Baltimore’s larger art scene. Terlizzi described his goals of the gallery as “to make things happen for other artists,” feeling that the gallery was a gift he wanted to pay forward. But with fewer spaces like St. Charles Projects, a chain feels broken in the ecosystem for an emerging artist who might have less institutional connections. With renovation, sale, development, and other changes to an urban environment, there is the inevitable loss of the “handshake economy” within a community.

Author Sam Delany described this as “community versus networking” in his book Time Square Red Times Square Blue, describing the opportunities that arise for all with talent, luck, and proximity by living in heterogeneous communities, something that is eradicated when a community becomes over-sanitized from gentrification. When something mutually beneficial and natural become gate-kept, Delaney argued, whether with social or monetary capital, the real creativity and serendipity that comes from human experience is lost. 

Perhaps that’s why this wide breadth of Baltimore artists at various points in their careers felt refreshing. On display was work from the gallery’s intern–Michelle Uckotter, former Mount Royal School of Art colleagues such as Mary Anne Arntzen and Joyce Yu Jean Lee, even the guy who used to make smoothies with a bicycle at the farmers market—Natan—as well as practicing artists who have also been fixtures in the Baltimore art world for 30 years. And while the artists present weren’t as diverse as the city’s art and culture scene on the whole, seeing interns and young artists such as Xavier Hardison show alongside elders such as Tony Shore, in a last-minute celebration of a space’s past and tenuous future was a reminder of consequential yet ephemeral beauty that community can bring, often with a handshake. 

 

Tony Shore
Natan

It’s Never Over is still up on St. Charles Project’s website, and features the work of: Eliot Doughtie, Jiwon Rhie, Peter Makela, David Ubias, Therese Columbus, Selina Doroshenko, Nick Primo, Teddy Johnson, Jacob Rhoads, Alex Ebstein, Bill Schmidt, Bonnie Crawford, Seth Adelsberger, Jim Condron, Natan Lawson, Tommy Dahlberg, Andrew Liang, Curtis Miller, Emily Wallmueller, Anuj Malla, Amy Stober, Caleb Kortokrax, Laini Nemett, Barry Nemett, Xavier Hardison, Danni O’Brien, Cindy Cheng, Joe Letourneau, Mary Anne Arntzen, Lauren Adams, Tony Shore, Sarah McCann, Amy Boone-McCreesh, Carolyn Case, Cecilia Terlizzi, Virginia Warwick, Christine Stiver, Joshua Bienko, Gabriella Grill, Tzirel Kaminetzky, Lauren Gidwitz, Allie Linn, Jeremy Stenger, Jacqueline Cedar, Katherine Mann, Tom Wixo, Ali Miller, Michelle Uckotter, Matt Jones, Christian Vargas, Peter Schenck, Pol Morton, Vincent Stracquandanio, Sangram Majumdar, Marcus Civin, Peter Hildebrand, and others.

 

Images courtesy of St. Charles Projects

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