From the Institutional to the Underground: Ten Must-See Exhibitions in Baltimore

Previous Story
Article Image

Baltimore Art News: Ghost Rivers, CharmTV, Ivy Bo [...]

Next Story
Article Image

Walters Gala in Photos

Like a meandering hurricane, autumn makes its tentative advance towards landfall in Baltimore in starts and fits. And while a Mid-Atlantic November is anything but meteorologically predictable, the BmoreArt team has assembled a fall arts forecast that’s full of sure bets.

Maybe you’re a longtime Baltimorean who knows our meticulously climate-controlled museums are the best way to escape either sweltering heat or freezing rain. Maybe you’re a “back to school” transplant still so fresh off the boat you’ve confused Old Bay for pumpkin spice, in desperate need of a guide to the local flavor of our DIY art spaces.

Either way, we have ten “Must See” exhibitions—from the institutional to the underground—for you. Just don’t ask us what to wear. (Michael Anthony Farley)


States of Becoming at UMBC

States of Becoming at UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC) 
Through December 9, 2023

The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture presents States of Becoming, an exhibition curated by Fitsum Shebeshe and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI). States of Becoming examines the dynamic forces of relocation, resettling, and assimilation that shape the artistic practices of a group of 17 contemporary African artists who have lived and worked in the United States within the last three decades, and informs the discourse on identity construction within the African Diaspora.

Artists featured in the exhibition include Gabriel C. Amadi-Emina, Kearra Amaya Gopee, Kibrom Araya, Nadia Ayari, Vamba Bility, Elshafei Dafalla, Masimba Hwati, Chido Johnson, Miatta Kawinzi, Dora King, Helina Metaferia, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Yvonne Osei, Kern Samuel, Amare Selfu, Tariku Shiferaw, and Yacine Tilala Fall.

The concept for States of Becoming evolved from curator Fitsum Shebeshe’s lived experience following his 2016 move from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Baltimore, Maryland, and his subsequent firsthand knowledge of the weight of cultural assimilation. Confronted with a different society, Shebeshe encountered a wide range of existential questions that shaped his relationship to institutions and culture. Shebeshe also had the realization for the first time that he was viewed as belonging to a minority because of the color of his skin, and a newfound awareness of the profound impact Ethiopia’s traditional and conservative culture had on his personal sense of individuality.

States of Becoming is a traveling exhibition curated by Fitsum Shebeshe and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. Lead funding is provided by the Hartfield Foundation as part of an initiative to support ICI’s commitment to new curatorial voices who will shape the future of the field, and ICI’s Curatorial Intensive alumni as they move through the stages of their career. (MAF)

Read BmoreArt’s Studio Visit and Interview with Fitsum Shebeshe and, read BmoreArt’s review of Lost Boys: Amos Badertscher’s Baltimore, also at UMBC, and up through December 15, 2023. 


Ethel’s Place and Belonging: Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown at Peabody Library

Ethel’s Place is up through March 31, 2024 in the Exhibit Gallery
Nicoletta Darita De La Brown: Be(longing) is up November 14 – December 1, 2023 in the Reading Room
Viewing Hours: 10 am – 5 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 14 – Friday, Nov. 17, Monday, Nov. 20 – Wednesday, Nov. 22, Sunday, Nov. 26 – Friday, Dec. 1
Admission is free for both exhibitions

Ethel’s Place: Ethel Ennis (1932–2019) is among the greatest jazz vocalists of her generation. She spent her career rooted in and dedicated to Baltimore, yet many of us who share her hometown may be unfamiliar with her legacy today. Ethel’s Place, curated by Raynetta Wiggins-Jackson, offers a fantastic retrospective (and introduction if you need one) as it celebrates the singer’s remarkable life and her “storied” Baltimore music club, Ethel’s Place, which she ran with husband Earl Arnett. 

Most of the 130 items featured in the exhibition previously belonged to the couple. Now a part of the Sheridan Libraries’ sprawling Ethel Ennis and Earl Arnett Collection, the photographs, posters, unpublished written arrangements, audiovisual recordings, and ephemera offer an intimate and unique chance to experience Ennis’ life through the very things that she and Arnett kept and treasured. 

Nicoletta Darita De La Brown: Be(longing), Unveiling the Imprint of Black Women Hidden in Plain Sight

What happens when you put an artist in a library? This is the question the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center at Johns Hopkins University poses with the launch of its Public Humanities Fellowships. As one of the inaugural fellows, Baltimore-based experiential artist Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown sought the Black women.

After spending months exploring archives related to Ethel Ennis, Billie Holiday, African American real photo postcards, and other special collections at the Sheridan Libraries, de la Brown presents Be(longing): Unveiling the Imprint of Black Women Hidden in Plain Sight. Through video, self-portraits, and performance, de la Brown asks: Who are the Black women living in the archives? How can their lives and humanity be brought to light? How can I feel seen, and safe, as a Black woman? (Chelsea Lemon Fetzer)


Nora Sturges

Nora Sturges: In the Night Garden at C. Grimaldis Gallery
Through November 11, 2023

Nora Sturges creates energetic paintings that envision ghostlike worlds where figures, architecture, and abstract elements vaguely resemble Renaissance frescoes. The catch? All of her paintings are eight inches wide–or smaller. Working at this miniature scale, Sturges’ gouache paintings retain a surprisingly large presence and In the Night Garden, her third solo exhibition at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, is no exception.

According to the gallery, the painter is “inspired by the mystery and humanity of late medieval Italian frescoes, [and] merges a mystifying spatial context with solid forms to create a pathway into abstraction. Sturges builds her own worlds riddled with beautiful imperfections and clarity through layers of microscopic brushstrokes.”

Under moody skies reminiscent of historic masterpieces, the painter poses a variety of figures in motion within natural and manmade environments reminiscent of historic Italian frescoes, site-specific murals that represent the pinnacle of Renaissance artistic achievement. By making them tiny and contemporary, Sturges explores their colors, compositions, and cultural contributions at an intimate scale, questioning the role that their ‘wall-sized’ status played versus their freshness in paint application. (Cara Ober)


Japanese ink drawings made by Ōtsuki Chōzaburō at CPM

Japanese Ink Drawings (1870’s – 1930’s) at Critical Path Method
Through November 18, 2023

You never know what to expect at CPM, a still-relatively-new gallery space in Bolton Hill run by Vlad Smolkin. The past year the space has commissioned and performed an original puppet show, exhibited site specific sound sculptures which stretched piano wires throughout the space and transformed it into a soundscape, and exhibited a variety of Baltimore-based artists alongside NY-based artists that Smolkin has relationships with via his preceding career as a curator and gallery director at Peter Blum.

In their newest exhibition, CPM exhibits Japanese ink drawings made by Ōtsuki Chōzaburō, a recently discovered artist and craftsman who worked in Kyoto between the late 1870’s and 1930’s. This collection is being exhibited publicly for the first time and represents two related bodies of work: Kamon pattern drawings and naturalistic drawings displayed on tables throuhgout the gallery created just for this show. (CO)

Japanese ink drawings made by Ōtsuki Chōzaburō at CPM

More info from CPM: “Kamon originated in the mid-Heian period (900–1000) as a way to identify individuals and families among the nobility. Kamon motifs can be broadly classified into five categories: animals, plants, nature, buildings and vehicles, and tools and patterns, each carrying their own symbolic meanings. In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Kamon also became an established custom among the samurai class, and this type of heraldry was used on flags, tents, and equipment in battle. Slowly, these symbols of classification became used more widely in Japanese culture, and by the Edo period (1603-1868), Kamon were fully established among the general public.

The works in this show are predominantly from the Meiji period (1868-1912) and depict intricately drawn patterns of Kamon. Some of the drawings are densely populated with the same Kamon iterated many times, while others are more free form, incorporating combinations of different Kamon, color, and marginal text. Nuances in line quality, shading, and peripheral sketches permeate these drawings and invite close inspection.”



Spark 6: Refractions at The Peale
Through November 26, 2023

One reason why the quality of visual art is so high in Baltimore are the variety of MFA programs that exist here. Not only do they attract talent, they hire it, sustain it, and create energetic artistic communities. Each university has its own galleries and exhibits, but sometimes these can be difficult to find and fall below the radar. This is why Spark, an annual exhibit that features work by UMBC and Towson University faculty, recent graduates, and current students, is so successful. It’s been curated by Catherine Borg since 2019, so this means she confidently selects the most compelling work each year around a specific theme.

This year, Spark 6: Refractions is exhibited in the historic galleries of The Peale in Downtown Baltimore, across from City Hall. According to the exhibition statement, “The title of the exhibition references a term from physics that describes the change in direction of a wave as it passes from one transparent substance into another. It’s a phenomenon most commonly observed when a light wave bends or changes appearance when it passes through a lens or a prism. Each of the artists in this exhibition serves as an apparatus of refraction, focusing, magnifying, or redirecting our attention and perspective in engaging and surprising ways.”

What to expect: Spark tends to be quite multi-media, incorporating dozens of artists in film and video, interactive technologies and installations, as well as more traditional 2D and 3D works. There is always a wow factor and the work is socially engaged, this means it tends to identify significant social problems and offer solutions.

This year, featured artists include: Ada Pinkston, Ahlam Khamis, Amanda Burnham, Andrew Awanda, Anna Kroll and Chloë Engel, Cathy C. Cook and Stefanie Koseff, Corrie Francis Parks and Maksym Prykhodko, Fahmida Hossain, Jenee Mateer, Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack, Jinyoung Koh, Jules Rosskam, Lauren Castellana, Nahid Tootoonchi, Phil Davis, Sarah G. Sharp, Stephen Bradley, and Treyvon Nolen. (CO)


Making Her Mark at the BMA

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800, at the Baltimore Museum of Art
Through January 7, 2024

If humanity survives the next few decades of myriad, self-imposed, preventable apocalyptic threats—climate change, religious wars, killer AI, et. al.—we’re going to have to explain something to our genderless cyborg grandchildren even more quizzical than why the oceans have so much microplastic and not so much biodiversity. That would be the history of art history, which until relatively recently, just seemed to ignore the fact that women have always been making things other than babies.

And yet, to quote the Guerrilla Girls, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” We could go on ad nauseam about the glaring historical lack of gender parity in institutional collections (to say nothing of textbooks!) but let’s commend the BMA for its contemporary, imperfect, but ultimately extremely well-intentioned efforts to diversify what “art history” looks like and who it is for.

All of this is to say: Yes, women have always been artists, it’s just that for the vast majority of centuries with written records the men didn’t really seem to care. Curators Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Alexa Greist will remind the public of this fact, specifically between the 15th and 19th centuries in Europe—which, honestly, were probably not the most fun centuries to be a woman on any continent. Still, despite sexism and plagues and inquisitions, women managed to author some truly remarkable art objects. Highlights include work by Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman painter to be accepted into the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence in the 1600s. She brought a skilled naturalism to the baroque tradition, and had an unprecedented amount of commercial success.

Just as importantly, at the other end of the recognition spectrum, the curators have thoughtfully included art objects authored by women (often working-class and/or anonymous) in workshops, monasteries, studios, their homes—any and every place they dwelled; much of which were previously dismissed as “craft.” You can register here ahead of time for complimentary passes to the ticketed exhibition, which will be free to the public on November 9 and December 3. (MAF)


ORIGIN at Baltimore Clayworks
Through November 4, 2023

The Baltimore Clayworks is one of those awesome, internationally-known resources this city sometimes takes for granted, but if you’re unfamiliar with the Mount Washington institution, this group exhibition is the perfect excuse for a visit. Inspired by curator Kensuke Yamada’s arrival to the United States as an exchange student from Japan (and all the language/cultural barriers involved) ORIGIN considers how our sense of home impacts our understanding of ourselves and others.

Highlights include Alanna DeRocchi’s “Origin of Empathy”—an eerily lifelike sculpture of a bonobo skull resting on a pillow, fired in a black, leathery matte glaze evocative of volcanic rock—and Shea Kister’s dollhouse-sized furniture. The latter has a painterly, lumpy quality that almost makes the viewer forget the hardness of its medium and invites us in for a sit-and-chat. (MAF)


Charles Mason III at Goya Contemporary

Charles Mason III: You Must Treat The Person(s) You Love With The Greatest Care at Goya Contemporary
Through November 18, 2023

In his second major solo exhibit with the gallery, Baltimore-based artist and educator Charles Mason III (B. 1990, Maryland), continues to merge a signature mixed media and text-based abstraction around identity politics and the “performative act of blackness” manifested through deliberate choices in materials.

Not quite sculpture, but also going beyond a traditional painting, Mason’s assemblages feel improvisational but also deliberate, where layers of canvas and torn and printed paper coalesce into an uneasy balance. Experimenting with materials is at the heart of Mason’s work, where expressionistic brushstrokes serve to unite these “sculpt-paintings” visually while and snippets of scrawled writing hint at larger truths but also obfuscate meaning, leaving the viewer to puzzle it out.

According to the artist, he is “interested in creating spaces that allow for the audience’s own experiences of engagement with black identity.” Mason takes this narrative further by emphasizing the personal relationships most important to him, extracting gems from everyday lived experiences, and also considering loss and systemic violence toward Black Americans.

The artist says: “Conditional love and endurance: what is required for someone’s life to be considered valuable? What does it take for someone to care for you or for you to care for someone and how do we endure this? I asked myself these questions when I moved back to Baltimore and started to think about the relationship I have with my father. I want to know him and build a new connection around who we are, now, and how we love each other. Examining our relationship became a springboard from where my practice has been situated these last few years; and it’s become one focused on labor, love, grief, poetics, and material.” (CO)


Raúl de Nieves

Raúl de Nieves: And imagine you are here at the Baltimore Museum of Art
November 19, 2023 — May 1, 2025

Surprisingly, given the Brooklyn-based Raúl de Nieves’ meteoric (and well-deserved) rise as an art star with strong ties to the DIY scene, this Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Biennial Commission will mark the artist’s first exhibition in Baltimore.

We’re really excited about this one. Nieves combines references from religious art history, his childhood in Mexico, and a Bushwick queer sensibility into crafty, labor-intensive pieces that ooze charm and pathos. Here, we’re looking forward to an immersive installation about transitions and growth, with components ranging from 27 faux-stained glass panels celebrating metamorphic life forms such as cicadas and monarch butterflies to an epic, person-size cocoon chandelier—suggesting transformation can be a human quality as well. (MAF)


Ethiopia at the Crossroads at The Walters Art Museum
December 03, 2023–March 03, 2024

It doesn’t open until December, but this new exhibit will be the first major art exhibition in America to examine Ethiopian artistic traditions within global and contemporary contexts, considering historic and present day influences. Curated by Christine Sciacca, Curator of European Art (300-1400 CE), Ethiopia at the Crossroads is co-organized by the Walters Art Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

According to the museum, “Seated in the Horn of Africa between Europe and the Middle East, Ethiopia is an intersection of diverse climates, religions, and cultures. Ethiopia at the Crossroads examines Ethiopian art as representative of the nation’s notable history and demonstrates the enormous cultural significance of this often-overlooked African nation through the themes of cross-cultural exchange and the human role in the creation and movement of art objects. The Walters holds one of the most extensive collections of Ethiopian art outside of Ethiopia, making the museum uniquely suited for exploring this topic. The exhibition features more than 225 objects drawn from the Walters’ world-renowned collection of Ethiopian art and is augmented with loans from American, European, and Ethiopian lenders.”

The exhibit will include historical works of art including coins, painted icons, illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, and carved wood crosses side by side with works by contemporary Ethiopian artists Wosene Worke Kosrof, Aida Muluneh, and Elias Sime. It will include a beautiful illustrated catalog, and stay tuned for a variety of events and programs. (CO)


Related Stories
A Conversation with the Multimedia Artist and Activist on Her Dear Black Girl Project and the Power of Making Space for Community

"I was raised by a village and grew up in a multicultural environment, so community is the secret to my work's success."

A Book for Art Nerds and Aficionados, as well as the Culturally Curious

Get the Picture: Bianca Bosker’s Journey Among Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Her How to See (February 2024 Viking)

Reflecting on the History of the American Labor Movement while Looking Ahead into the New Millenium 

Forged Together: Collective Action at the Baltimore Museum of Industry Reflects on the History of the American Labor Movement While Also Looking Ahead into the New Millenium    You hear, ...

National Pavilions Question their own Identities in a Globalized World

At the national pavilions there’s an appropriately diverse set of strategies for addressing the legacies of colonialism and immigration from both traumatic or optimistic perspectives.