Reading

Top Picks of 2023: Ten BmoreArt Stories Worth Reading

Previous Story
Article Image

The Internet is Exploding: The Year’s Best [...]

Next Story
Article Image

BmoreArt’s Picks: January 2-8

For many of us, 2023 has felt like a decade or longer, and it’s been difficult, although not without hope. As we head into 2024 and the BmoreArt team has dispersed to Miami, Spain, Bolivia, and Brazil for the holidays, we took a moment to sift through our archives and consider the meaning of our work.

Our Google analytics shows us which stories our readers spend the most time with and share within a few days of publishing, but it’s always interesting to consider the longer-term impact of our efforts. It’s surprising to realize that certain stories, many from years ago, are still relevant and widely shared, and to wonder if we were simply on the right track at the right time or if there is any aspect of our work that can be replicated for the greater good.

In 2023, BmoreArt published 312 articles, two print journals, four art books, and featured close to one hundred different contributors, mainly writers and photographers from this region. Some of our most popular stories were about blockbuster museum shows and notable artists, and one won a national art criticism award, but many were not actually about visual art. Instead, our readers dug into institutional critique, food writing that emphasizes labor and migration, and even skateboarding, as well as personal essays about books, festivals, collaborative action, and performance.

At very least, this list is an opportunity for our readers to dive back into stories they may have missed over the past year, to appreciate the incredible talent and diversity of this region, to mourn those we have lost, and to set our sights on goals for 2024. Happy New Year!

 

Ellen Lupton on Writing with Design, A Conversation with the Pivotal Author of ‘Thinking with Type’ by Raquel Castedo, published February 3, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type is foundational in the field of graphic design. I bought myself a copy of the Brazilian translation in 2006, shortly after my advisor and friend Ana Gruszynski introduced me to Ellen’s texts when I was an undergraduate in Communication School in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

I immediately fell in love with the engaging narrative and the robust theoretical framework behind each applied example. It is a brilliant, unpretentious introduction to typography organized into three sections: letter, text, and grid. Each section begins with an overview of that category, including its definition and history, then splits into smaller sections about specific subcategories.

My copy of Thinking with Type has accompanied me as a student, then as a teacher and a researcher. I have read and re-read its pages in each of those phases. The book also traveled with me a few times. I brought it to Baltimore in 2015, when I had the opportunity to be mentored by Ellen for part of my PhD research. And later, when I moved here, my battered copy came along again in my suitcase.

Initially published in 2004, Thinking with Type was groundbreaking in the way that Ellen combined text/type and imagery to tell the story of typography. It’s a bestseller that has been published in several languages, and Ellen is working on a third edition of the book now. “Whenever a young designer hands me a battered copy of Thinking with Type to sign at a lecture or event, I’m warmed with joy from serif to stem,” Ellen wrote in the introduction to the second edition. “Those scuffed covers and dinged corners are evidence that typography is thriving in the hands and minds of the next generation.”

Author Raquel Castedo is a Brazilian graphic designer, educator, and researcher, based in Baltimore, MD and BmoreArt’s Creative Director. Read more by Raquel Castedo.

 

Urban Upcycling with Neighborhood Design Center, How the Neighborhood Design Center is Helping Baltimore’s Creatives Revive a Climate-Conscious City by Michael Anthony Farley with photos by Vivian Doering, published March 13, 2023, online and in Print Issue 15: Migration
Read it here.

Excerpt: almost everything around you, from the chair you’re sitting in to the building or park where you’re reading—represents embodied carbon. Fossil fuels have already been burned to create almost all man-made materials, and most of those products also contain carbon that could potentially escape to the atmosphere. As long as these objects and places remain intact, their carbon atoms are safely stored as usable matter, until a process such as combustion or aerobic decomposition in a landfill bonds them with oxygen to form the notoriously pesky greenhouse gas CO2.

“I like to think of embodied carbon almost like one of Newton’s Laws. Energy can’t be created or destroyed, it’s just transferred,” explains Karla Brent, an architect, sustainability expert, and project coordinator at the nonprofit Neighborhood Design Center. “Different amounts of energy end up going into the production of every material. But compare the intense fabrication process of metal to wood—a material that’s renewable; it comes from trees! I love that you can look at a piece of wood and understand where it came from. Plus, it stores carbon.”

This is a concept most tend to grasp at the scale of consumer goods, but seldom consider at the scale of the built environment. How many homeowners have forsaken single-use water bottles but still want a brand-new house wrapped in vinyl siding? Giving some TLC to Baltimore’s vast supply of already-built structures comprising energy-intensive materials, such as brick, and carbon-sequestering hardwoods, is one of the easiest ways to fight global warming locally.

“If you look at adaptive reuse projects, at least half of the building you need is already there,” Brent says. “The energy that was needed to build that was used years ago,” whereas new building projects require production and shipment processes that create pollution and consume raw materials. “Not to mention the added cost. When we have people who can’t afford to rent, they look elsewhere. In Baltimore, we have so many great old buildings that are no longer used for their intended purpose. We should be focused on restoring them.”

Author Michael Anthony Farley is an artist, critic, curator, and drag performer who splits their time between Baltimore and Mexico City. They are a Contributing Editor at BmoreArt. Read more writing by Michael here.

 

 

Women Refuse to be Mere Vessels: Plan B Art Project Refigures Abortion, Art Jewelers Tackle Contemporary Reproductive Rights with Ancient Forms by Mary Fissell, published March 20, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: Jackson Women’s Health Organization repealed Roe v. Wade, which has stripped access to abortion and reproductive health care for millions of Americans and denied individuals and doctors the freedom to make their own health care decisions. Since the Dobbs decision, 14 states have already implemented near-total abortion bans, leaving one in three American women without access to safe, legal abortion care. Also, state legislatures across the country have introduced hundreds of bills to include medically unnecessary restrictions that limit access to abortion care.

Seemingly overnight, the landscape of female reproductive rights has changed utterly, with the majority of Americans’ views being ignored. The time is right for artists to express their dissent and to protest through compelling arguments in a variety of media.

In one such exhibit, Plan B, currently on view at the Rebecca Myers Gallery at Cross Keys through the end of March, artists and jewelers address contemporary reproductive politics using a form from ancient pottery: the Greek amphora. The touring exhibition, which has already been shown in New York, Oklahoma, Chicago, and across the country, is the curatorial brainchild of Shauna Burke. Plan B offers us a series of artists’ perspectives on both our moment and the very long history of abortion. Burke sent artists a small amphora, and asked them to make work that responded to current threats to reproductive autonomy.

Why an amphora? Archaeologists have recovered traces of abortifacient plants from amphoras used in ancient Greece. Plus, the curves of the form echo the female reproductive body. These clay vessels were used to contain olive oil, wine—and abortion-producing herbs. In the ancient world, abortion was rarely illegal or immoral and Greek and Roman women could easily harvest or buy plants to terminate a pregnancy.

 

Close Looking: Edward Duffield’s BMA Clock, in Context, History Beyond the Keeping of Time by Kerr Houston, published May 29, 2023
* We are so proud that this essay won the Louis Moran Award for Contemporary Craft Writing in 2023!
Read it here.

Excerpt: The French poet and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine once complained that museums are cemeteries of the arts, and it’s not hard to see why—separated from their original contexts, the objects in a museum can feel lifeless and embalmed: static monuments to a distant past. But even cemeteries, in the right conditions, can be surprisingly powerful and moving places. And if we look closely and think creatively, the most inert and seemingly remote museum object can become surprisingly vivid.

The Duffield clock, which was made in Philadelphia in around 1770 and is currently on view in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s American Wing, offers a useful example of what I mean. At first glance, it can feel intimidatingly formal: at nearly nine feet tall, it’s huge, and its sleek surfaces, made of wood, brass, and glass, suggest dignified sophistication. Clocks like these were among the costliest domestic objects in colonial America, and they were often placed in the corner of a public room, as a subtle but visible demonstration of a privileged family’s relative wealth.

But their placement was also motivated by convenience. Set in a parlor or on the landing of a staircase, a clock could be quickly consulted by family members, easily maintained by servants, and occasionally admired by guests—and heard throughout much of the house. Sometimes, clocks were also placed in kitchens, in order to help measure cooking times. More often, though, they served as points of reference for entire households, at a historical moment when personal timepieces were still rare.

Author Kerr Houston has taught art history and art criticism at MICA since 2002. He is the author of BmoreArt’s all-time most read story, How Mining the Museum Changed the Art World, The influence of Fred Wilson’s seminal 1992 intervention at the Maryland Historical Society is at once easily summarized and remarkably complex published May 3, 2017. Read more by Kerr Houston here.

 

Photo by Brad Ziegler

Unconventional Skateboarding at Zeakness Festival, Zeakness, hosted at Zika Farm, is a DIY skateboarding contest and a new Baltimore tradition by Jaddie Fang, published June 12, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: When Zika Farm started in 2016, the people who were involved in this project had witnessed two other DIY spots, Shrimptown and Bell Foundry, being torn down. The group of skaters assembled in Baltimore call themselves “Farmers” and they have been building various features ever since: shapes of concrete and metal filled with cinder blocks, rocks, empty beer cans, waste, and dirt. Now the Zika Farm has evolved into more than a skate spot. It hosts music shows, late night DJ sets, [art] farmers’ markets, and invites artists to paint or install their work. It is a place for people to create and practice what we call “having fun.”

The first event at Zika Farm this year was the skateboard contest, Zeakness. The name was inspired by Baltimore’s famous American thoroughbred horse race, the Preakness Stakes. Held on May 27, the focal point of Zeakness was the wooden Mega Ramp that had been built (it took less than two days) for one of the event categories.

Many skaters were eager to climb up to the top of the ramp to experience the excitement of skating this enormous feature. Regardless of success or failure, everyone on the scene cheered for them as long as they dared to try. Surrounded by the vibe of this unconventional skateboarding contest, “competition” was not the focus, but whether you enjoyed it and experienced all the fun the DIY space brings.

Author Jaddie Fang has worked as an independent curator, writer, film translator, skateboarder and artist for over a decade. Read more of Jaddie’s music-focused writing here.

 

Luba Drozd at Critical Path Method

A Case for Action: CPM’s New Edition Project with Luba Drozd, Each numbered case contains all the necessary components for a person to install one of these works in a place of their choosing by Laurence Ross, published June 28, 2023
Read it here.

Excertp: Franconia Notch is a glaciated valley in New Hampshire, and Drozd is interested in the ways glaciers move and sound as they drift and eventually disappear. In fact, there is no ice present in this work—just granite sourced from a quarry in the glaciated valley. The presence of the glacier is spectral, like a star that has blinked out of the sky. Drozd orchestrated her sculptural installations to address the dual ideas of circuits and extinction: The notes from the piano strings vibrate against the granite, play then pause then play on loop. Though the sounds may seem cyclical, the vibrations are subject to changes in temperature, or humidity, or airflow from people filling a room. The sound, ultimately, is not static but mutable. Fleeting.

As Drozd chose thick, bass piano strings for her work, the sound produced is a deep drone rather than the ethereal note a harp string might have made. This resonating drone might be considered meditative or lulling, but there is also an ominous quality, as if the sound were the dial tone for the universe—and Drozd is unsure if anyone will start to dial. Though one could easily mistake the sound as the banal mechanical hum of industry, given the environmental themes of the work and the planet’s escalating climate crisis, Franconia Notch 01-12 asks us to have a human response.

Scientists often use personified language when referring to a glacier’s life cycle. A healthy glacier grows each year more than it melts; a glacier’s memory is stored within its layers and disappears when it melts; when part of a glacier stops moving altogether, it is considered dead ice; when Iceland’s Okjokull glacier went extinct, geologist Oddur Sigurðsson held a memorial service and issued a death certificate. Drozd acts in the same capacity in here, giving the glaciers of New Hampshire a much-overdue funeral song.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this editioned work is the tension created between the ephemeral nature of Drozd’s art, the instabilities of the natural world, and the solidified object-ness of these 12 pieces. The numbered, black weather-proof cases protect and preserve the artwork but also codify and conceal it. Will the owners of these editions choose to display the case, lid open, to showcase the aesthetically pleasing geometry inside? Install the piece on a wall and allow the piano string to reverberate and come alive?

Author Laurence Ross is a Baltimore-based writer and educator. He received his MFA from the University of Alabama where he served as the Creative Nonfiction Editor for Black Warrior Review. Read more of Laurence’s art critiques here.

 

Mera Kitchen Collective is a Culinary Esperanto, At Mera Kitchen, the Dialect is Ever-Expanding by Nani Ferreira-Mathews with photos by Jill Fannon, published July 27, 2023 at BmoreArt.com and in Print Issue 15: Migration
Read it here.

Excerpt: I’m there to help the morning shift of Mera Kitchen cook 200 box lunches that go out three times a week to City of Refuge in Southwest Baltimore, a meal service that started as a mutual aid project during COVID. “The meals are only a bandaid for the food insecurity problems in Baltimore,” co-founder Emily Lerman shares with me.

Chef Ino cooks behind me on the griddle, Sara juliennes peppers at my side while the rest of the morning crew boxes the lunches in the dining room on the long communal table. Javier bounces into the kitchen after the lunches are finished, and the kitchen immediately overflows with his boundless energy. “El tiene chistes,” Sara says, warning me that Javi is the jokester of the crew.

Ino passes me a plate of freshly grilled tortillas and scrambled eggs and invites me to scoop the guacamole we made together on the plate. Everyone adds a dollop of Ino’s delicious salsa verde. We stand and shovel the breakfast into our happy mouths, and the conversation among the crew turns to language; how hard it is to learn English and how expensive!

Author Nani Ferreira-Mathews is an author, freelance journalist and community organizer, and a worker-owner at Thread Coffee Roasters in Baltimore, Maryland. Read more of her food writing here.

 

Creative Alliance Installation of works by MJ Neuberger, photo Dominic Green

The Protection of Lowly Gods: MJ Neuberger, Exhibiting at the Creative Alliance’s Main Gallery by Jack Livingston, published June 9, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: A brochure from the World’s Fair contained a striking image of an Igorot man wearing a feathered headpiece. He stares straight into the camera. Neuberger uses this image repeatedly in the show as a symbol of pride, reclaiming the once derogatory use of the term “headhunter” as an exertion of her and by extension, her people’s power.

She places the full brochure printed medium sized encased in piña where the viewer enters the exhibition, by it sits a pineapple. His face appears again at the back inside a small slow spinning circular piña that projects into a landscape, and finally he appears once more as a looming projection on a black front wall just outside the gallery space. He becomes the knowing watcher—a guardian deity with a knowing gaze of truth and redemption.

In many other photos of the era, Filipino women were manipulated to pose partially undressed, eroticized by the photographers who asked them to disrobe. Groups who did not assimilate were deemed “lowly.” Hence the artist’s use of the term in the exhibition title.

Neuberger’s appropriation of photos is used to reveal and overcome layers of abuse suffered. She connects to the women pictured as mirrored personas, aligning herself with them so deeply she deems the images self-portraits. Neuberger invites the viewer along to bear witness, as she elevates and restores the images, and her people to ancestral deities of worship.

 

Frederick Douglass, Unidentified Artist, Reproduction of daguerreotype from c. 1850, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery DC

“A Grand Panorama”: One Life Frederick Douglass Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, A Rare and Revelatory Collection on View by Chelsea Lemon Fetzer, published June 19, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: When you visit the exhibition, the ledger is displayed open near the entrance to the gallery and is decidedly unsentimental, as it assumes its paradoxical place before the whole of an extraordinarily important collection. The ledger was discovered in 1980 by biographer, Dickson Preston and was kept by Aaron Anthony who managed the plantation of Edward Lloyd V, a US congressman, Maryland’s 13th governor, and Douglass’ first enslaver.

Douglass had been told his father was white, and suspected it was Anthony or Anthony’s son-in-law, Thomas Auld. But, as he wrote in his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, “The means of knowing was withheld from me.” On the bottom of the left side page in Anthony’s ledger, Douglass’ mother is recorded briefly in an entry updating what was considered property: “Frederick Augustus, son of Harriet.”

Though Douglass knew his mother’s full name was Harriet Bailey, he was only allowed to see her four or five times in his life and explains, “My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant — before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age.“

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit, One Life: Frederick Douglass, curated by John Stauffer, the Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, is the first Frederick Douglass exhibit the gallery has offered in decades and it is not only a must-see, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Author Chelsea Lemon Fetzer is a poet, author, and educator, and is a Contributing Editor at BmoreArt. Read more by Chelsea Lemon Fetzer here.

 

Jenenne Whitfield, Photography by Christopher Myers for Baltimore Magazine

Opinion Editorial: AVAM’s Misstep in Dismissing Jenenne Whitfield, A Year Into Her Role as Successor to its Founding Director, AVAM Releases Jenenne Whitfield from her Contract by Cara Ober, published November 13, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: The first time I met Jenenne Whitfield, it was in the BmoreArt office and gallery space in lower Charles Village. She had requested the meeting, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know the new director of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), a recent transplant from Detroit, and to hear her plans for the institution. This was the first time that anyone from AVAM had reached out and asked to meet with me and the BmoreArt team, especially notable because Whitfield was there to ask us our opinions about the museum and its role within Baltimore’s creative ecosystem.

For me, this conversation marked a turning point. That it occurred at all was a sign that significant and necessary changes were coming to AVAM, Baltimore’s beloved, but also stagnant, institution for outsider art. Finally, the leader of this museum was looking beyond its’ walls and into surrounding communities, inviting natural audiences and partners to play a role in the future of this important cultural entity, charting a course for its evolution.

That day, when I learned that Whitfield was investing her time as a new director in dozens of in-person discussions with cultural organizations across Baltimore, I was confident that AVAM had made the right leadership decision. It was clear that its new director was not there to simply follow in the footsteps of visionary founder Rebecca Hoffberger, but to make the museum more culturally relevant on a local, regional, and global scale.

Whitfield, co-founder of the United Artists of Detroit and president of the highly praised Heidelberg Project, an outdoor arts space in Detroit, assumed her role as director in September 2022, after being recruited by AVAM. I think we can all appreciate how difficult it must be to follow in the footsteps of a founding director, especially one as charismatic and wildly creative as Rebecca Hoffberger, who co-founded the museum with her late then-husband LeRoy Hoffberger in 1995 and retired officially on April 3, 2022 after close to thirty years in this role.

Author Cara Ober is the Founding Editor and Publisher at BmoreArt. Read more writing by Cara Ober here.

 

Elena Johnston, photo by Natasha Tylea

In Memoriam: Elena Johnston, A Baltimore Art Community Collage Compiled by Rahne Alexander with Jared Earley and Russell Hite, published December 15, 2023
Read it here.

Excerpt: Eschewing the predictability of a paintbrush in favor of the elemental vitality of painting with gravity and chance, Baltimore artist Elena Johnston explored “potential and possibility” through her signature pour paintings, dynamic and often sculptural acrylic pieces she described as “meditations on color and the human experience.” Sometimes floor-to-ceiling in size, these mesmerizing works could energize a space with their stateliness and intensity, bursting with infectious swirls of verve and vivaciousness that could simultaneously invite attention and command participation—much as the artist herself did.

Elena Johnston (1985-2023) transferred from Havertown, Pennsylvania to Baltimore in 2002 to pursue her BFA in illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art and, later, a BA in art education from Towson University and MA in art education at MICA—all while earning broad recognition for her industrious artistic process, near-continuous exhibiting and collaborating with fellow artists, the publication of her 2008 volume Paper Kingdom: A Collection of Baltimore Music Posters, and her work as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools (2014-2018).

In the days after her devastating and untimely passing in early December 2023, friends, peers, and artistic partners shared anecdotes reflecting on the breadth and versatility of Elena Johnston the person, the artist, and her body of work spanning multiple genres—from painting, ceramics, collage, and fashion illustration to music, performance, curation, and sharing her gift with others.

A memorial event will be hosted on Sunday, January 14, 2024, at Current Space (421 N. Howard Street). Members of the public are welcome. Details to follow at currentspace.com.

 

Related Stories
The best weekly art openings, events, and calls for entry happening in Baltimore and surrounding areas.

How the Painter Embarks Upon the Physical and Psychological Cosmos

Like his artwork, Alli offers a glimpse into the boundless potential of the human imagination.

Three semifinalists will be selected for the final review for the Sondheim Art Prize, which will award $30,000 to a visual artist or visual artist collaborators living and working in the Baltimore region.

This year’s panel of jurors — Noel W. Anderson, Connie H. Choi, and Aaron Levi Garvey — have selected 18 visual artists and visual artist collaborators for the semifinal round.

Baltimore news updates from independent & regional media

William S. Dutterer in Forbes, A corner bar exhibition at Museum of Industry, Growing Pride Parade Changes Venue, SAAM's new chairman, Equity at the Pratt, Farm Alliance of Baltimore Dinners, Synthesis at Frederick Arts Council, The Afro's archives, 2024 MD Heritage winners, and more