Is Baltimore getting worse as an art center?
The question is prompted by the announcement last week that one of the city's leading commercial galleries, G.H. Dalsheimer, will close in April. Although Mr. Dalsheimer ascribed his decision to personal reasons, the closing nonetheless sparked discussion about this art market's viability.
The answers are not clear-cut. On the one hand, Dalsheimer will be the third important local gallery to close in less than two years, after the George Ciscle Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art's sales and rental gallery.
Other galleries are making changes. C. Grimaldis, reporting a "soft" but not a bad year, is changing from a four-week to a six-week exhibition schedule at its Charles Street location and dropping the "Sculpture Space" designation at its Morton Street gallery to allow for a broader mix of shows. School 33 has cut back the number of its shows, Maryland Art Place is thinking of halving its mailing list to trim expenses, the galleries at University of Maryland College Park and Towson State University are cutting back hours.
On the other hand, some of the current problems are not particular to Baltimore. "This is what's going on in the economy," Mr. Ciscle said, "and it has nothing to do with this particular town."
And as Maryland Institute president Fred Lazarus pointed out, "You have to look at where we are compared to where we were 10 years ago. There was no Dalsheimer, no Ciscle, no BAUhouse, no School 33, no Maryland Art Place." And no Grimaldis second space. No Artscape. No Knight Gomez Gallery.
"We're going to go through some difficult economic times, but we'll never go back to where we were," Mr. Lazarus said. "That doesn't mean that we can't build something that's better than what we've got."
In recent days observers on the scene singled out some areas of concern; some of them may be susceptible to change and some may not.
*Proximity to New York. The ease of getting to New York, the glamour of buying there, the feeling among some collectors that a work bought there is more likely to be a good investment, all work to local galleries' disadvantage. "People think they're more apt to buy a blue chip in New York than in Baltimore," said MAP executive director Susan Badder.
"There is nothing we can do about the distance between New York and Baltimore," said Dalsheimer gallery director Robin Coplan.
*Recognition of quality. There is a need, some gallery owners agreed, to counter the perception that if a gallery shows works by a major artist they will be of lesser rank, "leftovers" that New York galleries don't want or can't sell.
That's not the case, they said. "The Baldessari show at Grimaldis is the best Baldessari show I've seen in three or four years," said George Dalsheimer. "The show I had of Jim Dine's works on paper was probably the best show of its kind at the time and I don't think there's been another one like it."
Grimaldis cited shows by artists such as sculptors Jene Highstein and Anthony Caro as examples of superior work. "When I go to London to pick a whole exhibition out of an artist's [Caro's] studio and have it shipped to this country at my expense I am not picking out the second rate."
*Media coverage. Gallery owners feel exhibits are not adequately publicized and several plan to send Baltimore Sun publisher Michael Davies a letter asking that coverage be increased. "There is no doubt in the visual arts community that The Sun doesn't shine brightly enough on the professional commercial galleries," the letter states, and goes on to suggest that The Sun and/or The Evening Sun hire faculty members from local colleges and universities to be "guest" critics to increase the number of gallery shows reviewed.
Other art scene observers say more television and radio coverage would be most helpful. "There's an immense amount of coverage they could do," said George Ciscle. He and others suggested, as one but not the only measure, reinstituting a program like the former "Critics Place" on Maryland Public Television.
*The Baltimore Museum of Art. Some observers think the BMA should better support the local art scene by buying here and giving local galleries other kinds of encouragement.
"Obviously they're buying paintings [someplace]," said Mr. Grimaldis. "I'm tired of hearing, 'It's not
quite what we're looking for.' "
"I do think that if the museum could think of some way to be more supportive of the galleries it would show everyone that [it] had confidence in them," said Ms. Coplan. "It meant so much to everybody when Brenda Richardson [BMA deputy director for art] stopped in to Tom Miller's show."
Both Steven Scott, a downtown gallery owner, and Mr. Grimaldis said the museum's closing of the the sales and rental gallery was a blow to the city.