Knocking stuffy ideas off the studio walls Exhibit: 'New Blood' puts established artists and bands with newer ones for a show that satisfies the sense of hip.

November 14, 1998|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Cigarettes burn like tobacco torches in the dimly lit warehouse, where ashes and butts are scattered on the ground. Exposed wires and light fixtures add a touch of devil-may-care bohemian flair. Casually stacked speakers outline the stage, occupied by a band tuning up, creating a sound that one attendee labels "Marilyn Manson and the Chemical Brothers being strangled."

Last Saturday night, nearly 500 people came to "New Blood," a monthlong exhibition of art and music by both local and national names.

The whole scene's a little disorienting in a good way.

Is it a concert? Is it a gallery? Is that really a picture of disemboweled roadkill?

The enthusiastic human carnival of art-nouveau hairdos and provocative piercings, with a few stylish older art-lovers thrown in, had plenty of reasons to be pleasantly puzzled.

Something like "New Blood" is pretty rare in Baltimore.

The show, at a warehouse at 1601 Guilford Ave., is an accessible avant-garde music and art show with a distinctly New York feel that pulls together many up and coming, as well as established, artists and musicians.

"For years, I've been looking around Baltimore," says Logan Hicks, 27, co-creator of "New Blood" and a screen-printer by day. "UMBC is turning out some great artists and photographers. There's MICA [Maryland Institute, College of Art]; Goucher; the Peabody is here. You can count how many commercial galleries there are here on one hand, literally on one hand. We felt there weren't really the proper venues to showcase these bands and artists.

"[Baltimore] really does need something like this."

The crowd may have been losing itself in the ambient intensity of the band Blonde Redhead, but "New Blood" founders Hicks and Deborah Johnson, 21, were alert and active, organizing and running here and there with hardly a moment to enjoy themselves.

"As long as you don't do anything but work 24 hours a day, you too can be just like us," Hicks says with a smile.

It's not a complaint; it's a work ethic the two needed to get the event off the ground.

"New Blood's" precursor was "Cones and Rods," which Hicks organized last year. It ran for a week in the same location and featured 15 bands and 50 artists. Clearly, there was an audience, as evidenced by the more than 3,000 people who showed up. Hicks decided to make it a bigger deal this year, expanding it to a month and collaborating with Johnson. Eighty artists are featured along with 16 bands.

It takes a certain amount of guts and commitment to attract such noted artists as Greg Gorman and Joe Coleman.

"A lot of the artists that are the bigger names are really great. They're here to support it," says Johnson, a student at MICA and a founder of the student-run H. Lewis Gallery in Bolton Hill. "I went into it totally probably with my voice shaking on the phone, being like, omigod, and then just asking it and trying to be as professional as a 21-year-old can be. And then for them to be like, 'Yeah, that sounds great,' you're like, I totally didn't expect that. But you get it and it's awesome."

But the show is not just about big names. It's meant as a way to mix old and new blood, showing prominent artists alongside students, featuring national indie bands and Baltimore club favorites.

"Normally, you play at a club around here, and 50 people is a decent draw," Hicks says. "[At 'New Blood'] you're talking about having three, four, five hundred people in one shot. I can't say I'm responsible for anyone's career, that's for sure. But I think the both of us together have managed to put a spotlight and maybe sort of expedite what would naturally occur."

This year, Hicks was worried that the music talent was too national. Big-name indie groups such as Blonde Redhead, Shellac, The Rachel's and Lungfish are all booked.

So Hicks designed a night exclusively for local bands. Tonight, three big-draw Baltimore bands -- Third Harmonic Distortion (3HD), Roads to Space Travel and Lux Aeterna -- will take "New Blood's" makeshift stage.

"The fact that he wants to do a local night is cool for us," says Cullen Davis of Lux Aeterna. His band normally plays the Ottobar in downtown Baltimore. "Bands don't have much of a life expectancy in this town. People always talk about some kind of curse. I don't believe it."

The "New Blood" environment is commune-like. In the gallery, every few minutes, an onlooker gushes that a particular piece was done by a roommate, classmate or teacher. Musicians and artists intermingle as if they've known each other for years. And most of them have. "New Blood" has the feel of an underground reunion and, at the same time, of a casual get-together.

Most of the "New Blood" buzz is informal and word-of-mouth. In City Paper, its ad declares the location as "Same place as Cones and Rods was."

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