Making An Impression

A Baltimore printmaker and gallery,Goya-Girl Press travels in the heady circles of the best of contemporary art.

March 12, 2002|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

These are heady days at Baltimore's Goya-Girl Press, which six years after its founding is distinguishing itself in the international art world as the Little Gallery That Could.

Last month, owner Martha Macks and her staff were in New York to participate in the annual Armory Show, also known as the International Fair of New Art, the premier seasonal showcase for contemporary art.

Not only was this Goya-Girl's first time at the prestigious event, but Macks' gallery was also one of a mere handful of non-New-York-based U.S. galleries selected to display their wares alongside those from Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, London and Vienna. Macks hopes the experience will raise Goya-Girl's profile when it brings its artists to the Baltimore Museum of Art's annual contemporary print fair March 23-24, and Chicago's international art show in May.

"That was important for us because the Armory Show is the biggest, most selective international exposition of contemporary art in the world," Macks said. "The whole art world [goes] there. More than 300 publishers had applied to participate in the show, and they only accepted 11. So we were quite thrilled they chose us."

The Armory Show attracts a sophisticated mix of museum curators, foundations, artists, collectors and critics from around the world. It would take years to travel to the more than 170 separate galleries in the show, which together represent thousands of individual artists, so each year people flock to the New York event, where they can see the latest developments all in one place.

Macks spent the four-day show promoting the artists her gallery represents to prospective buyers, and checking out the competition. Goya-Girl makes a profit, but like many galleries in smaller cities, Macks depends on out-of-town sales to keep afloat. Most of the enthusiastic customers she encounters in New York probably never would make their way to her Hampden gallery.

"Because we're in the Armory Show, and because we've been vetted by the show's jury, they tend to trust us as reputable dealers," Macks said. "We're no longer an unknown quantity."

For example, buyers for Microsoft's corporate art collection stopped by the gallery's booth in Chicago last year to look over the prints on display. "But they only bought one thing, and they seemed really uncertain," recalled Amy Raehse, who manages Goya-Girl's gallery. "This year, when they saw us at the Armory Show, they decided to buy several pieces, including two works by Liliana Porter and one by Joyce Scott."

During the show, the place is chock-a-block with people, and participants are likely to run across such big-name celebrities as comedian Steve Martin (an enthusiastic collector of contemporary art), as well as folks from back home. On the fly, Macks touched base with the Baltimore Museum of Art's Jay Fisher, Gary Sangster from the Contemporary Museum, curator and writer Brenda Richardson and Baltimore architect Charles Brickbauer.

"Everybody comes to see the best of what's current in the art world," Macks said. "For a small gallery like us, it just doesn't get any better than this."

In a lot of ways, Goya-Girl's recent success in New York was the fulfillment of a dream for Macks, 48, a Baltimore native who started out as a painter and printmaker. She taught art at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County before her two sons, now in their teens, were born.

Macks' involvement with the arts started early. The daughter of a successful real estate developer who grew up in Mount Washington, she is a longtime supporter of such local arts institutions as the BMA, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Maryland Art Place, which she helped found in the early 1980s.

The idea for Goya-Girl Press (the name was inspired by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who created some of the greatest prints of the 19th century) grew out of Macks' own work as an artist.

In 1996, her children were nearing adolescence, and she decided to devote more time to printmaking. But she found it rough going at the printing studio at MICA, where she could schedule work only late at night, or on weekends and holidays when the students weren't around.

"Eventually, I said to myself, `This is crazy, I can't keep working at 1 o'clock in the morning for the rest of my life.' " Macks recalled. "So I decided to buy my own printing press, which I set up in an empty room down the hall from my painting studio in the Mill Center in Hampden."

It was an old etching press made by the Brand Co., a solid, now-discontinued hunk of heavy machinery that she purchased used for $4,000. To defray the costs, she began teaching workshops in printing techniques to other artists, and invited printmakers with national reputations to demonstrate their methods.

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