Gomez Gallery to close in December

Exhibits helped artists' careers

October 29, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Hit by falling art sales and a sluggish economy, a once-thriving Baltimore gallery and frame shop that made its reputation promoting local artists and cultivating new collectors for their works will close in December after nearly 16 years in business.

The Gomez Gallery, 3600 Clipper Mill Road in Hampden, which during the 1990s helped establish the careers of such artists as Connie Imboden, Soledad Salame, Nancy Scheinman, Joan Erbe and Deborah Donelson, will go out of business after its final exhibition of Imboden's photographs ends Dec. 15.

Walter Gomez, the Venezuela-born artist-entrepreneur who founded the gallery in 1988 with business partner Gary Knight, and who has run it as sole proprietor since 1992, said sales in recent years were down 40 percent from their high in the booming art market of the 1990s.

"I want to take a sabbatical from the gallery business, but I will continue to work with artists and with collectors," Gomez said yesterday. "Baltimore has treated me incredibly well, and I am grateful for its vibrant arts community that can hold its own with any in the world."

Gomez, 47, plans to move to Chile (where many members of his family have settled) before deciding on his next project. He held out the possibility he might eventually open another gallery, but said it would probably be in Santa Fe, N.M., rather than in Baltimore. Santa Fe is home to one of the nation's hottest art markets.

Baltimore arts professionals reacted with sadness to news of the gallery's closing.

"In the years Walter has been in Baltimore, he has done a great number of interesting shows of contemporary art," said Jay Fisher, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "I can think of two things in particular: his interest in photography, which he has shown both regionally and beyond, and the Latin American artists he brought to Baltimore, who were much harder to see when he began showing them."

Former Sun art critic John Dorsey, who covered all but one of Gomez's shows during the 1990s, said the closing "is a major loss to the Baltimore arts scene.

"To go to Gomez Gallery regularly meant to get an education in fine contemporary art from many parts of the world, and Walter also showed fine Baltimore artists," Dorsey said. "Wherever Walter is and whatever he does, I wish him happiness and success."

Julie Ann Cavnor, executive director of Maryland Art Place, also called the closing a "tremendous loss."

"The absence of this well-respected gallery will create a significant void," Cavnor said. "With this transition, institutions such as MAP must continue working in tandem with the community to promote strong relationships between artists and their audiences."

Over the years, Gomez boosted the careers of many then-little-known local artists by giving them their first commercial gallery exhibitions. At the same time, the gallery cultivated a new circle of mostly younger collectors who became enthusiastic buyers of artworks. "I was able to take many [local artists] to international art fairs and get their works in traveling exhibitions and museum shows," Gomez said. "I had such a strong belief in the artists here in Baltimore that I felt it was important to expose them in other venues."

At its peak in 1998, the year he moved to the Meadow Mill building on Clipper Mill Road, Gomez was selling thousands of dollars worth of artworks each month and operated a restaurant and frame shop in addition to the gallery business. But the restaurant closed in 2001, and last year Gomez moved all his exhibitions into the same space occupied by the frame shop.

Among the artists Gomez promoted most successfully were Imboden and Salame. A complete unknown when Gomez presented her first show in 1988, Imboden's haunting psychological images of the nude female body in water have since won international acclaim from museum curators, critics and collectors, and she has published several prize-winning books of her work.

Salame, who was born in Chile but now lives in Baltimore, was given a major exhibition of her environmentally conscious painting and installation in 2001 by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, an event which Gomez helped orchestrate.

Gomez said yesterday that whatever successes he had were mostly the result of following his own deepest instincts. "I found that I needed to just trust my gut," he said. "What makes an artist's career is authenticity, psychologically and spiritually, and that's also what makes a gallery strong and what collectors respond to because many times the struggle that's going on in the work is the same struggle going on in their own lives. And that has been the beauty for me of working in this field."

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