Unveiling a new work of art

Contemporary gallery opens in city tomorrow

April 02, 2004|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Abstract paintings line the newly polished floors of the gallery like players waiting for an assignment from their coach. At the moment, however, she has a lot on her mind.

In preparation for the official opening of Goya Contemporary tomorrow, Martha Macks-Kahn is consulting with the architect and landlord as well as the art installer who will hang the works. She juggles calls from clients and artists as she presides over the finishing touches of her newly expanded gallery in Mill Center in Hampden.

The first show will display paintings and works on paper by New York artist Sally Egbert. One of her pieces, "Dawn and Day," is a bold, fresh breath of a painting. Appropriately enough, it is also about beginnings. A pale-yellow streak sweeps across the top of the canvas, perhaps suggesting a direction for the foggy uncertainty of the day developing beneath it. Although it's large - 5 feet by 5 feet - Macks-Kahn believes the painting has the highly personal feeling of a drawing.

"It's not static, and that's why I like it," she says. "When the work becomes this intimate, I can walk in one day and think one thing - and then when the light changes, think another."

If Goya Contemporary is Macks-Kahn's newest work of art, it becomes textured when viewed through the various lenses of her career. Over the past 25 years, she has worked as an artist, teacher, publisher, arts advocate and dealer. She has built an international reputation for Goya-Girl Press - the shop she founded down the hall - and works with such artists as Louisa Chase, Mark Strand, Sam Gilliam, Joyce Scott, Timothy App, Jo Smail and David Hess.

"I do think that the opening of this gallery space - particularly given that it's also a workshop that brings important contemporary artists to Baltimore - is a major addition to the city's cultural landscape," says Thom Collins, director of the Contemporary Museum.

Macks-Kahn usually exhibits in international shows for contemporary art, such as the Armory Show and the International Fine Print Dealers Association exhibitions in New York. With as many as 75 percent of her clients outside Baltimore, she spends a lot of time on the road and has tended to concentrate less on her hometown presence. When Gomez Gallery closed in December, however, the dealer began to think of expanding her business into a space that would offer the city more exhibitions of contemporary painting, sculpture and works on paper.

She was turning 50, her two children were in college and change was in the air.

"I thought about slowing down, continuing to deal privately. But when Walter [Gomez's gallery] closed, it really got to me that we needed another place in Baltimore to show. I've made the best space I could."

Working with architect Steve Ziger of Ziger/Snead, she went on a hunt for the perfect gallery location - and found it was literally a renovation away.

"We discussed moving downtown, but parking is a nightmare. The suburbs, I hate. I have a panic attack when I get out of the city lines," she says emphatically.

Macks-Kahn possesses the sort of outspoken energy she looks for in the work she represents. As a petite woman, she has learned to be assertive, stylish, and always wear 3-inch heels.

"You have about 20 seconds to make an impression on someone, to have them think you're a "big" person," she says. "That's hard to do when you weigh 105."

The oldest child of a Baltimore real estate developer, Macks-Kahn grew up in the Mount Washington area, first attending the Orthodox Bais Yaakov School for Girls and then switching to The Park School where teachers took students to protest demonstrations. On weekends, she studied at Maryland Institute College of Art and haunted the Baltimore Museum of Art. She discovered her love for printmaking at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts and, after graduate school, returned to Baltimore to run the printmaking department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

For a while, she had a studio at School 33 Art Center and exhibited her paintings and works on paper at Grimaldis Gallery. She also helped establish Maryland Art Place - a much-needed venue for local artists. As chairwoman of the nonprofit's artists' advisory committee, Macks-Kahn began to forge connections with such local artists as Scott, relationships she continues to rely on. Like Scott, many of the artists the dealer represents began their careers in the 1980s.

Eight years ago, Macks-Kahn bought a used press and established her studio in the former textile mill in Hampden. She began holding printmaking workshops and rented out the press to other artists. She also persuaded collaborative printer Isabelle Geiger to run the workshop.

"Martha has really invigorated the contemporary print scene in Baltimore. She's made an enormous contribution to making people more aware of contemporary printmaking," says Jay Fisher, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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