Flinner's gallery joins Hampden compatriots

ART

January 30, 2008|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Gallery owner Craig Flinner is bidding goodbye to the Charles Street space he has occupied for more than 20 years as he prepares to move to the Avenue in Hampden.

Flinner is the most recent area gallery owner to move to Hampden's exploding art scene. In November, Terrie Fleckenstein moved her eponymous gallery and frame shop there after seven years in Towson.

"It seems like Hampden is becoming a real arts center," Flinner says. "People think of it the way it was five or eight years ago but that's changing. There's an interesting mix of antiques stores and specialty shops there now."

Flinner points to disappointing foot traffic due to recent construction along Charles Street as the major factor in his decision to move.

"There've been issues along Charles Street for some time," he says. "I've had thoughts of moving for years since it seemed like everyone else was getting out. It just came to the point where I didn't want to be the last person to leave."

In 2002 the Steven Scott Gallery, which rented space in the same building as Flinner at 505 N. Charles St., moved to Pikesville. Since then, the Maryland Federation of the Art's City Gallery and the antique furniture and curio shop Nouveau also have departed downtown.

Flinner founded his business in 1983 and moved to Charles Street three years later. Originally, his gallery specialized in antique prints and maps, but over the years Flinner branched out into antique furniture and objets d'art as well as a custom framing service. In 2000, he opened a contemporary gallery where he shows regional and emerging artists.

"Our core business is still old prints and posters," says Flinner, who adds that all but one of his present employees will accompany the gallery to its new digs.

Flinner plans to move into his new space at 1117 W. 36th St. next month. "We're a destination shop and we create our own traffic, which is fine," he says. "But in Hampden, I would also get clientele going to the other businesses there, most of which are privately owned rather than chains and make for a distinctive mix."

Cuba, in black and white

Every year since 2004, photographer Anthony McKissic has periodically packed up his Leica cameras, his diaries and a few changes of clothes and headed for Cuba, where he spends anywhere from a week to a couple of months photographing the island and its inhabitants.

His empathetic black-and-white photographs, which recall Walker Evans' pioneering documentary images from the 1930s, are on view in a lovely exhibition at Sub-Basement Artist Studios.

McKissic, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate who teaches art in the Baltimore City school system, immerses himself in Cuba's picturesque street life, especially as it is experienced by the country's adolescents and children, who, like young people everywhere, have nothing whatever to do with the political disputes between governments.

McKissic manages to capture their sheer joy in being alive despite the crushing poverty that surrounds them. He makes Old Havana's peeling paint, crumbling walls and '50s-era automobiles seem like merely the whimsical backdrop against which his youthful subjects disport themselves.

McKissic brings a refined but unobtrusive camera and darkroom technique to bear, but I found myself wishing he had extended his black-and-white essay into the realm of color.

Color poses new problems for the documentarian, not least of which is resisting the medium's maddening tendency to render everything picture-postcard pretty.

Yet in skilled hands, color also can be a tremendous expressive tool, especially when one's subject practically cries out for acknowledgment of its distinctive tropical light and color.

I left the show impressed by McKissic's elegant compositions, sensitive printing and obvious fondness for the people in front of his lens, but also hopeful that at some point he will find a way to introduce color and the rich new possibilities it affords for what already is very clearly a true labor of love.

Cuba: Rituals, Resistance and Persistence runs through Feb. 9 at Sub-Basement Artist Studios, 118 N. Howard St. Call 410-659-6950 or go to subbasementartiststudios.com. glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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