Galleries: Artfully under the radar

Artist-run DIY spaces and galleries keep Baltimore scene vibrant

  • Part of the "Eschatology II" exhibit at Positron Gallery, 210 W. Read St. in Mount Vernon. Owner Elise Siegal turned the first floor of her Mount Vernon rowhouse into an intimate gallery about a year and a half ago.  • More information: Positron Gallery
Part of the "Eschatology II" exhibit at Positron… (Handout )
November 12, 2010|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Beyond the mighty Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum, beyond such long-established, up-market spaces as C. Grimaldis Gallery and Thomas Segal Gallery, a world of artistic enterprise thrives — some of it off the radar or almost literally underground.

Baltimore has its share of artist-run, DIY spaces where the emphasis is more on encouraging and showing new work than selling it, as well as others that are very much in the commercial trade. Some venues are a little hard to find, located in low-foot-traffic areas and in buildings that, at first glance, might be mistaken as abandoned; others occupy inviting, street-level spots. Some keep regular or quasi-regular hours; others are best visited by appointment or on reception nights.

All of them are worth a look. And if there's one thing all of these places could use, it's more people looking. A common observation heard in this grass-roots community is that Baltimore has plenty of creators but not a lot of collectors.

Here's a sampling of places where fresh art is the order of the day, including painting, sculpture and video installations, and where the common thread is the cutting edge.

Current Space Gallery

421 N. Howard St.,

Flanked by boarded-up spaces on a block of Howard Street ripe for renewal, Current Space's current space couldn't look more underground if it tried. The storefront gallery, which moved here in May after six years on Calvert Street (the spot was sought by developers), needs some TLC. But the pioneering artist-run enterprise has been churning along in its new digs.

Wrapping up this weekend is an in-your-face show, "Force: On the Culture of Rape." Created by Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato, the installation includes eclectic, often graphic videos by several artists, running on TV monitors. For the finale, a kind of performance art called "Darb TV" will be presented; it's an imaginary kids' show dealing explicitly with sexual trauma and abuse.

"We're open to all formats, genres and styles," said Monique Crabb, one of Current Space's three directors. A future project will turn the gallery "into a kind of grocery store/mini-mart. The art will mimic products that would be sold at a store. There will be aisles and shelves, shopping baskets and a cash register," Crabb said.

There are plans to build studios in the basement, which would provide some income from artists renting them — and give Current Space a literally underground vibe.

"Force: On the Culture of Rape" will be on view from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday; performances of "Darb TV" will be at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Jordan Faye Contemporary

1401 Light St., 443-955-1547,

Since opening 14 months ago in an 1880s Federal Hill building, this gallery has presented no less than 18 shows. Technically, it's an artist-run space — owner Jordan Faye Block is herself an artist and lives there — but it's a commercial establishment aimed at showcasing a varied sampling of local talent and getting work into the hands of collectors.

Opening Friday and running through Sunday is No. 7 in the gallery's Salon Series, featuring a dozen artists of different ages, backgrounds and artistic styles. (Disclosure: The lineup includes work by a Baltimore Sun employee, news and sports designer Scott Ponemone.)

Block puts out an open call for submissions to the Salon Series; selected artists choose what they want to exhibit. "I help them with marketing," Block said. "And I bring in a visiting artist to give input, to mentor the emerging artists."

Scheduled in December is "Small Wonders," a show featuring modest-size, modest-price works by about two dozen artists. "I think everyone should have art," Block said, "and this show offers very affordable art. My motto is 'Your collection begins here.'"

Salon Series No. 7 is on display noon to 9 p.m. Friday (with a reception 6-9 p.m.); noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Positron Gallery

210 W. Read St., 551-697-3790,

Elise Siegal takes the DIY philosophy to heart. The young art collector (and chemist by day) turned the first floor of her Mount Vernon rowhouse into an intimate gallery about a year and a half ago. "I just wanted to have a place for artists to show their work," she said.

Adding a twist, Siegel typically picks a theme and invites artists she admires to create fresh works inspired by that theme. She focuses on 3-D, mixed-media works, guaranteeing a heightened sense of texture for her shows.

The next Siegel-generated show is due next month. Meanwhile, Positron offers "Eschatology II," curated by Cheri Landry, creator of a business called Divergence Fine Art that specializes in cutting-edge work.

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