GS: The aim was to create a curatorial project that was as close to my art practice as possible. In its initial inception, I thought of Rose Arcade as a sweet and small gesture; that a sincere work can be a radical act.
I’m really inspired by Jacques Tati. In an interview about his 1958 film “Mon Oncle,” a comedy about the human struggles against modernity and consumerism within a cityscape, Tati talks about this moment where Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati) opens a window in his rambling old-world Parisian apartment building to reflect a light on his neighbor’s yellow parakeet, causing it to sing. It’s a fleeting thing, but it’s also a moment that you can internalize and carry with you.
Dogs running around is a theme of nomadism in this movie, which is a point of inspiration for Rose Arcade — this freedom to act. For Tati, the dogs are able to pass through that threshold effortlessly, which is this symbolic and literal barrier between the modern world and the old world; one in which the ultimate stratification brought about by capitalism is beginning to take hold, and one that’s far smoother and more flexibly navigable. Hulot and the dogs succeed in their urban nomadism; Hulot participates in both contexts; at home in the old, and by manipulating the modern with an unwitting disavowal of its laws.
I’m drawn to the consideration for artist, site, and facilitator, that each aspect has real specificity to it. How do you find the weight of each exhibition balances artists’ works and place? Does either end up foregrounding or is the balance equal?
I don’t know that anything is ever balanced, I see it more as a concern of multiplicity, and developing a conversation between the work and the place. The things that are important to the fabric of a cityscape (like heterogeneity, multiplicity, simultaneity) also fold into the considerations of the art and the site.
For the first Rose Arcade show, Clam in the Wild, these ideas came into play. After years of walking past this arcade in my neighborhood it became a concise symbol of the area. It’s now empty, distinct, small storefronts inside a covered walkway. Outside the arcade you find rampant vacancy, crumbling infrastructure, the struggle of being a merchant in Downtown West made physical — all from poorly planned development and disinvestment in the city center. So, how do you find agency, a means to act within a place, when this is the environment you’re faced with? Is it possible to be liberated in this structure, to have a sense of the self as “wild,” while remaining grounded and connected?
I thought of Allie Linn and Margo Malter; two artists who lived in the neighborhood. This was important for the first show; while I didn’t directly articulate it to them, it seemed that both artists could address their immediate surroundings. Allie’s work addresses the relationship between history, materiality, and absence, and Margo’s work touches on the absurdity of the body, consumerism, and textiles.
Can you talk a little bit about the following show, Occhio Pavone, as well? Did that show have a similar development, or did the logistics of bringing the show to Italy change the way you were able to manage the artist pairings?
This process was a little different than Clam In The Wild. For Occhio Pavone, the title, and the writing came at the end like before. This show was still informed by conversations with the artists and considerations for the space, but the work was already made and I had no idea what the space was going to be! Hahaha. I knew I was going to Florence and that I wanted to bring some work over for a show, but I didn’t know where I was staying, what kind of space I would have access to, or even what artists I would meet upon arriving.
So when I got there, I ended up staying in this lady’s tapestry repair shop. There was a tiny, one room apartment in the back and her studio/workshop was in the front. The studio had tons of beautiful, draped threads hanging from the walls and I was immediately drawn to her space as the site. Tying the art to the tapestry repair studio was a challenge but was resolved through the writing. Occhio Pavone translates to “peacock eye” in english, and is also a type of terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo was created in Tuscany centuries ago by laborers salvaging scraps of marble to be formed into a speckled, cost-effective flooring. It’s something I see all over Baltimore as special and beautiful and it fit right into the show’s theme. Everyone gave me small works that were ideas in progress, or editions, things that were perhaps less precious to them. In the context of this tapestry repair studio, the show became about how we observe and connect things, how things become worked, finished, repaired, and abandoned. Also, the ways in which we are or are not able to see, “A beautiful unseeing eye living only to be observed.”
There were two works in the show of masked figures, one by James Bouché and one by Luigi Presicce and two works of nude women of color, made by women of color, gazing away from the viewer. In bringing over work by Theresa Chromati and June Culp, I wondered how often nude paintings, sexualized paintings, by women of color had been shown in Florence.
María Tinaut who is from Valencia, Spain often makes work using an archive of her grandfather’s family photos. For Occhio Pavone she showed a piece comprised of six black and white photos that read like stills from a film. They show her grandfather diving into the sea, or more precisely toward the sea; and in the images he is suspended in his dive, never reaching the water. There was also one of Alexander Iezzi’s “ROSE” wax bricks in the show. For Alex, the bricks function as a funeral effigy of a New York brick manufacturing company. They’re made to be donated as “A rose for ____”; a city or a person, a memory, a time. So at the end of the show, Alex and María’s works were brought to the Arno, Alex’s brick installed in the river’s bank and María’s diver finally making it into the water.
The show sounds amazing, I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures. Are there any threads that tie the two shows together so far?
I think so: an investment in beauty, loss, and empathy. I think, beauty and death could beconsidered closely related because of the inherent deindividuation that both participate in. Empathy is created in giving part of oneself up, even in a small way, and this is an act of beauty.
I’m curious how your role as Artistic Director at the much larger nomadic institution, The Contemporary, colors your experience in this project. I guess I’m wondering, do you operate with the same sort of mantras (“Audience is Everywhere, Artist’s Matter, Collaboration is Key”) that that institution does?
For The Contemporary, there’s a lot more for me to manage beyond finding a site and conversations with artists; it’s so much more than curating. There’s a large budget that has to be meticulously tracked and managed, a lot of historical research, fundraising, partnerships, managing crews, material orders, housing. It’s a really big production every time we do a project with a lot of people and countless moving parts. I’ve found that there are so many sites I’m interested in that don’t really fit for The Contemporary because they’re too small or can’t be utilized for more than a few hours, and I love curating so I felt this need to keep going.
What projects are you hoping to facilitate in the future with Rose Arcade?
The next Rose Arcade show is a work by Malcolm Peacock at Druid Hill Park called Let The Sun Set On You. It’s an action that will take place at Memorial Pool and the neighboring tennis courts. Memorial Pool, originally called “Pool No. 2,” was the first municipal pool for Black folks in the United States. Pool No. 2 opened in 1921 and closed in 1956. In 1953, Thomas Cummings a 13 year old boy drowned in the Patapsco. Pool No. 2 was too crowded and he couldn’t access Pool No. 1, the whites only pool. His deathled to the integration of the pools and eventually Pool No. 2 was memorialized by artist Joyce J. Scott in 1999 as “Memorial Pool”, though it remains unknown to many residents of the city.
The neighboring tennis courts were the site of the 1948 integrated tennis match protest that led to arrests and a greater push for racial equality. The courts were also the home of the first American Tennis Association national championships, where both Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe played. Unfortunately, this historically Black area of Druid Hill Park remains without lighting at night, forcing attendees to end their evenings early. This piece is rooted in creating a space for empathy. Malcolm is looking at what this space has meant historically, what it means in our current climate, and what it could come to mean for individuals in Baltimore.
As a curator, for this project specifically, I’m interested in the ways Malcolm makes work that doesn’t aestheticize history, work that includes a public but is not performative or theatrical. I wonder can (art) actions push policy change, bring signage and markers to historical sites, and needed public facilities? These are the questions I’m curious about and I’m hopeful that Malcolm’s work can bring us towards some answers.
Without giving much more away about what the action will be, I can share this quote that resonates with Malcolm by Ava DeVernay, “I wonder if by slowing the narrative down, and making it so that every second doesn’t have something to react to, could it illicit a different collective reaction? I just want to get across the whole idea of people sinking into this. That’s the only way it’s going to work is if you stop, take a moment and watch it and sink into it.”
Let The Sun Set On You will take place on Monday, October 3rd at 6pm in Druid Hill Park (starting at the junction of Swann Drive and Beechwood Drive). Top photo in the article shows work by Margo Malter and Allie Linn.
Freddy Gallery was a curatorial project located on Franklin Street in the West Downtown neighborhood. Curator/Painter/Blogger Josh Abelow sat down to talk about the project in October.
Every interview you’ve done so far has been under the Freddy moniker, right?
Yeah, everything I’ve said about Freddy in an online platform has been through the “voice” of freddy, but I also think by now most folks know it’s my thing. Well, I dunno, maybe there are plenty of people who have no idea? Anyway, I think it’s fine to say you’re interviewing Josh Abelow about it.
So, we’ve talked about this a little bit personally: what the aspect of anonymity offered that curatorial project. And what nuance levels there are to that? Because there’s a difference in maintaining a full cloak of obscurity so that maybe no one would know you and you wouldn’t show up at all.
I mean, as an idea, I really like the concept of complete anonymity.
What’s the name of the artist… God, I’m forgetting… Anyway, I’ll come back to it. Oh, Vern Blosum! So, the story is that there’s this AbEx guy who, in 1961, decided to make (invent?) Pop Art paintings under a false name as a kind of joke. The paintings look a lot like early John Baldessari (before Baldessari did them).
Blosum was represented by Leo Castelli and I think MoMA bought one of the paintings and collectors were buying the work and what not. Basically, somebody got suspicious because there was no biographical information about Blosum and called the whole thing into question like, “This is fucking bullshit.” And after this artist going up and up and up, he just disappeared and all the works went into storage for 50 years. Maxwell Graham of Essex Street Gallery organized a show of these early works in 2013 and that was the first time I had ever heard the name Vern Blosum. In today’s world, where everyone knows everything about everyone because of social media, the concept of anonymity is especially attractive and interesting because it’s so rare.
All that being said, that level of commitment to anonymity was impossible for Freddy and it wasn’t really an objective—I was more interested in the idea of information about the gallery traveling around in the form of rumor—it was kind of inevitable that the cat would come out of the bag.
Right. Just the nature of gossip in smaller places.
It’s funny with that Blosum story. They’re all insincere works… is that the case?
I guess so. They’re satirical works, I would say.
Do you think that those works were valued for their attempts to fake it?
Well, I think they were valued because nobody had any idea that they were, essentially, joke paintings. To me, it seems like whoever made the paintings wanted to mess with the establishment through an act of infiltration.
—And now, I think people are interested in the work and the idea of a fabricated identity because it relates to our relationship to the Internet and how we use Facebook or whatever to craft personas. There are so many artists who have careers based on playing pranks and that kind of thing. You know, Richard Prince’s joke paintings or Maurizio Cattelan hanging his entire Guggenheim show from the ceiling; I mean, there are so many examples. So, I think it’s an early example of that “pranking the art world as art” idea, which is very Dada.
Do you picture the Freddy character as the prankster then?
Yeah, I do.
When I got to grad school in 2006, I was so frustrated with this idea of the painter with a capital “P”—this person, alone in the studio, working on masterpieces with his or her big canvases and brushes. You know, like the romanticized idea of what it means to be painter.
So, I was fed up with this idea and I was trying to come up with different ways of staying committed to painting but, at the same time, I wanted to undermine it, critique or, to the best of my abilities, get out from underneath a purely narcissistic kind of practice.
I began to overproduce paintings as a form of defiance; Instead of focusing all my time on one large work, I would make like 60 or 70 or 80 small paintings and then I’d line them up in rows or grids like an assembly line. I was interested in a read of the work that would take into account this hyper-obsessive activity. All this led to an interest in doing my art blog, which, for me, was the antithesis of the lone painter in the studio.
Freddy was sort of a segue into finding a middle ground between this Internet activity and getting back into having an actual space, talking to people, and dealing with objects. I was hoping that my blog viewership would bleed over into the Freddy audience, which I think it did.
With Peter Eide being the first Baltimore based artist that you showed, did that show have a difference in the way it came together than the shows that had happened previously?
I was excited to show Peter’s work because he was the first Baltimore artist. I had seen Peter’s work on Facebook probably a year before Freddy opened and I remember thinking, “This stuff is nuts, I really like this.” And I sort of put it on a shelf in the back of my mind and just let it be. When I got down to Baltimore, Jordan and I were talking and I was like, “Who should I go visit?”
He said I should go check out Peter Eide—and when I looked at his work on his website, I said, “Oh, this is the guy! I love this stuff.“ Jordan said, “Oh, you met him last night at the opening!” and I was like, “Oh shit, really?”
So, I went to Peter’s studio which is in a small town (New Windsor)—it’s actually the town where Clyfford Still used to live and work at the end of his career. It’s outside of the city, maybe like 45 minutes, kind of in the middle of nowhere next to a corn field.
I was intrigued by the whole thing because it was just fun to “discover” an artist working in relative obscurity in an old house, you know. He’s painting in his living room; there’s no proper studio. It all seemed very authentic.
And I was excited because Peter had never had a solo show in Baltimore despite the fact that he went to school here. So that was cool—to introduce the work to the local audience and also to a bigger audience via the Internet.
In the way that you talk about your own work (pushing against the solo artist myth, the painter alone in the studio), does it feel funny to lock on so much to Peter’s work when it is so framed in that myth? Like the way you just described it: “In the Clyfford Still town!”
Yeah! Yeah, totally. Curating allows me to fully embrace certain parts of my thinking that I wouldn’t do otherwise. To fully embrace Peter’s “Painter’s Painter” thing is so gratifying to me. And on the flip side, to work with Kenneth Goldsmith, who doesn’t make objects, is also extremely gratifying. Because that’s another side of my interests.
Yeah, I think so. When I came down here, I knew that there were four or five shows that I wanted to present. I wanted to work with Kenny Goldsmith, the Ross Bleckner dick show, William Crawford, I knew I wanted to do the Albert Mertz show. There were some very specific things I wanted to present in this context, but that wasn’t to say that I wasn’t interested in showing people who lived here; it’s just that up until 16 months ago, I wasn’t living in Maryland and my access to the scene was extremely limited. I knew a couple people in the community like Jordan, Steven Riddle, Seth and Alex. I had a kind of peripheral interest in Baltimore for quite a while but, also, I was an outsider. I didn’t know people well. So my intentions were to get down here, get the ball rolling, get to know people, and see what would come out of that. But, when Freddy started getting all that criticism pretty quickly, I made a conscious decision to speed up that process.
One of the questions I wanted to ask was just to touch on the gallery backing stuff, since there was gossip about backing from James Fuentes. How did that play out? What was the story with it, etc.
Well, first of all, talking about money is always weird, but—
—I only bring it up because, when I look at the art scene in Baltimore, so much of it depends on, “Where’s the space?” We just talked about the request for proposals on howard street, and how if something like that went through for any project around here, because of Baltimore’s size, possibly the entire trajectory for what people in town are making is altered. So it’s funny to see the way that real estate and money actually affect our creative output. So I don’t know—
—It’s something I think about.
Yeah. In terms of the practical side of how the project came about, I had been following sophiajacob, specifically. They had invited me to participate in one of the lecture series events and I wasn’t able to do it, but I liked that they had reached out. I was following their program and I was posting their stuff on my blog. And at one point, near the end of their run, I was given an opportunity to co-curate a show in New York and I was interested in the possibility of including work by an artist from Baltimore. Which sort of goes back the fact that I’m from Maryland and I feel a connection to this city.
Also another part of it—I feel like, in New York, curators think they’re being adventurous if they show an artist who’s in NY, but didn’t go to Yale. Like if you don’t have an MFA from Yale, you’re a self-taught wacko or something. Like, “Whoa, you’re really thinking outside the box…” Anyway, I thought (and still think) that there’s talent in other pockets waiting to be discovered. And I thought (and still think) that Baltimore has a lot of creative energy. There are a lot of people making things that deserve attention.
So, I did a couple studio visits down here. I met with Jordan and Steven and talked with them a good bit about all these kinds of thoughts. I didn’t end up including a Baltimore artist in the New York show for various reasons but, during that visit Jordan mentioned that the sophiajacob project would be ending soon. I said, “Whoa, really? What’s happening with the space? What is the rent?” Jordan said, “The rent is $300 and it’s gonna be available.” This price would never be possible in New York and, honestly, I was shocked. I’d struggled with the high cost of living in New York since I moved there in 1999. I find it extremely stressful and, in many ways, the antithesis of making art. Money is like a virus there; it just infects everything.
So, I sort of just made the decision to make this Freddy idea happen no matter what. I’m struggling to pay my rent, I don’t even have a proper studio, but I have to seize this moment. So I called my gallery in New York and said, “Hey, this is what’s up, are you interested? Would you want to partner with me or help me fund this and I’ll pay you back?” And at first he said yes and then he said no. Then he said yes again and we made it happen.
And the amazing thing I’ve learned is that, even though there’s cheap rent, the cost of doing this project is actually really expensive, and there’s no way we would’ve survived without the auction I organized with Paddle8—Freddy would’ve ended like 8 months ago. It was never about making money and it didn’t make money, but when all’s said and done I will hopefully break even. It was really just something I wanted to do and I figured out a way to do it.
Cool, that’s good to understand a clear picture of that.
Well, I think there’s an assumption that New Yorkers are rich—how else could they afford to live there? “That gallery or that artist must be making lots of money because they are in New York.” And having lived in New York for a long time, having practiced art for 20 years, having worked with more than one commercial gallery for more than five years, I can tell you that most artists and galleries (even the ones that are very visible) are not putting away stacks of cash. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the art world.
If anything, I have this new level of respect for Lower East Side galleries that, you know, take risks. But even this last trip to New York, I noticed a lot of the spaces on the LES showing work that looked kind of safe, kind of salable, and what that signifies to me is exactly what I’m talking about. In order to stay afloat, these galleries are forced to show what the market wants. They do fluff shows so they can afford to stay in business. Then, hopefully, they can do a show with an artist who’s making more exciting, more interesting work who is maybe not so commercially viable.
How do you reflect on the project now that it’s done?
The project has been super refreshing in a lot of ways.
The fact that Freddy generated conversation, that it got a community of local artists (and maybe elsewhere) thinking and talking about these ideas is a good thing in my opinion. To be down here, to be part of a smaller scene, and also, sort of on a personal level, to see the tightness of the community has been inspiring. And it’s been great to be a part of it. Working with Jordan has been amazing, discovering June Culp’s work has been amazing. Peter, Stephen Booth—there’s so many interesting artists.
I have a young artist friend I was talking with the other day about how she’s so nervous about this show she has coming up in New York because, “if it bombs,” her career’s gonna be fucked and she’s not gonna be able to sell anything for the next five years and that kind of thing. And on one hand, there’s a side of me that’s like, “Ah God, don’t think like that. That’s horrible.” And then there’s another side of me that’s like, “God, you’re kind of right. It’s fucking very cut throat.” It’s a weird time to be a young artist, specifically in New York. I think it’s a bad time.
It’s very strange in New York—a particular artist might get some visibility in the scene and suddenly that person Has All These “New Friends.” It feels very disingenuous. In Baltimore, a lot of the artist friend groups and support seem to come from a more genuine place. And I have found that to be—I think that’s what I was looking for, that’s why I left. It’s kind of exceeded my expectations actually.
When you say, “Won’t be able to sell work for the next 5 years,” I think, “How can that not affect your output?”
Yeah. I think it’s crazy. I think it’s not a good place. I hate to sound like the Patti Smith lecture, like “Artists should leave New York! New York sucks!” but I feel very similarly to her. Have you ever watched that movie Downtown 81 with Jean-Michel Basquiat?
He goes down to the East Village and he goes to the Mudd Club and the LES looks raw and dangerous and fucked up. It was such a different scene and artists and musicians and creative minded people were all going there because it was fucking bombed out and it was cheap and there was an openness in terms of what was possible. It wasn’t about selling; no one imagined that they would be making money. Now, New York is just so sanitized; you can’t even walk down the street without seeing Citi Bikes everywhere. People could argue, “Well you know, that’s Manhattan but you still have the other four boroughs to explore.” But even that’s changing—I just read a big article in the Times about how Ridgewood, Queens (where I was living) is the new hip spot.
I sublet my apartment for a year and went back to move my things out when I decided I didn’t want to live there anymore and there was a new hip coffee shop right there on the corner next to my apartment. And it makes me depressed because there are generations of families that have lived in these neighborhoods that are gonna get pushed out. The rents are gonna go up and it’s just what it is.
PHILIP HINGE, BRAD PHILLIPS, AARON CARPENTER
There’s just something great about being down here where there’re still warehouses that artists live in and weird noise shows at someone’s house. And people are doing it because they wanna do it and they believe in it and they’re doing it for their friends. And that’s the kind of stuff that made me want to be an artist.
Right, but I think people see the Ceremony Coffee shop pop up in Baltimore and everyone’s like, “Shit.” I feel that everyone here is super, super sensitive to any changes in that direction, because they’re like, “Well, this is it. Here it comes.”
Yeah, and I think, speaking to that, I can understand why people were freaked out about Freddy at first. Like does a New York based artist doing a project in Baltimore signify that the underground scene in Baltimore is gonna get fucked up?
I think that is part of the aspect in the question about the money— about people getting backed, various ways of “Testing Market Waters,” and seeing the Ceremony Coffee pop up, because, to an extent, that gossip stuff is real. I mean, I have some friends that, when they moved into their house a few years ago, went to the lease signing and the landlord said something like, “By the way, you’re going to be paying $50 more per month.”
They’re like, “What? You spring this on us after we’ve already agreed and are signing the lease?” And he just pulls out a flyer and says, “If these guys in Mt. Vernon are charging this much for a one bedroom, why can’t I?” Everyone is working on the same amount of information, it’s a weird social space to be in.
I’m also curious on your thoughts regarding the music scene as it relates to the art scene—like, in the last 10 years or so, there have been a number of bands coming out of Baltimore who have received national and international attention—I’m thinking of Beach House, Dan Deacon, and more recently Future Islands (among others). But it seems like with music, maybe if you’re in a cool band in Baltimore that the world doesn’t know about yet—do you think that folks want to blow up? Do they want the world’s attention? And, likewise, do you think young artists want to be engaged in a larger, more global dialogue—showing nationally and/or internationally?
Well, I think picking up on the different sects in Baltimore is super important, like you were saying, because you could point to anyone and the answer would be different.
I guess I mean the scene you’re involved in.
Yeah. The importance of the cultural scene here for me has, to an extent, hinged on its autonomy, or its self sufficiency as a wildly dynamic space, as being able to function almost entirely without having to pull from other spaces or communities (like waiting for A Big Band to come to one of the more legit venues). The style has been that other communities would suck in Baltimore stuff, you know, pay $40 a ticket for a Baltimore act and then, here—
—Go to their house.
—Yeah, see them play a $5 whatever show. I mean especially with music, I would see so much of it get sucked into New York or other cultural centers. I feel like the questions that I bring up in [the art] conversation—it seems that because it’s all on the East coast, everything above a certain point has to pass through New York and below a certain point, Miami. But, compare it to the way things have progressed in Europe: maybe it is biennial culture that has made smaller cities there much more apt for being able to support their own art historical lineages.
When I graduated from college, I didn’t have a computer and the Internet was not developed like it is now. People were using AOL dial up to get online…
—Live journal just invented, right.
I remember there was just this tremendous push, like, if you want to be an artist, you gotta go to New York—otherwise you don’t fucking exist.
And, of course, there are always gonna be people that don’t buy into that, like “Fuck that, I’m gonna stay in Providence.” I was more interested in what New York might have to offer. Iwanted to see my work in a white cube. That, to me, was interesting. I’d only seen my shitty paintings in shitty rooms. So living in New York at that time, my knowledge of the art world was pretty much extremely New York centric. I didn’t know what was happening in Europe or Los Angeles or wherever else—I was in the dark.
In 2006, I met a guy who had been living in LA and he knew all these artists and galleries out there that I had never heard of and it was like somebody lifted up a curtain. In 2008, I moved to Berlin for a period of about nine months. That was an extremely stimulating situation because I was exposed to a whole other world of contemporary arts spaces, like in Germany and even doing a little bit of traveling and seeing interesting spaces in Prague and elsewhere. You know there were all these spaces in out of the way places in little nooks and crannies throughout Europe—that doesn’t really exist in America. If you want to see contemporary art, you basically go to the LES or Chelsea and you walk a couple of blocks and that’s where all the shit is. It’s like spoon feeding you the stuff.
So the point I’m trying to get at—I’m pretty sure it was 2008 when Contemporary Art Daily came on to the Internet scene and that was (and still is) highly influential. And one of the things that I like about it a lot is that it’s not New York centric. So I can visit that website pretty much any day of the week and see an artist I’ve never heard of in a gallery I’ve never heard of in a city I’ve never heard of. That’s amazing. I think that becoming more aware of various artists and galleries in many parts of the world helps keep it interesting.
I would think that it’s going to have an impact on… I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I think way before Freddy got here, I saw artists in Baltimore and other cities like Philadelphia extending their dialogue out to New York. Nudashank in particular, really generated a good amount of visibility for Baltimore and some of its artists. I was impressed to see Springsteen becoming a member of NADA—A small gallery in Baltimore, MD doing NADA with galleries from Zurich and Prague and the world—right on, I thought that was so cool.
So there was that desire (at least in a certain portion of the art scene here) in wanting to engage in a broader conversation. And that was also part of my thinking—I was like, “Cool, I want to be a part of that.” I was curious to see how a smaller community of artists would respond to the work I planned to exhibit.
But, it always comes back to money doesn’t it. People are afraid that rent’s gonna go up and you might have to move to a different neighborhood and, as a result of that, I think people are kind of fearful and opposed to what might come in from the outside. So I think it’s a really strange thing for you to have to navigate, for you guys, as young artists working here. How do you, if you want to engage with a bigger conversation, allow yourself to be open to that, but at the same time, to some extent, protect what you have.
There is that push and pull. Part of me is always urging against globalism because I have all these negative connotations with homogenized culture (which is the way of the world, I guess), but the aspect of seeing the way that Europe is able to have all these non-central centers that are just killing it—
—That they are able to exchange as equals, and that they are just [different] “cultures,” that is very interesting to me.
And maybe that is simply from the historical [and imperial/colonial] power of Western Europe from the past 500 years, where the art scenes had overbearing histories behind them because they were directly supported by a lot of money and resources. You know, patrons commissioning “This or that scenery of our estate and it’s beautiful and we’re painted into it and it shows how rich we are.” Maybe because there is art historical reference within their own cities, they might not have the same need for validation from another place.
There was an interview with the late Mike Kelley that I was watching recently, he was saying how American culture is vehemently anti-intellectual. Which I think is true. And having spent some time in Europe, it’s truly not the case over there.
I think that’s part of it, too.
Photos courtesy of Freddy Gallery. Freddy was a curatorial project that ran from June 2014 through September 2015 at 510 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
–Right, fixing the space for a little bit. I don’t know. Twelve? Fifteen? Including performances and, you know. [Actually 22 shows in 7-8 months -Ed. note]
[AMELIA, BUDDY, ELENA, AND STEVE]
Some months it’s two things, and some months it’s three things. Have you been to a bunch of them?
I haven’t been to even half. Or, maybe I’ve been to half. I’ve seen a good number, but not every one.
Do you have a strong intention that you’re working with when you’re going through each show, curating, finding artists, or do things just happen and then you work with them?
There’s a little bit of both. I mean, you try to work with your friends, you know? And work a little bit outside that realm, but mostly, it’s my friends. So in that way I kind of know what I’m getting personality wise, but I don’t know what I’m getting content wise, maybe. Things will show up and i’m like, “OK, where do we put that one?” But yeah, so I guess it’s a little bit of both.
Do you strictly draw from a pool of Baltimore artists? That seems to go hand in hand with working with your friends, I guess, but, has that stayed consistent in the project?
It isn’t a strict rule, but you’re right, most artists in the program are currently living in Baltimore. The most recent show with Nick Mayer is an exception, he’s from New York at the moment. He used to live in Baltimore though!
I think that going to those shows you can get the sense– I guess its funny because the crowd is always very similar and so it feels like there’s a community that revolves around it, but they’re always casual enough that it almost feels like a studio visit made formal–
Oh, OK, yeah.
–that is just a platform with which to have a community meeting around.
Yeah, so maybe you’ve picked up that it’s a little bit less rigid than our sophiajacob project right where it was like, “This is the opening, Saturday night, this time,” or whatever, and that’s awesome, but this was kind of like, “Loosen up a little bit.” Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on the– hopefully its not too cliquey or anything– but I do want it to be a positive space for people. Not too stand off-ish or something.
Yeah, I think it always has a sense of openness (rather than exclusiveness), but I guess something that goes along with that is– well I guess, first, do you promote any of those shows online?
There’s a mailing list and a website, so if you’re signed up to the mailing list (and anybody can sign up) then you get the emails, and if you check the website, I try to update every week, but I don’t do any social media.
Yeah. So, that’s like “the thing.”
It was actually the one thing that when you asked me about this interview that I was like– because Post-Office is like a Tumblr format, right?
And I was like, it’s a social media thing.
But you’re my friend and I thought it would be a fun conversation.
Do you use social media in your personal life or does that come from a specific view towards social media in the arts? Or is it just not something you’re interested in?
Not in my personal life.
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The way I was leading into that, I was thinking that those shows are probably some of the most well promoted shows, physically, in a way. I mean you always have the screen printing set up very– like, there’s never a show that goes non-promoted physically, and it’s probably the most substantial flyering around baltimore [at this point].
Oh, cool. Yeah, I’m trying to do that. I mean, “posters” has been my thing for a while, you know with the sophiajacob lectures. It took a couple shows to figure out that format, and once I figured it out, I was like “Okay.” I mean it’s a fun way to keep my hand in the art work.
And it is nice to have something so consistent, I mean I was trying to figure out– “Jordan must spend a lot of time–”
–-Not that they’re super involved; Obviously, it’s a simple and meditative task.
Yeah, like the color stencil, that’s always there. And it’s just mixing, finding the right color to go with the show.
That’s nice. I guess going from that, it is funny to me that the crowd does feel consistent, or that something does feel communal, that the same people keep coming back even though it does have a strong promotional thing.
It’s like, on paper, “Well, he hit this many intersections…” and then its still the same people coming out. Maybe it’s the graphic design or something, maybe there’s a [visual] language in the public sphere that has a certain graphic design that lends itself to certain audiences.
It could be. I mean I try to make it open–I put my phone number on them, there’s the website, the email– I do try to make it as open as possible, but you’re right, we still have this consistent base that shows up at every show. I would like to, of course, if anybody’s curious, it would be cool to have them come out. Or send an email for an appointment.
What I’m saying is, I hope the design isn’t too stand-offish or something.
Yeah. I mean it’s hard to know, I feel like I go to the shows and that I’m welcome, so I don’t know if someone who was not an artist or something would just be like, “Times New Roman?” “There’s no flash?” or, you know? You look like at “On Purpose: Women” [pointing to a magazine stand across the room] and it has to go through a certain number of hoops to fit into that demographic of graphic design. I dunno, we don’t need to harp on this for too long, it’s just something I’m curious about: how these languages get set up and how you might determine–and this is going separate at this point, but–how stores can kind of choose their demographic by choosing graphic design. So, you can tell when a store is going to be a “Hipster Cafe” or something, because they do the circular, very clean, nostalgic looking font vs. 99¢ SALE ALL ITEMS READY TO GO etc. etc.
[Jordan later explained that his particular design is actually lifted from a Netherlandish Beach Boys album release]
Working as a curator who has played the curatorial role pretty extensively at this point–
–For a couple years.
–For a few years, you know, but, pretty actively.
That’s good to– yeah, haha, hopefully.
I don’t know if you designate a specific painting practice or if you hold an all encompassing practice (or if you feel like there’s any overlap), but – the basic question being, do you feel like [your painting and curatorial practices are] separate, and if they affect each other in a certain way?
They definitely affect each other, especially time-wise. There are definitely times when you don’t have any time to get into the studio. So, there’s that effect, of course. But I do try to incorporate them. Maybe the collaborative paintings might be the best analogy in a visual art or a painting way, because the collaborations between Caitlin or Steve or John Bohl–that’s how I see putting together the shows at Franklin Street, you just collaborate with somebody. Whether it is the poster or the actual design of the show. As much designed as they can be. Hopefully they work together, I mean, there’s times when I don’t see them fit as well as they could, but I don’t know. So maybe it’s for other people to decide, I don’t know. But, I do try to maintain a consistent studio thing going on.
* * * *
How do you feel like Baltimore as a community, or a space, lends to your practice, if that’s a driving force?
It’s hard, because I don’t know what it’s like to work in other cities that much. I know Portland because I lived there for a little bit, but then I moved back here because of the availability of space. And yeah I do like the community. It is good.
It is good.
I mean nothing’s perfect. Haha. But like the landscape for artists in the past 10 years has – it’s so much better.
Definitely. When I think about the projects that were going on when I was in undergrad, that was like– it was cool, there was excitement. But now it’s opened up for people a lot, and I think it’s just way better now.
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about Baltimore a lot recently, trying to figure out which thoughts are valid, which ones are naïve because i’m young and trying to be idealistic, and which ones are because I just don’t have enough information since I’ve only been here for five years. But one of the things, to hear you say that it’s way better now than it was, is super interesting because I’m frequently thinking similar things.
* * * *
As far as working here– I mean its the same thing as everyone says. You have a warehouse with space, you know, it’s not that expensive. But really it’s like: my friends live here. That’s the way it is.
Build a community, then you know it.
I think every city has its spot, not because there are warehouses but because that’s where your friends live. I would like to think that that is the reason why.
I grew up outside of Cleveland, OH, and I was there until I was 15–my family moved to New Jersey after so I was there during high school–and then came here, but I was immediately drawing connections between Cleveland and Baltimore just because what the ports [and mills] were for Baltimore, steel was for Cleveland. And being in such a similar position, growing up and reading news articles talking about the decreasing city populations, and now beginning to hear Cleveland listed along with Baltimore and Detroit and other rising –
“Up and coming,” you know–
–Yeah, cities. And they’re so quick to make those claims in the papers… Prospecting, I guess?
In a direct kind of code language for developers that is like, “Now’s the time to start thinking about real estate!”
And that’s why I say there’s good and bad. I feel like at the H&H, every couple months you hear word about development plans and it’s definitely– I don’t know if scary is the right word, but it’s definitely uncomfortable to hear that stuff. And anytime things change, it makes you feel a little uncomfortable. And that’s just the way it is.
* * * *
Oh yeah, I have to get this–
Franklin street is not really a gallery in some ways as much as like– the way things move along, I don’t want people, at least the people that go to the shows, to have that idea that, “This is a gallery, and this is the way the lighting is and it’s up for this long and it’s on this cycle that’s predetermined.” Or something. Hopefully the project (and it will end at the end of April) will help break that down a little bit. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t make any difference. Maybe people see them as like really straightforward shows.