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Art

Creative Differences

Visual-art winners stand out in Baker Artist Awards exhibition

Photo: Mitro Hood, License: N/A

Mitro Hood

Gary Kachadourian's "Interior/Exterior"


Baker artist awards 2011 winners

At the Baltimore Museum of art through Oct. 2

For more information, visit artbma.org.

Art exhibitions highlighting the winners of a cash award are often anticlimactic: The checks are already cut, the works on view are usually those the artists applied with and previously exhibited, the mystery and suspense are long over. While awards like the local Sondheim Prize and Pennsylvania’s West Prize keep the tension mounting by exhibiting finalists and awarding the top prizes based on these exhibits, the winners of the Baker Artist Awards are announced simultaneously on Maryland Public Television and at the Windup Space months before the corresponding show is installed. The awards employ a free, user-friendly application process that is open only to residents of the Baltimore region. With a blind jury process and a heavy dose of cheese—winners receive “B” statuettes, like a local art Emmy, along with their prize money and there’s previously been a “Baltimore’s Choice” prize based on popular votes—the award has been met with mixed feelings by the art community. The chosen winners, however, covering a wide range of media (visual, musical, and otherwise), have helped to keep the prize credible.

This year, the award has been restructured, eliminating the vote-based awards in favor of 18 “b-grant” winners, along with the three top prizes. The b-grant awards will recognize emerging artists annually, with $1,000 awards for each. This year, these awards were distributed to preselected artists of mass appeal, in an attempt to bounce back from the original vote-based format and keep artists interested. Five visual artists, a ceramist, performers, dancers, and writers were selected, each of whom is represented in some fashion at the Baltimore Museum of Art Baker Artist Awards 2011 exhibit, along with top Mary Sawyers Baker Prize winners Gary Kachadourian, Audrey Chen, and Shodekeh Talifero.

The museum exhibition—kudos, by the way, to the BMA for partnering with the awards and extending the opportunity to a larger cross-section of the artist community to take part in an exhibition—is really the visual artists’ forte, as it affords them the space, time, and encouragement to make new, site-specific works. For instance, Kachadourian’s engrossing installation “Interior/Exterior” transforms the museum into another space and time. His scale pencil drawings of objects and patterns from life (dumpsters, repeated sections of chain-link fence, cement block, grass, couches, etc.) are set into a seamless environment. Photocopied enlargements of the drawings are mounted on masonite and finished with a coating of polyurethane, allowing viewers to walk through and even on the artwork without damaging it. The effect is like walking through a black-and-white photo album, spatial proximity flattened and softened. The expert rendering of dated wood paneling, a drop ceiling, couches, and the views out a pencil-drawn window give the room a hyper-realistic dimension, and the softness of the enlarged pencil lines lends a personal, poignant quality to the otherwise ordinary objects, offering the rare feeling of seeing the world through someone else’s memory. A bathroom, complete with tub, toilet, and medicine cabinet, is lit by a single florescent bulb. This space is enclosed, except for the doorless doorway, and is the only interior space with a completed architectural design. Throughout the rest of the installation, outdoor textures and spaces meet unrendered exterior walls, memory and emotion blurring reality into a space that is at once real and clipped.

Talifero and Chen, both musicians and experimental performers, have only videos to represent their work. Single prerecorded performances, each about eight and a half minutes in length, play on facing flat-screened televisions. Chen’s piece is a video of an untitled performance piece originally presented in Poland. The artist plucks a cello over electronic frequencies, leaning into a microphone with harmonic, guttural groans. Talifero’s video, recorded at Towson University with its dance department, is called “Synthesis” and documents a collaboration between the beatboxer and a group of dancers. These performances can also be viewed in full on the two artists’ Baker nomination pages.

For the b-grant winners, whose work is exhibited together in the rear two galleries, the visual artists again make up the most compelling aspects of the exhibition. The nonvisual artists are only present in a grid of wall plaques, each with a portrait, biography, and smart-phone tag that leads to an online portfolio. Andrew Liang, Shaun Flynn, Hermonie Only and collaborators Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen—of Post Typography fame and occasional City Paper contributors—each created a new piece for the exhibition, while ceramist Jim Dugan and photographer Lynne Parks show multiple pre-existing works.

Flynn’s large wood and felt hedron form “All the Feeling Inside” is mischievously precarious, apparently held together at its massive seams by colored zip ties. The soccer ball shape and pool-table green interior suggest a stationary sports object. In the same room, Liang’s new painting “Yoga at the Zoo” blends whimsical illustration and step-by-step yoga pose instruction. Only’s piece is a patterned wall painting in gray scale, with three starkly contrasting yellow triangular plinths leaning against the lower center of the wall. Willen and Strals present a large wall piece in the form of flower-printed wallpaper.

Through this show, the BMA and the Baker Awards have not only given recognition to a larger field of local talent, but have inspired new, museum-quality works from those visual artists who received awards. Perhaps next year additional nonprofit organizations will join forces with the Baker and the BMA to provide more appropriate venues for the nonvisual winners.

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