Whether you're a budding collector or merely in need of a conversation piece for your living room wall, there is good news, and there is bad news about Baltimore's fine-art-buying scene. The bad news is that economic forces have conspired to do in many of the old-school galleries that once so masterfully melded the showcasing and selling of art. The good news? A few still remain, and a host of smaller galleries have cropped up to fill the gap and connect consumers with works that range from the traditional to the avante-garde (and everything in between). In honor of our "Fall Arts Preview," we've compiled a list of our favorites, from the strictly commercial to the ardently artsy.
Jordan Faye Contemporary
When she was brainstorming marketing ideas for an art exhibit in 2007, Jordan Faye Block came up with the perfect tagline for her gallery: "Your Collection Begins Here." And, if you're in the market for affordable works—primarily paintings, sculptures, and photographs—from artists whose careers are newly launched, it may well be true.
A Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, Block sells works, including her own, from early- to mid-career artists ranging in price from about $1,200 to upwards of $5,000. (Each December, she hosts a "small wonders" show, which offers fine art with lower price tags.)
Block, now in her tenth year as a gallerist, moved two years ago into her current gallery space, a graceful 125-year-old former public library building in Federal Hill. She features 20 or so artists and describes their style as "sophisticated and edgy, very fresh and unique." While some of her artists have landed museum shows already—Lori Larusso, Janee Mateer, and David Page among them—most are still emerging. But Block is confident they're well on their way to success. "My artists are going to be in a museum some day," she says.
1401 Light St., 443-955-1547, jordanfayecontemporary.com
It would be easy to overlook Goya Contemporary's location—tucked away in Remington's slightly off-the-beaten-path Mill Centre. Not so its reputation, which has launched the highly regarded gallery onto the international scene. Founded by Martha Macks as Goya-Girl Press in 1996, the gallery has moved away from its original print atelier business and embraced its larger goal of promoting "the art and culture of our time," says Amy Raehse, Goya's executive director and curator.
Its exhibitions and scholarly programming play a large part in its vision of promoting the arts, but Goya Contemporary also regularly connects art lovers with contemporary and modern works from mid-career and established artists. Prices range from mere hundreds of dollars to more than $500,000.
Inside its sleek gallery—renovated in 2003 with the help of architects at Ziger/Snead—Goya features artists that specialize in everything from paintings to sculpture, video and installation art. It also hosts about five exhibitions a year—last year's featured artists were Liliana Porter, Christian Marclay, Sanford Biggers, and Joyce Scott, among others, and it takes part in art fairs worldwide as well.
"We're happy to work with clients at any level of collection," says Raehse. For casual buyers, "we make certain they expand their knowledge and appreciation along the way," she says. "Those clients tend to want to learn something, not just buy something."
3000 Chestnut Ave., Studio 214, 410-366-2001, goyacontemporary.com
Renaissance Fine Arts
You might not expect to find world-class works of art in a suburban commercial stripmall, but step inside Renaissance Fine Arts' master works gallery, and you'll be rewarded with original gems by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, and others.
The business, started 28 years ago by Joanie Young, is now run by her daughters, Merritt Miller and Rachel Rubin. It is a decidedly commercial enterprise—you'll rarely find exhibitions or openings here—but over the years it has become the go-to gallery for everyone from interior designers and architects to private and institutional collectors in search of original works by local, nationally known, and international artists. In addition to those master works, for example, Renaissance sells works by established locals Alice Pritchard, Vitali Miagkov, and Eric Albrecht and nationally known artists like Marshall Noice and Charles Dwyer. Styles range from traditional to contemporary.
And while higher-end works can go for more, the bulk of what's sold here ranges from $5,000 to $15,000, says Miller. All of the works are owned by Renaissance, rather than sold on consignment. "I believe in the artist that I'm supporting so I think that says something to the client," says Miller. In addition to what's on the walls, Renaissance also has a large inventory of works not shown.
And if it doesn't have what you're looking for? "If don't have it, I can look for it," says Miller, who offers free in-home consultations for would-be buyers.
1848 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, 410-484-8900, renaissancefinearts.com
Crystal Moll Gallery
At the Crystal Moll's gallery, the entrance on one real-life street—Charles—leads to dozens of other painted ones. On the walls, delicately rendered street scenes—mostly from Baltimore—come to life. Some are the oil paintings and prints of Moll, who, for 23 years, has been painting en plein air and favors urban landscapes. Others come from the plein air artists Moll represents, some of whom paint outside the city.
Moll, a full-time artist, opened the gallery in December 2009. "The space became available, so I just decided to take advantage of it and try it for a bit," she says. A short-term agreement with her landlord was followed by a second short-term lease and then a year-long agreement. Business has been good, and Moll has recently signed a longer-term lease.
Works range from prints under $100 to paintings that fetch $9,000. And while many of Moll's buyers are homeowners coming in "for a specific piece to fill a space," more "just come in and find something they really like and go home and find a space for it," she says.
1030 S. Charles St., 410-952-2843, crystalmollgallery.com
C. Grimaldis Gallery
If there's one name that consistently comes up when Baltimoreans talk about buying art, it's the C. Grimaldis Gallery, a Baltimore mainstay since 1977. Founded by veteran dealer Constantine Grimaldis, the gallery, which may be the last of Baltimore's traditional commercial art galleries, specializes in post-World War II American and European art, with an emphasis on contemporary sculpture.
And while Grimaldis made a name for himself by bringing big names to his gallery—Alice Neel, John Waters, Grace Hartigan, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, and Anthony Caro among them—he also features local rising stars. One example: MICA grad Chul-Hyun Ahn, an artist whose exploration of light and illusion has turned an early start with Grimaldis into an international run.
Featured artists also get a boost from the gallery's increased presence at art fairs around the country, "as a way to find new clients and put our artists into international collections," says gallery manager MacKenzie Peck.
If you're visiting and you don't see something you like, don't panic. The gallery, housed in a long and narrow Mt. Vernon row house, has limited space and uses storage space elsewhere. (Some of Grimaldis's featured artists create large works that are more likely to find a home in front of a public building rather than, say, in your foyer.) Grimaldis also hosts regular exhibitions—they usually run for six weeks—and artist talks, both of which can be a boon for anyone who enjoys exploring art as much as buying it. If you need your hand held a little, the gallery offers consultations and even studio visits aimed at finding a work that fits your needs—and budget—even if you're not quite sure what you're looking for. Or, as is the case with all the galleries we found, you can just browse. (Grimaldi refers to your kind as "tire-kickers.")
523 N. Charles St., 410-539-1080, cgrimaldisgallery.com
Steven Scott Gallery
In business since 1988, over the years, gallerist Steven Scott has ventured from his former digs on North Charles Street to Owings Mills and then, in 2009, to the bright and airy former visitor's center in Fells Point.
Scott represents 20 artists from around the country, specializing in landscapes, still lifes, and portraiture, including Annie Leibovitz prints. Some are well-established and "mostly everything is figurative," says Scott. But while you won't find much in the way of abstraction here, you will find "expressively brushed paintings, what I call 'painterly realism,'" rather than pure photorealism, he says.
Web sales—and the works of artists who've developed an international reputation—have helped Scott expand his reach far outside of Baltimore, but he also has a steady flow of regional and local clients who arrive looking to add to their collections, plus the occasional tourist who wanders in. What they find is a pleasantly cluttered arrangement of works priced from $500 to $50,000, plus access to additional works as well.
Scott typically curates four shows a year but he's also known to bring works to clients' homes and offices. "I'm not just trying to make the sale," notes the affable Scott. "I'm trying to make the collector happy."
808 S. Ann St., 410-902-9300, stevenscottgallery.com
If you've never actually shelled out money for fine art, and you find the typical gallery setting a tad intimidating, you may feel a little more comfortable at Galerie Myrtis, a contemporary fine-art gallery representing 13 emerging to mid-career local, national, and international artists.
The gallery, run by Myrtis Bedolla, relocated in 2006 from Washington, D.C., to a smartly rehabbed Charles Village row house. Bedolla aims not just to sell art but also to encourage the notion of art buying among the general public.
"We really noticed that even with MICA pumping out all these talented artists, there's still a lack of information among the public about the cultural benefits of buying art," she says. This fall she's launching a Tea with Myrtis educational series, which she hopes will gently encourage neophytes to consider collecting art. "I have a vested interest in trying to encourage them to understand why it's important," admits Bedolla, who instead of holding court plans to bring in artists, art historians, and appraisers to share their perspectives. The message they'll try to convey: "That art is an appreciative asset," says Bedolla. "It has value—cultural, aesthetic, and monetary value."
2224 N. Charles St., 410-235-3711, galeriemyrtis.net
The daughter of a Midwestern farmer and an artist, Annapolis gallerist Cynthia McBride opened her first gallery in Massachusetts as a bold 25-year-old looking for an alternative to the corporate lifestyle. "When you're 25, you think you can do anything," laughs McBride, 39 years and three galleries later. Actually, in this case, she was right. McBride had soon sold the New England gallery and moved to Pennsylvania and then Annapolis, starting and selling two more art businesses along the way. (One was Annapolis's Marine Art Gallery, still one of the places to go for water-themed art.) In 1980, she opened McBride Gallery, a classic representational gallery that fills seven rooms of a Colonial-era Annapolis row home with styles ranging from Dutch Old Master to American Impressionist.
Today, McBride features 65 painters, plus a handful of sculptors and ceramic artists, with works typically starting around $350. Many are well-established—you'll find nationally known names here like sculptor Sandy Scott, and painters Michael Godfrey and Matthew Hillier, plus local stars like John Ebersberger and Linda Roberts. But McBride, who puts on eight major shows a year, also brings in up-and-comers.
For clients in need of framing or a little help selecting a piece, McBride can oblige. She often brings works to clients' homes to see what works well for a given space. "The funny thing is sometimes I'll grab one piece at the very last minute and think, 'This isn't exactly what they asked for, but I think they might like it, and that's the one they love,'" says McBride. "Art is fun. It can surprise you sometimes."
215 Main St., Annapolis, 410-267-7077, mcbridegallery.com
When gallery owner Robert Antreasian hosted his "Best In Show" exhibition in February 2011, he invited 35 artists, whose 50 or so canine-inspired portraits and sculpture ranged from the expressive to the realistic. The show drew an impressive crowd of artists, family and friends and dog lovers alike.
And unlike the typical solo exhibition, "it turned into a big social party," Antreasian recalls. Of course, most of his shows don't revolve around subjects with four legs, and on most days, dog-themed art isn't on hand. Instead, inside Antreasian's gallery on The Avenue in Hampden you'll find an eclectic mix of original works from his regular stable of 10 to 15 artists. Art here ranges from abstract to realism to figurative works selling for $500 to $4,000; almost all are paintings.
That Antreasian is in a position to curate and sell art at all is somewhat unlikely. An accountant for more than 20 years, he had always yearned to indulge his artistic leanings, and finally jumped at the chance to buy out an existing gallery in 2005.
Among his local artists are David Cunningham, Ruth Channing, and Suzan Awalt Rouse. Clients tend to be locals and while Antreasian has regulars, he also has a steady stream of one-time buyers who walk in on a whim and walk out with a work of art. "All the works here are individually expressive and they appeal to people on an emotional level," he explains. "You see a picture and you just really like that picture. It's hard to describe why it touches you."
1111 W. 36th St., 410-235-4420, antreasiangallery.com