Public art is essential, especially when art displayed in galleries can often feel inaccessible and uninviting. It exists in a symbiotic relationship between the artist, the environment in which it is displayed, and the audience: those individuals who walk by and interact with the work.
Current Space, a gallery, studio, and performance space, partnered with Market Center Community Development to help facilitate a series of three public art installations. Organizers commissioned Baltimore-based artists to create works of art on kiosks, two sided structures that usually display maps or information. These pieces add vibrancy and beauty to the 300 and 400 blocks of North Howard Street.
Current Space selected the boxes closest to their gallery on North Howard Street, helped choose the artists (some of whom have studios at Current Space), and organized the printing and installation.
The kiosk on the intersection of Saratoga Street and North Howard Street features works by Takia Ross and Bryan Robinson. Ross’ “Concrete Beauty” features a photograph of a Black woman with an afro studded with roses. The bottom of the image features a mass of vibrant crimson roses that match the lipstick on the woman’s lips. Ross is a makeup artist and her work reflects her idea that makeup artistry is art; the artists’ application of makeup is as technical and as masterful as a painter using oil paint on a canvas. Ross applied the makeup to the model that is the centerpiece of the work, and then shot the photograph herself.
On the other side of the display is Bryan Robinson’s “Crooked Smiles.” Robinson is an artist and the owner of Black Genius Art Space, a hybrid art gallery and retail space. His piece “Crooked Smiles” is an allusion to the song by rapper J. Cole. The figure’s hair, eyes, nose, and top row of teeth are visible. Some of the teeth are painted by Robinson, while some are made from pre-existing pipes that jut up from the sidewalk. The figure’s furrowed brow and expression are humorous and add a sense of levity to the block.
The kiosk at the Mulberry Street and North Howard Street intersection features works by multidisciplinary artists SHAN Wallace and You Wu. SHAN Wallace’s “Twin Sisters Rehearse In Grandma’s Living Room” features subjects from a pre-existing photo taken by Wallace of ballerinas on North Avenue. The dancers face the viewer directly; both have collaged visages, braids, and playful expressions as they rehearse against a background composed of vintage fabrics and hues. You Wu’s “Other Worldly” is a painted portal between Howard Street and the cosmos. Wu has created a network in vibrant hues of blue, green, red, and pink. The artist has embedded symbols, including flowers, UFOs, house plants, and chairs. The focal point of the work is a painted asymmetrical crimson heart outline. It is held together by two hands extending from outside the artwork. Wu’s world of hidden Easter eggs and meaning is playful, and the vibrant, nearly neon color palette contrasts Wallace’s work’s more muted tones.
The final display, on the intersection of Franklin Street and Howard Street, features two individual works by the collaborative duo Wickerham & Lomax (full disclosure: this writer has partnered with Wickerham & Lomax to create events in Baltimore). The new media artists have been working together for over 10 years. In “Truth Hurts 2004,” an object is suspended from a metal chain and string of pearls. The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to tags featuring the names Toni and Malcolm. The work serves as an engagement announcement for the artist and his partner. On the back of the display is “Caught Up 2004,” which features an invisible figure’s arm carrying a purse in the shape of a baby. The figure’s arm reaches out from a blue sleeve; the flesh is an amalgamation of patterns and textures, and she wears a neon bracelet and giant rings. The works reference mimicry and represent the possibilities of human beings in relation and proximity to one another.
Current Space got its start on Calvert Street in 2004 in a vacant city building that was slated for demolition. The gallery moved to what would eventually become its permanent location on Howard Street in 2010. In 2019, with the help of colleagues and BARCO (Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation, a nonprofit real estate company focused on creating working spaces for artists and creatives), co-directors Michael Michael Benevento and Julianne Hamilton bought the building. And, last year, they obtained a liquor license that allowed them to add additional revenue and subsidize their operations. About 20 artists utilize the building’s studios, gallery, and screen printing facilities.
Hamilton and Beneveto say artists help make Baltimore special.
“There’s a lot of artists here… It seems more communal and collaborative.” said Benevento.
“I feel like the arts are Baltimore’s greatest assets in general. That’s one of the things that is really distinctive here,” Hamilton said. “We do have a really strong creative community, and there are a lot of people making things. Making art, making music.”