Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Young & So Fresh

Visit with Alex Ebstein at Nudashank Gallery
interviewed by Rachel Sitkin

Alex is a curator, arts writer, and artist in Baltimore. She writes for the City Paper and contributes to Gutter Magazine, as well as writing her own blog, There Were Ten Tigers. She and Seth Adelsberger recently began Nudashank Gallery, a new curatorial project on the 3rd floor of the H & H building.

Their second exhibition, Picture Plane, will open at Nudashank on Friday, May 15th 7-9pm

RS: Where did you go to school?

AE: Goucher. I started as a photographer but by the end I was focusing on sculpture and drawing, and so my senior show only had two photographs in it, and they were shots from installation work and a collaborative work I’d done with my friend Andrew Williams.

RS: So I know you do a lot of writing. Is it just for the City Paper?

AE: I’m also doing some writing for Gutter Magazine. I’ve been the fashion editor and I’m taking over as arts editor for a little while.

RS: How did you begin writing for the City Paper?

AE: It started because I helped with their 2008 year end issue and then I ran into Brett (McCabe) at Paperwork Gallery and he asked me if I was interested in writing longer reviews.

RS: How does that work? Do you write about what you want or do they give you assignments?

AE: So I suggested the first couple of articles. And now I kind of work it out with Brett. It’s a mix of what I’m interested in, what I know about and what needs to be covered.

RS: You are kind of filling three roles right now, critic, curator and artist. In terms of aspirations, do you feel like there are one or two that you want to pursue more actively?

AE: I’m feeling invigorated by this project (Nudashank), the curating aspect, continuing to look at what’s new. Which sort of ties into writing because I’m looking at as much art as I can, thinking about work for my own shows. So I form opinions about the way things are presented, the way things are curated. Those two things sort of go hand in hand, but ideally all three will even out.

A lot of my roles I’ve sort of fallen into. With curating, I did the Current show exactly a year after I’d started my blog and so I’d been looking at stuff all over locally and I knew what I wanted to see more of. I pulled together a show that represented what I didn’t see a lot of in Baltimore. After that, I felt it was something I really wanted to keep pursuing; it was a really good fit for me. And out of that experience came Nudashank.  I  wanted to see a fresher gallery space in Baltimore, with a hipper sensibility, a focus on young artists, a venue that is easier for artists just out of school to approach.

It’s a good thing to have a space that focuses on young artists that are really in tune with what’s going on in other cities and sort of breaks with the Baltimore old regime.

RS: It seemed like there was a really great turnout for the first show. Did you get any specific feedback that you think will influence future plans for the gallery?

AE: The turnout was amazing! And I think people were really looking for a new and young space. We got a mention in the Washington Post and on Fecal Face, and we didn’t really even have to try, they found us. I think because we are connecting the Baltimore scene with bigger city contemporary trends in art and trying to keep it as current and relevant as possible (while still true to a Baltimore aesthetic). People really really responded to the work and the space.

RS: Since you have been all over this past year what are some of the better shows that you’ve seen. And what are the criteria for you right now for what you think is “standout” work?

AE: Can I answer that in a round about way? After going to the art fairs in Miami and being exposed to everything all at once, it was sort of obvious what stood out to me as being interesting and new. The west coast illustration aesthetic is something that I personally gravitate towards.  And for the business aspect of running a gallery, it was interesting to see what was commercially viable.

RS: Are there specific artists that you just Love, Love Love?

AE: Well, having been exposed to a lot more painting, people like
Kim Dorland and Allison Schulnik really stand out. They are these really thick goopy painters, impasto painters that are both illustrative but really expressive at the same time. I really like people who really have developed a style and aesthetic all their own- work that is really fresh and interesting.  Paintings, sculpture, illustration that has a voice of its own.  Like Xavier Schiapani’s creates these intense isolated vignettes, this kind of creepy really tense world.  It’s complete and speaks for itself. 

A lot of work in the first show was very illustrative and narrative and that’s my own aesthetic preference, similar to the show, Stories From the Woods, which I curated at Current gallery. That’s the way I lean, work that is a look into a fully imagined and realized space.  In our new show, Picture Plane, I am really drawn to Morgan Blaire’s piece. She has this entire world and story going on without any figures, without any specifics. 

RS: And from a curatorial perspective, are there certain exhibitions or group shows that you thought were really well put together?

AE:  I was really into Agenda, Jamillah James's show.  Her show looked at new media and queer media- the way people interact and react to it, make art through it and about it.  It was a show that came back around full circle in every way.  The artists that she chose work in a variety of media, but the majority of the included work was video.  So seeing someone who has such a strong vision and stays true to their own interests while still making it accessible for everyone was really great.  There was sculpture, drawings, interactive work, she had additional screenings- the exhibition filled every inch of the gallery, but wasn't overcrowded.  The whole show was very tongue-in-cheek; there was a humor throughout the whole thing that was coupled with this overall seriousness that rang really true for the subject matter.  It was in your face.  That was definitely one of the most memorable group shows from the past year.

I think curation has become a little loose in Baltimore.  It’s sort of like “Here’s this one idea, and I had this one artist in mind, who’s my friend, and I’ve just thrown a bunch of other stuff at it that vaguely fits,” as opposed to going through and deciding on a good theme and bringing together something that has a full message

RS: Ok. I know that a lot of young artists, they end-up staying in Baltimore after school, not necessarily at first because its what they want but because it’s so affordable and so easy to pursue the things they want to pursue. But now that you’ve been out of school for a couple years and you’re setting up projects here, do you feel like you are forming some sort of commitment to Baltimore? Do you have a goal for what you want to cultivate in Baltimore or is it more of a personal goal and you may end up moving to New York or San Francisco or LA to pursue those things?

AE:  They are goals for myself but they’re rooted in Baltimore.  I have friends in the art scene here and I think there are a lot of amazing things going on here.  We have awesome opportunities, and a really sympathetic press.  But I think if Baltimore artists had some exposure in other cities the scene could really take off.  I’d like to see Baltimore scene receive some national attention for art instead of just Dan Deacon. 

RS: If you were me, whom would you interview next?

AE:  Mark Brown!  He collaborates a lot with musicians making video pieces that he projects with live sets.  He bridges the gap between the music and arts scenes in a lot of interesting ways. He and Kari Altmann also co-coordinated an online curitorial project, “Netmares/Netdreams”.

You know, Jamillah and Mark have given me my first real exposure to new media and there is so much going on. I think it’s an expanding section of the art world, I’m curious to see where it goes.

RS: Do you have any plans to do a new media show at Nudashank?

AE: Yeah!!! It’s gonna be all video and digital work. We don’t have a date yet but it’ll be sometime in the next year. I’m not gonna give out the title cause it’s so cool somebody might steal it!

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