Last Friday, June 1st, much of Baltimore was holed up in apartments, ordering take out and watching the huge thunderstorm from their windows. Some of the city, however, braved the storm to see Icon, a three day multimedia art event at a new gallery space at 218 W Saratoga Street (formerly the Maryland Art Place).
The show, which was kicked off on that fateful Friday evening, showcased the work of all sorts of artists from around the city. Painters met with graffiti artists (like Toven). Musicians (like Voodoo Pharmacology) met with performance artists (like the Stillpoint Theatre Collective) and filmmakers (like Chelsea Harman). The crowd gathered for dancers’ unconventional steps, but also for the bass-heavy beats of DJ Lemz and DJ Oskar. And everyone had such a good time that the event has been extended for two extra weeks.
Eduardo Rodriguez, previous owner of Gallery 788 on Washington Avenue in Pigtown and long time Baltimore arts organizer, had a large part in arranging the event and also in enjoying the show. He feels that each of the 30-something artists involved had something to contribute, and is glad to see continued support of “art itself—just people who either support artists or are artists or want to be a part of something that’s great. Just to really promote what’s happening and come up after every show and say, ‘we’ll help you out,’ does a lot,” and that’s exactly the kind of support that Icon garnered.
Eduardo spoke to the hard-to-ignore emergence of this art scene, fondly reminiscing of the genesis of this “huge extended family of artists” with the late Gallery 788 and other spaces. He saw artists from “Annapolis, Towson, Federal Hill, Mount Vernon, all over” come together for multimedia. Many of those took place at the late Gallery 788, which hosted rather conventional art shows, unabashed dance parties, and many events that fell in the gray in-between area.
Eduardo has also partnered with Artomatic, a mixed-media art show in the Washington DC area that was held in abandoned office buildings in Springtime from 1999 to 2009 and declared its resurrection this past May. Expansion of this multimedia movement with Icon has only engendered further support, because “there are always more new artists interested” in organizing, collaborating, and participating.
This large-scale participation is due in part to the hype caused by the Maryland Arts Place, who have always made it their business to support arts events and start a buzz. It’s also due in part to the undeniable party appeal of the show—the three floors held seven bands and two DJs, and as featured street artist Toven noted, “the cold beer didn’t hurt either.” Filmmaker Chelsea Harman, who showed her film “insomnia,” also mentioned that “space in itself was fantastic, with high ceilings and wood floors.” The true soul of Icon Baltimore, however, lies in the group mentality of the artists involved, and the willingness to coordinate and participate. As Eduardo said, “it’s never about just one artist or one group, ever. It’s always like, 15 to 20,” or in this case, 30 to 40. These events help facilitate the collaboration of artists and groups of artists “who would never have met otherwise.”
Featured street artist Toven also noted the ”great cross-pollination of ideas from very different artists and performers” to which art shows like Icon Baltimore can lend themselves. Perhaps the most interestingly, work showcased often strays from the typical conception of gallery art. Toven was glad to “try to bring some of [his] street art style into a gallery setting,” allowing the city to experience his work in a new light.
The space at 218 W Saratoga falls into the new Bromo Arts District, which covers much of West Downtown Baltimore. Eduardo is excited for what events like Icon can do for the artists in the community in the future, especially with the new label “getting different organizations to come downtown.” He mentioned big plans for the area in upcoming months, making it “an even greater place for artists to come visit and work.” Fortunately, with the two week extension of Icon, it seems he and the artist community won’t have to wait to keep the movement going.
Art shows are often coordinated with a pre-existing theme, feel, or scene in mind, allowing for easy cohesion. Instead, as Chelsea said, Icon’s three floors were “refreshing…kind of like a new scene in every room.” Somehow, however, its conglomerate nature didn’t prevent a feeling of unity among those present. Perhaps Toven described it best: “It makes for a kind of giant Baltimore Artistic Bouillabasse, and diversity like that is rarely a bad thing.”
Additional Photos by Theresa Keil:
Additional Photos by Larry Cohen: