The Studio Visit knows that creators of cutting-edge art are dispersed in cities large and small (and small towns for that matter). In the same vein, contemporary galleries showcasing up-and-coming artists need not relegate themselves to metropolises on the coasts. I recently had the pleasure of visiting one such gallery, Nudashank, in our neighbor to the north, the gritty-yet-lovely city of Baltimore.
Reaching the gallery is like stepping back in time to the lower East side of the 1980s New York. In fact I almost walked by the gallery, located in the H&H Arts Building on a nondescript, warehouse-filled street just west of downtown Baltimore. When I found the building, I was kindly buzzed in through an unmarked door and boarded a graffiti-filled elevator (“SIX PEOPLE MAX!!” warned a sign) that, at the risk of dating myself, reminded me of the mens’ room of the old CBGBs. The elevator opened onto the communal space and kitchen area for artists whose live/work studios dot the building’s third floor, and I located the gallery space just to the left. After the raw edginess of the building, I was unprepared for the cool, white space and the entire wall of windows on the street. Alex Ebstein and Seth Adelsberger, the gallery’s co-directors, welcomed me into the space and gave me a quick overview of their current solo exhibition Bed Bath and Beyond featuring the work of Ryan Lauderdale before we sat down to talk.
Accomplished artists themselves, Alex and Seth realized several years ago that there was a lack of exhibition opportunities in their city specifically for emerging artists seeking to establish a career in the art world. Nudashank (itself an invented, dada-ish word coined during an online brainstorming session) fills that niche by providing both a curated environment for emerging artists as well as needed mentoring in the business aspects of working in the art market. The two directors take their mission seriously, and run their space as a for-profit business venture. That said, their primary goal is to nurture new talent. Rather than develop a stable roster of represented artists like a traditional gallery, they prefer to act as a “stepping stone” for artists wishing to reach a regional or national audience.
Knowing that they specifically seek out emerging talent, I asked them how they choose their artists and to elaborate on the mentoring that takes place. Alex and Seth generally mount group shows, both to accommodate more artists and to work around a unified context. Most of their “homework” comes from online research, studio visits and watching particular artists over time. While they receive a steady stream of unsolicited submissions, they tend to favor doing their own networking. They also consider recommendations from artists with whom they currently work. While there is no “typical” candidate, they do seem to work often with artists recently out of school who are “serious” about developing an art career.
While those artists may demonstrate great skill in their pieces, they often have limited experience in working within the gallery system or interacting with collectors. To that end, Alex and Seth mentor artists on topics like the pricing of pieces, arranging installations, documenting the exhibitions for posterity and speaking with potential collectors about their work. On the topic of collectors, Alex and Seth acknowledge that Baltimore does not have a well-developed collector base of emerging art like New York or Los Angeles. They have been very ambitious in taking their gallery on the road to art fairs, such as Aqua in Miami, showcasing not only new American talent, but also putting Baltimore on the national art map. They also have a thriving on-line presence and a significant portion of their business is conducted entirely online and shipped throughout the US.
Developing and broadening that collector base is one of the challenges they face in growing their burgeoning business. “Art as a luxury good”, according to Seth, is not part of Baltimore’s ethos. Along with taking their wares to art shows, they co-curate shows with galleries in other cities (such as Chicago’s Western Exhibitions) as well as work to place their artists in other group shows around the country. I was impressed with how robustly they fill their exhibition calendar, given that both of them have their own artistic pursuits to schedule around. This unfortunately has limited their abilities to staff the gallery full-time (Nudashank is open by appointment). Ironically though, most galleries (Nudashank included) do not have the foot traffic to justify full-time staff — hence the reliance on dedicated collectors.
This space is obviously a labor of love for these two entrepreneurs, and so I wanted to know what facets of the business bring them joy every day. They both immediately answered that the interaction with artists is what keeps them going. They love studio visits, especially at art schools, and watching artists grow and develop their ideas over time. Opening the gallery space has also strengthened artist networks within their own community, allowing local artists who may not have previously known each other to interact and exchange ideas. This networking has also had a spill-over effect into their own artistic practices, challenging them to incorporate more conceptual ideas into their own painted works.
I asked Alex and Seth if they had any parting words of advice. Their advice, which they follow themselves, is to network, network, network! The internet is the new marketplace for exchanging ideas, and working with social media is now a crucial (and inexpensive) way to develop a following for emerging artists. Follow the programs at galleries that show works that might be in the same vein as your work. Chat with other artists, and consider organizing your own pop-up shows with other artists in your social network. Finally, they state it is vital that your own website has as high-quality images as you can afford and make sure that all your contact information is on the website and easy to find. You never know when you might receive an email from an interested collector or curator.