Nudashank Gallery

Baltimore, MD | by January 20, 2012

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.

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