Documenting the Baltimore Renaissance



14 September 2011

★ Philip Laubner


I didn’t set out to cover a story about a new “Pop Up” gallery on Saturday night. I just wanted to pop into Belvedere Square, in North Baltimore to grab a bite to eat. I love the variety of food and the outdoor seating allows me to bring my dog. I usually see young professionals or parents with their children in the square, but when I was leaving the parking lot I noticed a different kind of crowd gathered around a store front. These are people that could blend seamlessly into a Soho gallery, or even at Danceteria in 1982. I was intrigued.

The set up of the space, or what I could see of it, was sparse and smart, with clean white walls and traditional track lighting. The gallery has a plywood facade above the front windows with a blue stencil marquee that says, you guessed it, “Plywood.” I didn’t think I could go inside with my dog, but a friendly person in the crowd out front said that it was ok so we popped in. I didn’t know who the artist was, in this case a photographer, I just admired the collection of intelligent, edgy Polaroids that ringed the room. I’ve been enjoying the freedom of collecting shots with my iPhone; the filters available simulate antiquarian photo processes, cross-processed slide film, and the faded grit or punk rock of the Polaroid. Still, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing, and I was seeing an impressive collection.

I like not knowing who the artist is, just popping up, or in this case, popping into a place and letting the work speak for itself. I could see that artist had traveled extensively; multiple shots of motel marquees and roadside signage were interspersed with seedy shots that looked like they were made inside the motels themselves. For better or for worse, I couldn’t help but see the collection as a kind of unsparing American travelogue; the truth behind it’s closed doors, the hidden sex, commercialism, and the emptiness of temporary lodging. It’s hard not to alliterate here but the Polaroid paring of subject and presentation just seemed perfect.

As I walked to the back of the room I was approached by a man who recognized me and addressed me by name. I didn’t recognize. He spoke, “I’m Jim Lucio, we’re friends on Facebook.” Of course!!!! I felt like an idiot, I’d never met Jim before but I had been admiring his portraiture enough to recently “friend” him. The whole thing made sense to me then and although I was a bit embarrassed, I was grateful for Baltimore and it’s quirky serendipity.

Jim was gracious about the whole thing and we took a walk around the gallery and took in his work. We stopped at one of the photos and he recounted lying on his back to get the shot. We considered a detail and he then wondered if it might have been a better shot if he had built a platform to shoot it from. Polaroids are a quick, some would say throw away, form of photograph, but talking to Jim I realized that his approach while taking them is as thoughtful as it would be if he were using a traditional 4×5 camera.

Jim then introduced me to Christopher Attenborough, Nelson Casey and Sean Naftel, the Gallery partners that created Plywood, a gallery that the three refer to as a “Pop Up Gallery.” Christopher and Sean are partners in a collaborative called Peacock, which they created after they graduated from National University of Ireland, Galway. Their website says: “PEACOCK has been creating interventionist installations and events in the USA and in Ireland since 2008. Their installations democratize aesthetics to activate the space, and engage the viewer (often unknowingly) to become a participant.” They created the Plywood art gallery with Belvedere square Restaurateur and Grand Cru owner Nelson Casey as part of The Roving Project. True to its name, The Roving Project is about moveable galleries.

I asked Sean Naftel about the phenomena of “Pop Up” spaces or galleries and where he thought Plywood fit into it. “I haven’t really heard of anyone ‘white-cubing’ a vacant space and throwing traditional exhibitions. I feel like most pop-ups are in old, dirty spaces or multi-level parking decks and they are showing transmodernist work or video projections or whatever the local flavor is. I have no problem with that and really think that those shows are important to an art scene, but we wanted to put a different spin on the idea. We wanted to present a clean, crisp space that could compete with commercial art galleries.”

The idea of moveable space, or Pop Up, is appealing to me as I love the unexpected, but the reality of one only works for me if the space, like Plywood, is well conceived and the artist is as talented as Jim Lucio. I didn’t expect to write this story, it just popped up, but I’m glad it did.








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  • Elisa J Wells

    AMAZING GREAT JOB!! Congratulations Chris and Sean!!


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