Contemporary Museum Suspends Operations
Barbara Portnoy Levine, a trustee of the Contemporary Museum, announced on Monday, May 21, that the board had voted “in a unanimous decision. . .to suspend the museum’s operations at the end of May 2012.” The notice went on to say that Sue Spaid, director of the museum since December 2011, and the staff members, will not retain their positions after May, and that the museum “will not renovate and move into space on Charles Street, as previously announced.”
The Contemporary Museum started out as a nomadic institution over 21 years ago. In 1999, the museum secured part of the Home Mutual Life building. When the Walters didn’t renew the lease on the Mount Vernon space last year, the Contemporary planned to renovate the Annie E. Casey building on North Charles Street but was, in the meantime, nomadic once again. Spaid scheduled programs at various locations around town, including Penn Station and the bank building at 1 E. Baltimore St., site of the recent Baltimore Liste shows.
Only three days before the announcement, the museum hosted a successful “happening” for the second Liste show. Spaid imported the Liste idea from Basel, Switzerland last spring when she invited local galleries to submit nominations to show in exhibitions that changed, and held openings, weekly. Judging by crowd size and media attention, the events were among the museum’s most-successful in recent years. The Liste “happening” on May 18 also drew a large crowd with works culled from the stables of local galleries like Area 405, Current, Open Space, Jordan Faye Contemporary, and Nudashank (co-owned by City Paper contributor Alex Ebstein) and a performance by the Wham City Comedy Tour. James Rieck’s large oil paintings of the mid-sections of svelte-hipster women, T.R. Kaltreider’s combination of painting and installation, Ben Kelley’s airplane carcass with arrows, and Justin Kelly’s digital abstracts were indicative of the variety and strength of the show.
So it was surprising when Levine announced, via e-mail, that the “Contemporary discontinued programming as of Friday May 16th as it concluded its current exhibit Baltimore Liste.” There was to be a third Liste show scheduled for the following week, with an opening on May 25.
Stewart Watson, director of Area 405, had this to say: “It’s kind of weird that they would do that in the middle of an exhibition they worked so hard to make happen. . . It’s a real let-down.”
When asked about the impact of the decision to cancel the Liste shows, Levine said: “We had to honor any contractual commitments [but regarding Liste] we were not aware of making any promises.”
Levine said in a phone conversation that the museum is financially solvent but that the trustees “felt that the model we have has not been serving us in the way we wanted it to. We decided, instead of banging our heads against the wall, to suspend operations and regroup.” She added, “It’s fiscally responsible to stop when we still have funds on hand.” Museum director Sue Spaid said that she could not comment on the decision.