This is the third in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists will be announced in mid-April, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selcected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name:  Ding Ren
Age:  30
Current Location: Amsterdam, NL and Columbia, MD
Hometown: Columbia, MD
School: George Washington University, MFA (2009)


studies on becoming a closet formalist: smoke
Hand-Printed Analogue Chromogenic Print on Expired Kodak Endura Paper
11″ x 8.5″
Trying to capture the essence of Duchamp’s definition of Infrathn: “When the tobacco smoke smells also of the mouth which exhales it.” Painterly gestures, romanticism and a turn towards the sublime are channeled through analogue photographic processes in this ongoing series.

Current favorite artists or artwork :  Joachim Koester (Danish Conceptual Artist), Ciarán Murphy (Irish Painter), Robert Kinmont (American Conceptual Artist), Daido Moriyama (Japanese Photographer)

How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? My work is field-driven, as in I gather my inspiration from direct experiences and observations from my day to day life.  Currently, I have returned to analogue photographic practices.  I allow external factors attributed to the geography and environment to directly influence how and what I photograph.

What part of art making to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I enjoy the unknown of wandering and photographing both foreign and familiar places.  I also enjoy planning and producing, especially if it is specifically for an exhibition, project, or residency.  I am fortunate to be part of a “doka collectif” in Amsterdam where we maintain the last remaining independent analogue color darkroom in Holland.  I can spend endless hours printing and enjoy the slow, hands-on quality of analogue photography.


Shifting Between (Portal Studies)
Hand-printed Analogue Chromogenic Print on Expired Kodak Endura
11” x 14”
Photo: 2012, Printing: 2013
For the past year I have been moving around, never staying in one place for more than 2 months. The experience has been exciting and fulfilling, but has taken a toll on my health. I started this series as a means of therapy and it is helping me get through the discomforts. I am trying to capture the very essence of transience and what it might look like through the use of analogue photography. This is a portal opening, it is a means of transport from a foreign place to a familiar place. I have begun to search for these familiar places within the foreign, so that I am able to find stability and balance once again, to find lightness to take me out of the darkness.

What research do you do for your art practice? I usually come across small fragments for ideas through taking walks, reading books (especially classics), and seeing exhibits.  I find looking at early landscape paintings from the 1600s to be quite poignant, especially the way in which light is captured and in the way the skies are painted.  I like to go to the Rijksmuseum and look at the Dutch Master paintings.

What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music?  After spending 2 months in Cork, Ireland at a residency, I have been in the mood to read Irish writers like Samuel Beckett.  I especially like his writing style for his “Texts on Nothing.”  I also enjoy reading poetry, recently I discovered Cuban poet, Heberto Padilla, who often writes about the ever-changing qualities of water and the sea.  The band I can’t stop listening to these days is Woods and singer, Ashley Eriksson.


the waves would welcome it beneath the sea (rock frottage studies)
C-prints: unique, Rock frottage drawings: graph paper, crayon
8.5” x 11”
Created while in residence at The Guesthouse in Cork, Ireland. I traveled to Ireland to search for the sublime feeling of both beauty and fear that comes with standing on the edge of a cliff, overlooking something. I wanted to investigate geo-cultural patterns and phenomena within the landscape. To prove that these coincidental patterns exist, I made rubbings of the rocks along the coast of Nohoval Cove while also photographing the cliffs and rocks. By chance, the rock rubbings echoed the photographs I took and vise versa.

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? Yes of course, but I try to think of it all as nature’s way of balancing itself out and make the most out of all phases and stages.  There can be months where I am only doing administrative things like editing and organizing and applying to opportunities while other times I take a break from any art-related things and other times I am out photographing everyday.

How do you challenge yourself in your work? It is all about comfort zones and pushing beyond them.  This is the way in which I approach my work and all facets of life.

What is your dream project? I would love to shoot several 16mm films in various locations around the world with dramatic landscapes: think cliffs, lush green mountains, waves crashing, swaying trees, flickering light.  It would be an extended visual poem and I would project the films layered over one another.

This is the first in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists will be announced in mid-April, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selcected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Elena Johnston
Age: 29
Current Location: Baltimore, MD.
Hometown: Havertown, PA.
School: MICA BFA in Illustration, Towson BA in Art Education.


Current favorite artists or artwork: Joan Miro, Esther Malaghu and Ndebele art, Alexander Calder, The Maeght Foundation, John Cocteau, Erik Satie, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Jordan Bernier, John Bohl, Molly O’Connell, Russell Hite, Beth Hoeckel, Demetrius Rice, Future Islands, Beach House, Floristree, Odwalla 88, Noel Friebert, Miyazaki, Fauvists, Color Field Painters, Baltimore.

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? My focus at the moment is my studio practice as well as pursuing a degree in Art Education. I am student teaching at the moment and my work is mutually as inspired by teaching as teaching is by my practice.


How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? How do you challenge yourself in your work? My process right now is trying to combine unlikely combinations of media and try to play as much as possibly with different media, design, sound, and other elements. I have always been inspired by and focused on the idea of play as an approach to creating or curating, and this can take many forms. It is challenging sometimes to remain so open to the element of chance, but is also a driving force in my creative process. Surprises happen if you let them. It is important to change up your approach every so often so as to not get too comfortable with any one way of doing something. I can write a song and then get really excited by a painting. When I make something, the process happens really quickly. I am challenging myself to see what happens if I spend more time on things and push them really far.

What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I enjoy making art from the initial thought or inspiration, to the actual process and exploration of materials and ideas, to the post-production work such as uploading a photo to my website, designing, printing, documenting, framing, and exhibiting. It is all fun, exciting, and productive for me. The art process is both very intimate and private to wildly public. This push and pull is exciting.

What research do you do for your art practice? I am consistently inspired by the work of my peers and the past. I enjoy working solo and collaborating with my contemporaries. I try to see as much art being made now as possible, by going to art openings in Baltimore and museums, elsewhere, etc. I look at some art blogs or go to the library to look at art books old and new. I am mostly inspired by music, as most of my work comes from a thought or idea or feeling from hearing a song or melody.

I read this quote recently and really loved it: “I have come to the conclusion that, thanks to geometry, the simplest shapes- the square, the triangle, and the circle- I’ve been able to construct a world of my own.” – Juan Stoppani


What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? Right now I love Apartamento magazine and Haruki Murakami.

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? If I ever feel like I am uninspired, I take a break to get perspective, which is necessary for all artists. There is time to play and time to think about ideas and both are equally as important. I find that if I exhaust one medium for myself at any given moment, I try to approach an idea from another direction such as making a song, animation, or having a conversation. Having conversations with other artists is important. Sometimes the work itself is a conversation as well.

What is your dream project? I want to make a music album, I want to continue to curate shows and make more paintings. My dream right now is to collaborate more, make books of my own work and others. To be able to dedicate more time to my art process is a dream.

For 2014, 38 individual artists and one artist duo have been selected as semifinalists. Congratulations, and good luck with the next round!

Lauren Adams, Baltimore, MD
Kyle Bauer, Baltimore, MD
Stephanie Benassi, Baltimore, MD
Tommy Bobo, Baltimore, MD
Aharon Bumi, Baltimore, MD
Amanda Burnham, Baltimore, MD
Dustin Carlson, Baltimore, MD
Shannon Collis, Baltimore, MD
Jim Condron, Owings Mills, MD
Leah Cooper, Baltimore, MD
Elizabeth Crisman, Baltimore, MD
Marley Dawson, Washington, DC
Adam Farcus, Baltimore, MD
Neil Feather, Baltimore, MD
Terence Hanum, Parkville, MD
Joshua Haycraft, Washington, DC
Nora Howell, Baltimore, MD
Elena Johnston, Baltimore, MD
Benjamin Kelley, Baltimore, MD
Dean Kessmann, Washington, DC
Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter (Tiny Inventions), Baltimore, MD
Christopher LaVoie, Baltimore, MD
Jon Malis, Washington, DC
Sebastian Martorana, Baltimore, MD
Cara Ober, Baltimore, MD
Ding Ren, Columbia, MD
Fred Scharmen, Baltimore, MD
Paul Shortt, Baltimore, MD
Ally Silberkleit, Baltimore, MD
Nora Sturges, Baltimore, MD
Diane Szczepaniak, Potomac, MD
Kyle Tata, Baltimore, MD
Chad Tyler, Baltimore, MD
Elena Volkova, Baltimore, MD
Stewart Watson, Baltimore, MD
Martine Workman, Washington, DC
Trevor Young, Takoma Park, MD
Lu Zhang, Baltimore, MD
John Zimmerman, Baltimore, MD


Claire Gilman is currently the curator at The Drawing Center in New York where she has organized several exhibitions, including: Drawing Time, Reading Time (2013), Dickinson/Walser: Pencil Sketches (2013), Giosetta Fioroni: L’Argento (2013), Alexandre Singh: The Pledge (2013), Ishmael Randall Weeks: Cuts, Burns, Punctures (2013), José Antonio Suarez Londoño: The Yearbooks (2012) and Drawn from Photography (2011). Years prior to her tenure at The Drawing Center, Gilman was the Janice H. Levin Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where she worked on exhibitions such as Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul and Greater New York 2005. Gilman has taught art history and critical theory at Columbia University; The Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; The Corcoran College for Art and Design and the Museum of Modern Art. She has written for Art Journal, CAA Reviews, Documents, Frieze and October and has authored numerous essays for art books and museum exhibitions. She received her PhD in Art History from Columbia University in 2006.

Sarah Oppenheimer is a New York based artist whose art installations commonly pierce the architecture of the institutions hosting her work, creating experimental places that challenge a viewer’s perception of the exhibition space. Her first permanent commission, W-120301, was included in the 2012 renovation of the Contemporary Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Oppenheimer has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions at The Drawing Center, New York (2002); Youkobo Art Space, Toyko, Japan (2004); the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri (2008); Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland (2009); Annely Juda Fine Arts, London, England (2009) and an upcoming exhibition, among several, at Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA (2017). She has been featured in many group exhibitions as well, including Odd Lots, White Columns and the Queens Museum of Art, New York (2005); Inner and Outer Space, The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA (2008); Automatic Cites, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA (2009); Factory Direct, The Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA (2012) and the forthcoming Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM (2015). Her work has been reviewed dozens of times, including several articles in The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America and the Wall Street Journal. She was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptuors Grant in 2011, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 2009 and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2007. She received her MFA from Yale University in 1999, where she is now a visiting critic.

Olivia Shao is an artist and independent curator based in New York. Her artwork has been featured in exhibitions at Real Fine Arts, New York (2010); White Columns, New York (2008); Feigen Contemporary, New York (2005); Clementine Gallery, New York (2005); and 96 Gillespie, London, England (2004). Her curatorial work includes La Poussière de Soleils (The Dust of Suns) at Real Fine Arts, New York (2013); Exquisite Corpse Pose at Elisabeth Ivers Gallery, New York (2011); The Evryali Score at David Zwirner, New York (2010); The Baghdad batteries at MoMA P.S.1, New York (2010) and Doyers Plant Shop at Doyer Space, New York (2009). Shao is a 1998 graduate of the Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize
The Artscape prize is named in honor of Janet and Walter Sondheim who have been instrumental in creating the Baltimore City that exists today. Walter Sondheim, Jr. had been one of Baltimore’s most important civic leaders for over 50 years. His accomplishments included oversight of the desegregation of the Baltimore City Public Schools in 1954 when he was president of the Board of School Commissioners of Baltimore City. Later, he was deeply involved in the development of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor. He continued to be active in civic and educational activities in the city and state and served as the senior advisor to the Greater Baltimore Committee until his death in February 2007.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts announces the finalists for the eighth annual Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. The finalists are Gabriela Bulisova, Larry Cook, Caitlin Cunningham, Nate Larson, Louie Palu and Dan Steinhilber. The competition awards a $25,000 fellowship to assist in furthering the career of a visual artist or visual artist collaborators living and working in the Greater Baltimore region. The Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize is held in conjunction with the annual Artscape juried exhibition and produced by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts in partnership with the Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The competition winner is announced during an award ceremony and reception on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 7pm at the Walters Art Museum, located at 600 North Charles Street.

Learn more about the finalists.