The local art community is different from those in cities like San Francisco or Chicago. The galleries and artist communities are spread across DC, Virginia, and Maryland with no true center. You need to cover a lot more ground to see the top shows in any given month. What follows is a survey of the area’s galleries that deal in contemporary art, often cutting-edge art. You may not find a quiet still life to hang over your fireplace, but you’re sure to see mixed-media work and the latest trends in the art being made today. Here’s a look at five gallery “precincts” across the area with notes on must-see events for the spring—and places to refuel with coffee, cocoa, or cocktails.
DC's 14th Street | Dupont, Penn Quarter, and Beyond | Arlington | Bethesda | Alexandria and Beyond
View Larger MapGallery Central: DC’s 14th Street
It’s long past time that art watchers stopped calling 14th Street an “emerging” arts corridor. It is definitely here—emerged and full-grown. It got its start in 2001, when Sarah Finlay and Patrick Murcia opened Fusebox at 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, Northwest. Crackerjack and competent, the storefront white cube featured a stable of the most talented local artists of a younger generation. Fusebox was one of a number of institutions—like the popular Café Saint-Ex up the road and the Studio Theatre across the street—that paved the way for the arts corridor, one that has since embraced boutiques and luxury lofts.
By the time Finlay and Murcia closed Fusebox in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, a number of the city’s galleries had followed them to 14th Street. Four galleries that firmly established the neighborhood’s art-district status are housed at 1515 14th Street: Adamson Gallery (202-232-0707), Curator’s Office (202-387-1008), G Fine Art (202-462-1601), and Hemphill Fine Arts (202-234-5601). Irvine Contemporary (1412 14th St., NW; 202-332-8767) eventually shifted its operations from Dupont Circle to the Fusebox space.
In the last two years, another wave of galleries has opened along 14th Street and nearby, further cementing the neighborhood’s reputation as a center for contemporary art. Project 4 (903 U St., NW; 202-232-4340) established a space in early 2006, emphasizing emerging artists from the local and national arenas.
Project 4 has forged a strong relationship with artists from Margaret Boozer’s Red Dirt Studios, a sculpture collective and workshop in Mount Rainier, that promotes new work in an old medium—ceramics. Project 4 represents the work of Laurel Lukaszewski, a superlative young artist whose porcelain squiggles graced a wonderful debut in 2006, as well as J.J. McCracken, whose ceramics projects have taken on a conceptual edge through performances. The gallery also represents Boozer.
Project 4 has shown artists working in a variety of other media, in particular several promising painters who cross the boundaries between abstract and figurative work—New York’s Beau Chamberlain and Richmond’s Christine Gray among them. Running through mid-April, “Pilgrim,” a drawing and sculpture installation by Patrick Holderfield, features abstract 2-D and 3-D elements drawn from landscape imagery. In the latter half of April, the gallery will open “Spring Thaw,” a show of abstract still-life paintings by Gray, a painting instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University. (Disclosure: I wrote an essay to accompany Gray’s show.)
Another space that opened in 2006 is Randall Scott Gallery (1326 14th St., NW; 202-332-0806), an expansive second-story walkup. The artists shown here don’t share a Zip code, but they do tend to work in one medium: photography. Randall Scott has established his space as a reliable source for young and emerging photographers. This spring, the gallery bucks its photographic norm. Through April 12, the gallery shows new paintings by Baltimore artist Cara Ober, who uses texts and atmospheres to examine adolescence and femininity. Later in April, the gallery will exhibit delicate drawings and paintings by artist Lu Zhang.
Supermodel Kate Moss makes frequent appearances at Adamson Gallery—at least indirectly. The gallery space, which is associated with master printer David Adamson’s print shop, exhibits new prints by Chuck Close, the artist who helped invent photorealism. Close frequently photographs Moss. The artist also shows holograms and tapestries at Adamson in his efforts to expand the vocabulary of photorealism.
Adamson Gallery is the best place in town to see work by photographers and video artists who have national recognition. Through April 26, the gallery is showing work by a photographer known around the world—although his work is more often seen on a Web browser than in a fine-art gallery. Scott Schuman, a former director at Bergdorf Goodman and the blogger better known as the Sartorialist, shoots fashion as he finds it on the streets of Milan, Paris, and New York.
The other stalwarts of 1515 14th Street are G Fine Art, a gallery with a strong presence that gobbled up a number of good artists when Fusebox moved away; Hemphill Fine Arts, emphasizing folk art as well as contemporary art and representing some of the region’s notable artists such as William Christenberry; and Curator’s Office, a micro-gallery run by dealer and independent curator Andrea Pollan, whose tastes are mercurial yet consistently interesting. Curator’s Office is featuring a solo show by Arlington photographer Jason Horowitz April 12 through May 24. In previous shows, Horowitz has shown close-cropped and exquisitely detailed photographs—portraits that don’t reveal their subjects and, in fact, distill them into component concerns of texture and composition.
The 14th Street corridor is reaching beyond the immediate vicinity of the 1515 building, where opening nights draw the same crowds that fill the Hirshhorn’s After Hours party series. George Mason University theoretical physicist Paul So is organizing a new nonprofit space, Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U St., NW; 202-374-9794), expected to open in early summer.
That will put Hamiltonian in the same neighborhood as another nonprofit, Transformer (1404 P St., NW; 202-483-1102). One of the first-wave spaces on 14th Street, the Warhol Foundation–endowed organization boosts young artists who typically don’t have gallery representation. Hatnim Lee is a typical artist. Fresh from the Corcoran College of Art + Design and an internship with fashion and editorial photographer David LaChapelle, Lee is an as-yet-untested art photographer who shoots friends, family, and the world around her. Her show, which runs through April, will be one of her first in a gallery setting. Transformer has served as a launch pad for a number of DC artists including photographer and video artist Jason Zimmerman and pop artist D. Billy.
Grab a bite: The latest gallery to arrive on 14th is unique: ACKC (1529-C 14th St., NW; 202-387-2626), a “cocoa gallery,” has become the city’s top spot for chocoholics craving cups of warm cocoa and handcrafted candies from local confectioners. An offshoot of Artfully Chocolate and Kingsbury Chocolates, Alexandria shops whose owners collaborated to bring artisanal cocoa to the District, ACKC gives a nod to the galleries that have given the corridor such presence. Its walls—and dishes—feature artwork by Eric Nelson, one of the owners.
Also new on the scene is Cork (1720 14th St, NW; 202-265-2675), a tiny, brick-walled wine bar that has quickly become a nighttime hit.