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On the Edge: A Guide to Washington’s Art Galleries
Comments () | Published April 1, 2008
The opening-night crowd at Dupont Circle's Meat Market Gallery checks out a multimedia installation, "Meet Me at the Mason Dixon," by Washington artist Lisa Blas. Photography by Patrick Ryan.

Still a Scene: Dupont, Penn Quarter, and Beyond

Though the 14th Street corridor has captured the title of top arts district, other neighborhoods have not surrendered. In areas such as Dupont Circle and downtown DC, many galleries still go on, with a few new blue-chips.

What prompted several art dealers to leave Dupont Circle and Georgetown had less to do with buyer base or market pressure than with the big, attractive spaces 14th Street could offer. R Street rowhouses, however quaint or established, can’t compare to an empty warehouse with a storefront view. The same sort of space repurposing that revitalized 14th has benefited Dupont—especially in the form of one scrappy gallery called Meat Market (1636 17th St., NW; 202-328-6328).

Opened in late 2006, the project space is central to a scene of younger artists, many of them recent Corcoran grads. Meat Market struck oil when it signed Benjamin Jurgensen, an artist who is only now completing his bachelor’s degree at the Corcoran but is gaining attention as a droll pop sculptor. His witty pieces, made from wood and fiberboard, are painted in primary colors. The artist has also exhibited print work done in the same primary, Sol LeWitt–inspired palette. His solo show will be at Meat Market May 2 through 31.

Marsha Mateyka (2012 R St., NW; 202-328-0088), one of those R Street rowhouse galleries, may not field the crowds that head to Meat Market on opening nights. But Mateyka still represents some heavyweight artists, including Sam Gilliam and the estate of prominent Washington Color School painter Gene Davis. One of Mateyka’s artists is among the city’s best sculptors: Jae Ko, who treats and rolls inked paper into tight coils that hang from the wall or are installed on the floor. Local favorite Christopher French, whose paintings feature both dots and Braille, as well as art-world veteran William Wiley, known for his erratic drawings on canvas, show new work here.

Civilian Art Projects (406 Seventh St., NW; 202-347-0022) is doing a lot of heavy lifting for the area. Opened by former Transformer Gallery codirector Jayme McLellan, the gallery shows art that tends toward social and political commentary. Through April 26, Civilian will show work drawn from or inspired by artists who use the online network Craigslist. Featuring work by strong artists such as John and Joseph Dumbacher, formerly of Fusebox fame, Jason Horowitz, and Jason Zimmerman, it promises to be more than a one-off gimmick. Also on display are new photographs by Kate MacDonnell.

For a time, it seemed that downtown DC might play counterpoint to the galleries on 14th as a second must-visit area on opening nights. Few galleries could boast the roster that Cheryl Numark had at her location on E Street. But Numark gave up her gallery in 2006.

The Gallery at Flashpoint (916 G St., NW; 202-315-1310) has picked up some of the slack with strong shows. More project space than commercial gallery, Flashpoint admits exhibiting artists on a project-by-project basis; its programming runs from experimental and not commercially viable (the sort of work that nonprofits support) to solo exhibits by established artists. Corcoran instructor Lucy Hogg fits the latter profile, and her portraiture show, “Floating Faces,” will be at Flashpoint April 4 through May 17.

Temporarily gone but not forgotten is Conner Contemporary Art (1358-60 Florida Ave., NE; 202-588-8750). When Leigh Conner uprooted her Connecticut Avenue second-floor gallery to build a new one in a vast space on H Street in Northeast, she took one of the city’s most prominent art venues off the calendar. When Conner Contemporary returns later this year, likely in time for the fall season, it will be the city’s largest commercial art gallery and the only major commercial gallery in Northeast DC.

Other DC galleries and shows worth checking out include Addison Ripley (1670 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-338-5180): abstract paintings by local artist Kevin Kepple, mid-May through June; Carol Square Gallery (975 F St., NW; 202-234-5601): “Great American Pastime,” a group show, through May; District Fine Arts (1639 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-3545): photographs by Gene Markowski, April 12 through May 31; Fine Art & Artists (2920 M St., NW; 202-965-0780): new works by Washington mixed-media artist Jason Wright, through May 3; Hillyer Art Space (9 Hillyer Ct., NW; 202-338-0680): a group show of Brazilian contemporary printmakers and new work by local artist Don Kimes, through April 25; Honfleur Gallery (1241 Good Hope Rd., SE; 202-580-5972): “Into the Light,” a group show, March 29 through May 3; Kathleen Ewing Gallery (1767 P St., NW; 202-328-0955): “Flora + Fauna,” a group show, through April 26; and Zenith Gallery (413 Seventh St., NW; 202-783-2963): “Trees of Life,” mixed-media 30th-anniversary show, through April 27.

Grab a bite: Before or after an opening in downtown DC’s Penn Quarter, art patrons can find creative Mexican small plates and everything from fresh guacamole to grasshopper tacos at Oyamel (401 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-1005). For a dressed-down, pull-up-a-stool experience, there’s just one game in town: Rocket Bar (714 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-7665), a basement spot that features darts, shuffleboard, pool, a jukebox, even old board games.

Also in Penn Quarter—and in Dupont Circle—is Teaism (400 Eighth St., NW, 202-638-6010; 2009 R St., NW, 202-667-3827). Rest your feet over cups of Silver Needle white tea and one of Teaism’s famed salty oat cookies or the newer chocolate variety.

Sense of Community: Arlington

There’s probably not a better spring afternoon to be spent in Arlington than checking out the community galleries that give the county its artistic identity. There are very few good commercial galleries in Arlington. Duality Contemporary Art (2401 S. 26th Rd.; 703-920-2121) recently showed some decent abstract fare by McLean painter Lucy Herrman; otherwise, the commercial venues for good contemporary art are light on the ground. But the area makes up for it with public and nonprofit galleries where you can see and buy contemporary art by regional artists.

The Ellipse Arts Center (4350 N. Fairfax Dr.; 703-228-7710)—around for nearly 20 years and managed by the county’s cultural-affairs office—offers rotating exhibits and group shows. The Ellipse is currently hosting its annual show of regional photographers, through April 12. A juried exhibit, “Photo 08” considers work by artists living or working in Virginia, Maryland, DC, or West Virginia.

At the beginning of May, Ellipse will open a spring/summer show that examines an important thread in contemporary art: fabric arts. Judging by the artists included in the exhibition, curator Cynthia Connolly has taken a broad approach to “The Thread as the Line: Contemporary Sewn Art.” Much recent work in fabric arts has concerned feminism. But Steve Frost, whose multimedia work is included in the show, employs textile as well as video, performance, and paint in works that expand the boundaries of what is still a new conversation about women and art.

Although a private nonprofit, Arlington Arts Center (3550 Wilson Blvd.; 703-248-6800) is similar to the Ellipse in several ways: It’s a longstanding venue—established in 1976—accessible to local artists and collectors alike. Recently, AAC hosted a show that invited a handful of area art collectors, such as Heather and Tony Podesta, each to curate a gallery within the center.

Often the AAC organizes shows around this “federalist” framework: Smaller mini-exhibits set up under a broader concept. Each spring and fall, the AAC invites artists to take over those same galleries for solo exhibits. “Spring Solos 2008,” which launches April 8 and runs through May 31, features solo shows by Mid-Atlantic area artists Jacklyn Brickman, Jeremy Drummond, Jennifer Fleming, Jennifer Mattingly, Erin Williams, and Laure Drogoul. Drogoul, a winner of the Baltimore-based Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize, has thrown everything at the viewer—from setting up olfactory installations to performing cabaret.

Other Arlington galleries and shows worth a trip include Lac Viet Gallery (5179 Lee Hwy.): work by Vietnamese artists (call for schedule and appointment); and Metropolitan Gallery (2420 Wilson Blvd.; 703-358-9449): new work by local artist Bobbi Pratte, April 6 through May.

Grab a bite: In a strip mall on Lee Highway, you’ll find the charming Café Parisien Express (4520 Lee Hwy.; 703-525-3332), with lovely croissants and café au lait. Closer to the Arlington Arts Center is EatBar (2761 Washington Blvd.; 703-778-9951), a wine-centric hangout with a chef who cures his own flavored bacons and offers house-made hot dogs and sausage-of-the-week specials.

Art Walks and Fairs: Bethesda

Is Bethesda a bona fide arts district? It certainly has the galleries. There’s even a Bethesda Art Blog devoted solely to tracking gallery happenings in Bethesda. The scene is just beginning to add an element of hip to its happenings. And the suburb’s close cluster of galleries more often plays host to art walks and craft fairs than to late-night openings for the gallery-going set.

Heineman Myers Contemporary Art (4728 Hampden La.; 301-951-7900), for one, is trying to change that. In late February, the two-year-old gallery hosted the coolest event Bethesda has seen in recent memory. From 10 pm to 10 am one Saturday to Sunday, graffiti artist Tim Conlon and his collaborators painted a 16-by-7-foot surface in a courtyard outside the gallery.

In April, Heineman Myers will show a group exhibit called “Stimulating Consumption,” a show investigating consumer culture. Artist Jonathan Stein will show inedible “cakes” parodying public figures from Barack Obama to Britney Spears. Another artist in that show is Elizabeth Lundberg Morisette, whose impressive sculptures involve massing colorful common materials—from zippers to magnetic alphabet letters to twisty ties—into larger sculptures.

Heineman Myers isn’t the first to bring street art to the suburbs. Fraser Gallery (7700 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-718-9651) has shown work by Mark Jenkins, a popular artist who frequently uses packing tape in his public projects. Jenkins is one of a new generation of street artists who are growing up in gallery spaces, but that hasn’t prevented him from receiving attention from groups such as the Wooster Collective, which recognize the best in urban vernacular art.

The Fraser Gallery will show new work by John Winslow April 11 through May 31. Winslow’s paintings skirt the real and the surreal; he paints realistic representations of unlikely or impossible scenes, which often appear to take place on a stage. Some elements look quite lifelike—people or settings within the scene—while some appear to be apparitions superimposed upon the scene.

Founded by Elyse Harrison five years ago, Gallery Neptune (4901 Cordell Ave.; 301-718-0809) shows artists almost exclusively from the Mid-Atlantic region. The comically cartoonish paintings of Lisa Montag Brotman, on display May 7 through June 7, combine a Warner Brothers–illustrative aesthetic with naive depictions of nudes and other flat figures. The work is reminiscent of some paintings by David Hockney. The gallery’s flat file is always available to browse; included are small-to-medium-size works by artists such as Marie Ringwald, who is showing at the gallery through April 5. The other show running in April highlights black-and-white photography by Beatrice Hamblett.

Outside Bethesda, the near Maryland suburbs don’t have the galleries that Virginia’s suburbs do. The great exception is Pyramid Atlantic (8230 Georgia Ave.; 301-608-9101) in Silver Spring, a nonprofit contemporary-arts center that hosts artist residencies, temporary exhibits, classes, and other activities. Charles Cohan’s architectural prints will be the subject of an exhibition at Pyramid Atlantic through April 20; the artist’s work is showing at Curator’s Office through April 5.

Other Bethesda galleries to check out include Osuna Art (7200 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-654-4500): sculpture by Joan Danziger, April 12 through May 31; and Waverly Street Gallery (4600 East-West Hwy.; 301-951-9441): photographs of Italy by Richard Lasner and new works by gallery artists, April 8 through May 3.

Grab a bite: Cornucopia (8102 Norfolk Ave.; 301-652-1625), an Italian gourmet shop and cafe in downtown Bethesda, is the place for fabulous sandwiches on crusty mini-baguettes (try the versions with paper-thin prosciutto or with hot or sweet soppresatsa). Then graze the tiered platters of buttery cookies and elegant biscotti.

Regional Art: Alexandria and Beyond

As in Arlington, the best galleries in Alexandria and beyond are nonprofits established to promote local artists as well as to expose local audiences to contemporary art from elsewhere.

Both McLean and Reston have their own contemporary-art hub. The McLean Project for the Arts (1234 Ingleside Ave.; 703-790-1953), a nonprofit founded in 1962, is host to one of the better biannual shows in the area, “Strictly Painting,” an all-area, all-painting show. For years the show has been juried by figures such as former Corcoran curator of contemporary art Jonathan Binstock and current Hirshhorn Museum curator Kristen Hileman, with cash prizes. (The next installment of “Strictly Painting” is set for 2009.) The center also annually shows work by area students in its Ramp Gallery.

April 17 through early June, the McLean Project for the Arts will feature “The Divas and Iron Chefs of Encaustic.” The exhibit, focusing on a painting method in which pigment is suspended in hot wax and then applied, is curated by Reni Gower of Virginia Commonwealth University.

A little farther down the Dulles Toll Road from McLean, the Greater Reston Arts Center, or Grace (12001 Market St.; 703-471-9242), hosts the annual Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, a juried street festival and celebration with crafts, food, and entertainment. Organizers and exhibitors will be hoping for good weather May 17 and 18 because as many as 50,000 people are expected at Reston Town Center for the two-day fair. In June, the focus will be on the contemporary, as Grace mounts an annual juried exhibition in collaboration with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. This year the show will be selected by Ragan Cole-Cunningham, director of exhibitions and education at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach.

Alexandria’s massive Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N. Union St.; 703-838-4199), along the Potomac River waterfront in Alexandria, is home to a number of workshops and exhibition spaces. Drawing nearly 700,000 visitors a year, it’s easily the city’s biggest attraction. The Target Gallery is its national exhibition space. On May 7, the Target Gallery will open “Led by Thread,” an exhibit on the fashionable topic of fiber arts. Featuring national and international artists, the show will be selected by New York artist Yasmin Spiro. Visit the Target Gallery before April 6 and you can still catch a whiff/glance/feel/taste/sound of “The Five Senses,” an exhibit, curated by former DC gallery owner F. Lennox Campello, whose title says it all.

One Alexandria art space is unlike the rest. It’s a little bit offensive—or at least promotes art that might ruffle feathers in a family town. Art Whino (717 N. St. Asaph St.; 703-462-4135), which opened in 2007, shows work by younger artists who promote the West Coast–oriented “lowbrow” style. Associated with a particular do-it-yourself ethic, these works eschew art-historical trends in favor of a new kind of portraiture in which all of the characters have the same pale skin and big doe eyes. Art Whino is probably the only gallery in Alexandria catering to a MySpace demographic.

On April 1, it will bring its Pop Surrealist schedule to the National Harbor in Prince George’s County, where it’s opening a second location. On April 5, the gallery’s National Harbor location will launch a solo show by David and Jessica Foox, two young Texas artists who left careers in psychology and the law, respectively, to focus on street-style painting.

Also in Alexandria: The Art League Gallery (105 N. Union St.; 703-683-1780): “Interplay, Humanity, and Nature,” a group show juried by Rosemary Luckett, April 9 through May 4; and Blueberry Art Gallery (3112-A Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-894-8854); call for exhibit schedule.

Grab a bite: Hank’s Oyster Bar (1026 King St.; 703-739-4265), a Dupont Circle seafood shack gone upscale, recently opened a location in the heart of Old Town. There might be a wait for one of the smattering of tables, but the oyster po’ boys, peel-and-eat and popcorn shrimp, and Gouda mac and cheese are worth it. Hank’s doesn’t serve dessert, but you can find the best cupcakes around (plus Illy coffee and good sandwiches) just outside of Old Town at the bakery/dessert lounge Buzz (901 Slaters La.; 703-600-2899).

For our arts & events and nightlife blog, click here.

For our guide to Washington's museums, click here.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 04/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles