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Virgin Mobile’s annual music festival at Merriweather won’t happen this year. By Tanya Pai
Robin Thicke headlined the 2013 FreeFest. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

This has been a rocky year for local music festivals. First the summertime-staple Fort Reno concerts were canceled—though thankfully organizers managed to get them reinstated. Now comes word that the annual Virgin Mobile FreeFest, held in the fall at Merriweather Post Pavilion, has also been nixed. 

Says Seth Hurwitz, chair of I.M.P. (which owns Merriweather) and one of the producers of FreeFest: “The Freefest was this fantastic product of a crossroads of Branson and some very creative people at Virgin. The mixture got shaken up every year, and it always settled at the last possible moment for that year. That was part of the spontaneous magic that everyone could pick up on I think. Unfortunately, the pieces are not all there right now with Virgin. Whether they are again who knows. But the Freefest concept is fantastic and we are exploring options to continue it at Merriweather.”

So what does that mean? We’re not really sure. We’ve reached out to Virgin Mobile for (hopefully less-vague) comment, and will update when we hear back. In the meantime, we’ll be pouring one out for the event, which since 2009 has been giving Washingtonians the chance to see big-name acts (which last year included Vampire Weekend, MGMT, and Icona Pop) for a price even cash-strapped college students could afford—that is, free. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 04:44 PM/ET, 07/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Plus: Get in for free this weekend. By Tanya Pai
Photograph from “La Petite Mort” by Alex Prager, part of the museum’s “Total Art: Contemporary Video” exhibit.

With so many great free museums in Washington, the ones that charge an admission fee might sometimes fall under the radar. This August, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is providing a little extra incentive to visit, to the tune of $5 admission on Sundays—a 50-percent discount. Even better: This Sunday, August 3, is the museum’s monthly community day, which means you can get in free all day. 

Sunday hours are noon to 5, which gives you plenty of time to peruse the 4,500-plus works by more than 1,000 women artists, such as Mary Cassatt, Clara Peeters, and Chakaia Booker. Current exhibitions include “Total Art: Contemporary Video,” featuring video installations by Dara Birnbaum, Alex Prager, and others showcasing women’s contributions to the medium; and “Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships,” which looks at the Swiss surrealist’s diverse body of work. 

National Museum of Women in the Arts. 1250 New York Ave., NW; 202-783-5000.

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

See also: Free Summer Saturdays Continue at the Corcoran

Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 07/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chefs Behind Bars at Buffalo & Bergen and the “people’s choir” sing-along at Stetson’s. By Jason Koebler
Drink cocktails whipped up by big-name local chefs at Chefs Behind Bars on Wednesday. Image via Shutterstock.

Monday, July 28

MUSIC: Whimsical husband-and-wife duo Mates of State will be at U Street Music Hall. The band’s songs are full of piano and synth and are generally devised to make you feel good about life and yourself—the perfect way to kick off the week. Tickets ($20) are available online. 7 PM.

Tuesday, July 29

SINGING: Stetson’s hosts its monthly “people’s choir,” which is kind of like karaoke except everyone sings the songs at once like some sort of fun, happy community. Song lyrics are provided, and happy hour ends right before this starts, so if you’re shy, you can get a drink or two in you before you start showing off your vocal chords. This month’s theme is “songs from movies.” Free. 7:30 PM. 

Wednesday, July 30

DRINKS: Buffalo & Bergen is taking the spatula out of your favorite chefs’ hands and putting a shaker in them instead. At Chefs Behind Bars, six of the city’s best-known chefs stir up drinks. Your ticket gets you a drink from each and some bar snacks from Union Market’s vendors—the chef with the best cocktail gets a prize, but really, we’re all winners here. Tickets ($40) are available online. 6 PM.

Thursday, July 31

MUSIC: Brightest Young Things’ Super Best Friends Forever is an every-once-in-a-while deejay night where you get to help pick the music. Bring your phone or iPod (do people still have those?) to Cafe Saint-Ex, and you’ll get to select a song. If you play something really impressive, you’ll win a prize from New Belgium Brewery, whose beers will be on special all night. Free. 7:30 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter

Posted at 09:57 AM/ET, 07/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Johnna Adams’s tense, moving play has its local premiere. By Tanya Pai
Katy Carkuff and Caroline Stefanie Clay in Gidion’s Knot. Photograph by Melissa Blackall Photography.

If Gidion’s Knot were an installment of a TV series, it could be considered a “bottle episode.” The play takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single fifth-grade classroom, with the characters trapped inside. The difference is they’re trapped not by some slapstick incident involving a broken lock and an accidentally detached doorknob, but by the weight of the secrets and guilt that consume them.

Gidion’s Knot, by playwright Johnna Adams, had its world premiere at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in 2012, and Forum Theatre’s production marks its local premiere. With just two characters, and the aforementioned single set (designed by Scott Hengen), it’s a relatively simple staging—but the emotions and themes illustrated in the work are the opposite. 

The story begins with fifth-grade teacher Heather (Katy Carkuff) grading papers in her classroom. She’s clearly upset, and soon breaks down into hysterical crying—the hiccupy, gasping kind you only indulge in when you’re totally alone. Soon, though, she hears a knock on her door, and in comes Corryn (Caroline Stefanie Clay), the mother of one of her pupils, who’s arrived for a parent-teacher conference Heather scheduled. Heather’s discomfort at Corryn’s presence is a tip-off that something is very much awry, though exactly what that could be is not immediately revealed. 

Eventually it comes out that Corryn’s son, Gideon, was suspended from school, though Heather is at first reluctant to say why. Without giving away too much of the plot, Heather and Corryn quickly go from cordial to adversarial, and, temporarily, back again. In the spaces between, each woman displays a startling range of emotion that runs the gamut from anger to annoyance to despair to pride, with director Cristina Alicea coaxing affecting performances out of her two stars. While Heather, dressed in a pitch-perfect schlubby cardigan and modest-length skirt (costumes by Brittany Graham) looks the part of a fortyish schoolteacher, the younger Carkuff doesn’t quite have the presence to make her fiery head-to-head with Corryn believable. But anyone would have a difficult time matching the powerhouse that is Clay. She’s mesmerizing as the grieving, furious mother, seesawing from accusatory to apologetic as an even deeper current of emotion roils beneath the surface. She’s also the source of much of the play’s humor, without which it would be almost unbearably tense and somber. (Gidion’s Knot, it should be said, manages to wring a surprising amount of comic relief from a discussion of a dying cat.) 

The biggest quibble is that the truth about Gideon’s situation is never explicitly revealed, which is frustrating. But the idea, as the old public relations adage goes, appearance is reality—and by that logic, the truth doesn’t really matter. The miscommunication between Heather and Corynn at times reaches almost Three Stooges levels of tooth-grinding opacity; as Heather waits in vain for the principal who never appears, one wants to just scream at her to get on with it already. When the circumstances of Gideon’s suspension are finally revealed, it sparks discussions about the issues of cyberbullying, freedom of speech, and (while not ever named as such) inherent racial biases. 

The play ends without offering easy answers—or really any answers—to the questions it raised. As Corryn leaves, there’s a sense she and Heather haven’t changed their views, and yet they’ve somehow managed, however slightly, to change each other. If you’re looking for an allegory about the dangers of school bullying, this is not the play for you. But as a searing portrait of two women thrown together by an unthinkable situation and forced to try to understand one another, it’s fascinating. 

Gidion’s Knot is at Forum Theatre through August 3. Running time is about one hour and ten minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($20 to $25) are available online; a limited number of pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the box office before each show. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 03:50 PM/ET, 07/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A ghost tour of the Building Museum and the US Air Guitar Championships at 9:30 Club. By Jason Koebler
The US Air Guitar Championships come to 9:30 Club this weekend. Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, July 24

HAPPY HOUR: We had that whole “colonies” thing going on here for a while, and then the “Revolutionary War,” but these days, we get along with Great Britain just fine. Celebrate that with the Transatlantic Toast to Liberty happy hour at Bier Baron tonight with the Young Britons’ Foundation and America’s Future Foundation, where you’ll meet people from both countries. Maybe you can talk about accents and adding the letter “u” to words like color. Free. 6 PM.

FILM: Bethesda’s outdoor movie festival is all this week, and there’s not really any theme to it. Tonight, you get arguably the greatest piece of American cinema with Citizen Kane; tomorrow you get the equally classic a cappella college movie Pitch Perfect, featuring that dude from Workaholics. Choose wisely. Free. Around 8 PM.

BEER: Rustico in Ballston is going to crack open ten different beers from SweetWater Brewing Company, an Atlanta brewery we don’t see all that much up here. Proceeds from the night will help raise awareness for Potomac River preservation, so we can keep that (uhh, relatively) sweet water flowing for years to come. There will also be lots of giveaways. Free. 6 PM.

Friday, July 25

ART: The Freer and Sackler Galleries stay open late so you can take a look at scenes from 1870s Tokyo in “Kiyochika: Master of the Night,” which closes this weekend, and “An American in London: Whistler and the Thames.” Afterward, there’s a screening of Tokyo Twilight, which follows a woman and her young daughter who flee her abusive husband to start a new life. Free. 5:30 to 8:30 PM; film starts at 8. 

FILM: The Drive-in Movie series continues at Union Market with Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The movie is free if you walk up and cheap if you drive; get there early for activities and all the snacks you’d expect from an event at Union Market. $10 per car; free otherwise. Gates open at 6 PM; film begins at 8:15. 

GHOSTS: The National Building Museum isn’t just home to our Best of Washington event—it’s also home to some unsettled spirits. That’s right, the museum is haunted, and every so often this summer, you can seek out the otherwordly occupants with the museum’s ghost tours. Tickets tend to go fast, so grab yours quick. (Also it’s not so scary that you can’t bring the kids.) Tickets ($25) are available online. 9:30 PM.

MUSIC: Jeff Mangum and his seminal indie band Neutral Milk Hotel get out of the stuffy auditoriums and out to Merriweather, where songs like “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” were made to be heard. Tickets ($36) are available online. 6:30 PM.

Saturday, July 26

CHRISTMAS: If you went straight from complaining about the long winter to complaining about the oppressive summer humidity, remind yourself of cooler times with Alexandria’s Christmas in July party, which is exactly what it sounds like. There’ll be storytelling and cookies for the kids at Union Street Public House, and drink specials for you. Also swing by the Christmas Attic for discounts, photos with Santa, and face painting. Free. 10 AM to 3 PM.

BEER: Sample more than 50 brews at the Drink the District Beer Fest on New York Avenue, Northwest, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. There’ll be live music, lawn games, food, and all-you-can-drink booze—all for 30 bucks. Tickets ($30) are available through Groupon. 1 to 4 PM and 6 to 9 PM. 

ALIENS: Astrobiologist David Grinspoon and space science curator Ka Chun Yu explore the possibilities of extraterrestrial life with a seminar/performance this weekend at the Navy Memorial. The House Band of the Universe provides live funky jazz for an evening the organizer promise will be “psychoastrobiofunkiliscious.” Tickets ($42) are available online. 7 PM.

AIR GUITAR: Every year, the US Air Guitar Championships come through 9:30 Club, and every year, it’s completely ridiculous and always fun. You’ll watch a bunch of people play their invisible six strings; it’s like karaoke for people who can’t sing. Tickets ($20) are available online. 8 PM.

Sunday, July 27

THEATER: Fringe Festival is almost over, but if you haven’t yet, you should check out The Monster Songs—part cabaret, part storytelling—featuring “Dr. Dour” and “Peach” as they recount their experiences with zombies, mummies, giant lizards, and all sorts of other mythological (?) beasts. Tickets ($17) are available online. 6 PM.

FILM: Double down on two of the Coen brothers’ best films—A Serious Man and The Big Lebowski—at the Washington Jewish Community Center. It’s what The Dude would do. Tickets ($12) are available online. The Big Lebowski: 12:15 and 4:30. A Serious Man: 2:15 and 6:30. 

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 07/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Howard University alum Chadwick Boseman portrays the godfather of soul in this new feature film. By Tanya Pai
A pre-screening panel discussion featured, from left, director Tate Taylor, star Chadwick Boseman, Reverend Al Sharpton, and moderator Touré.

On Tuesday evening, Comcast and NBC Universal hosted a screening of the upcoming James Brown biopic Get On Up at the Newseum. The film, which opens wide August 1, stars Howard University alum Chadwick Boseman—currently best-known for portraying another African-American legend, baseball player Jackie Robinson, in last year’s 42.

The pre-show reception offered Southern-style food (fried-catfish sliders, cornbread muffins) and a deejay spinning Brown hits; as participants filed into their seats in the auditorium, they were followed by a brass band, who marched down the aisles playing instrumental versions of Brown’s hits. 

Before the screening began, Touré, a music critic and host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, hosted a panel discussion with the film’s director, Tate Taylor—who also directed 2011’s The Help—Boseman, and Reverend Al Sharpton, who had a close personal relationship with Brown and, according to the panel, once acted as Brown’s manager. 

During the discussion, Taylor revealed that the film was shot in 49 days in 96 locations in Mississippi. When Touré jokingly asked whether Taylor was vying for his “black card” by making Get On Up as well as The Help, Taylor joked right back that he already had one. (Get On Up reunites Taylor with his Help stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who play Brown’s mother and aunt, respectively; The Help got Davis an Academy Award nod and Spencer a win.) Most of the questions directed at Boseman regarded how he managed to nail Brown’s distinctive walk and mannerisms; the audience at one point demanded to see Boseman demonstrate the famous stride, though he demurred. Sharpton shared a couple of anecdotes about the man he came to know so well that Brown began referring to him as “son,” including the story of when Michael Jackson attended a concert of Brown’s. After the show, Jackson moonwalked for Brown, who responded, “See that’s the problem: I’m here to get black folks going forward; you’ve got ’em going backward.” 

As for the movie? It’s very well-acted, the costumes are a visual feast, and the makeup and aging effects are some of the most subtle and convincing this viewer has seen in quite some time. But for a biopic, Get On Up is not very enlightening about its subject’s life.

The movie begins with a scene of Brown later in his life before flashing back to his troubled childhood and following him along his journey to stardom, though it occasionally jumps around in time without offering the viewer much to orient herself. Some exposition is skipped over, which is either a refreshing avoidance of spoon-feeding or a source of confusion depending on the audience’s prior knowledge of Brown’s story. The whole film is suffused with a surrealist glow that makes it even harder for those who don’t recall the specifics of Brown’s life to parse what’s based in fact and what’s a product of Hollywood-ized creative license. 

To its credit, the film doesn’t shy away from the less-than-charming aspects of Brown’s personality: his egotism, his treatment of his band members. But some of the singer’s serious problems, including drug use, domestic abuse, and tax evasion, are touched on briefly and then never brought up again. The script is occasionally heavy-handed with its dialogue and symbolism (never more so than in a ludicrous car-chase scene later in the movie).

There are excellent moments, though. The concert scenes crackle with energy; all the performances used real recordings of Brown—and while Boseman may not have done the singing, he showed an impressive mastery of Brown’s signature dance moves. The delightfully deadpan Nelsan Ellis (True Blood’s Lafayette) is wonderful as Brown’s friend and longtime band member Bobby Byrd, and Dan Akroyd as record executive and pseudo-father figure Ben Bart brings plenty of warmth to his role. (Surprisingly, the generally hilarious Craig Robinson isn’t given much to do.) 

Overall, it’s a softly lit portrait of a talented, complicated man. As Boseman said during the pre-show panel, “light and darkness existed in almost every moment of his life.” Get On Up is decidedly focused on the former. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 04:24 PM/ET, 07/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Its 2014/15 season will be its last. By Tanya Pai
Brian Childers stars in An Evening With Danny Kaye, at American Century Theater until August 16. Photograph by Johannes Markus.

On Wednesday, the American Century Theater announced that it will close its doors after the conclusion of its upcoming season. The Arlington theater, founded in 1994, says its mission is “to promote 20th-century theater as a vital part of our cultural dialogue.” According to a release by the theater, the decision to close after the 20th-anniversary season was made jointly by the board of directors and artistic director Jack Marshall

The decision, according to the release, is not due to financial reasons but instead “by a sense that the theater has accomplished what it set out to do.” Says Marshall, “We find ourselves fourteen years into the 21st century, and, in light of our artistic and cultural achievements we think that upon the completion of our final season we will have proved our point, made a difference, and accomplished our mission. Too many organizations fail at the hardest thing, which is knowing when to say goodbye. For The American Century Theater, we think that time has come.”

In its 20 years, the theater has produced more than 100 shows, including two that have evolved into continuously running productions (one of which is the current production, An Evening With Danny Kaye, running through August 16). The upcoming season has yet to be announced. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 07/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Shakespeare’s late comedy comes to life in this energetic production. By Jane Horwitz
Ian LeValley (center) as Alonso, King of Naples, and his men in The Tempest at Olney Theatre. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s summer Free For All became an indoor event years ago, so if you have a yen for the Bard al fresco, head up Georgia Avenue to Olney Theatre Center, where they’re doing a bang-up job with The Tempest through August 3.

Shakespeare under the stars—or, at Olney’s opening night on July 19, under clouds and scattered raindrops—has a certain something that doth heighten the drama or the comedy. That’s not merely because the actors must speak louder, even when miked (it’s live outdoor theater, so the mikes and speakers can and do sometimes cut out)—it’s just the open-air expansiveness and fun of it all. 

The Olney production, directed by Jason King Jones, sparkles with antic energy, and while it breaks no new ground interpreting Shakespeare’s valedictory (1611) comedy, it affords plenty of space for the gorgeous poetic musings of the exiled magician Prospero (an authoritative Craig Wallace), who declares in Act IV that “Our revels now are ended,” and that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on/and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” He (and Shakespeare) looks back at his life on this enchanted island and uses his magical powers (i.e., creativity) to bring resolution to it all.

Olney Theatre Center’s touring company of young professional actors, the National Players, is entering its 66th season. The cast of this production comprises veterans of long-ago National Players tours, as well as actors from the most recent one. All the generations gathered for The Tempest on Olney’s Root Family Stage do fine work. Director Jones keeps them all pretty much on the same page stylistically, which is crucial.

Scenic designer Charlie Calvert’s backdrop of white umbrellas, opened, with handles pointed toward the audience, looks simple but has visual pop and echoes the play’s opening storm. Low-tech effects include cables strung across the stage to send other umbrellas floating skyward, or on which to hang sea-blue bolts of cloth as ocean waves in the magical tempest Prospero stirs up to shipwreck his enemies on his island. Late in the play, a trio of giant puppets appear as mythical spirits. 

Prospero, as he explains to his daughter Miranda (Leah Filley), was once the duke of Milan. When she was an infant, he was deposed by his jealous brother Antonio (Paul Morella), who conspired with Prospero’s nemesis, Alonso, King of Naples (Ian LeValley). Prospero and Miranda survived the overthrow, unbeknownst to their enemies, with the help of a wise elder, Gonzalo (Alan Wade). Safe on the island, Prospero practiced his magic with the help of his books and a sprite, Ariel (Julie-Ann Elliott, in a silver dress lined with fairy lights) to do his bidding. The only other inhabitant is a human-monster hybrid, Caliban (Ryan Mitchell, all in green, his face mud-caked), the son of a witch. Prospero keeps Caliban in shackles, as he once tried to interfere lustfully with Miranda. 

In many contemporary productions of The Tempest, Caliban becomes a metaphor for British colonial exploitation or slavery. This staging leaves that interpretation alone, and Mitchell plays the role more for laughs than anything deeper—one reason Olney can recommend the show for ages eight and older. 

Wallace, his hair white and his voice resonant, digs into Prospero’s anger at his enemies. Near the end, when Prospero decides to abjure his magic and forgive them (like another late play, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest is all about forgiveness and redemption), Wallace shows clearly what it costs Prospero to do the right thing. 

Low comedy in Shakespeare can be a tedious enterprise if the perpetrators try too hard. The buffoons in this staging have a pretty light touch with the play’s extended and surprisingly funny drunk scene: A butler from the ship, Stephano (Dan Van Why), and the jester Trinculo (Jacob Mundell) get roaring drunk with Caliban. Actor Adam Turck, in a couple of smaller roles, has an assured presence and the ability to round out a character with few or no words.

Part of Prospero’s grand plan is to create a love match between his daughter Miranda and Ferdinand (Alexander Korman), son of the King of Naples. He is positive the two will fall instantly in love (they do), but he lets father and son, stranded separately, each think the other is dead for a good while before he reunites them at the end. 

So loose ends loop themselves into bows, and ill feelings (mostly) melt away as Prospero begs the audience to release him from his trials with their goodwill: “As you from crimes would pardoned be/Let your indulgence set me free.” 

This Tempest isn’t free—for those older than ten, anyway—but it is a bargain and a treat.

The Tempest is at Olney Theatre through August 3. Running time is about two hours, 40 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets ($20; free for children ten and under) are available online

Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 07/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
An art show with booze and pancakes and a free seminar on 3D printing. By Jason Koebler
Head to Penn Social on Thursday for an art show with all-you-can-eat pancakes. Image via Shutterstock.

Monday, July 21

FILM: Screen on the Green starts tonight with a screening of The Karate Kid (the one with Mr. Miyagi, not with Jaden Smith), which you may remember from your childhood or from the many subsequent screenings of it on the Disney Channel. Now’s your chance to see it on a 20-by-40-foot screen with 15,000 of your closest friends. Free. 7 PM.

Tuesday, July 22

HAPPY HOUR: Brightest Young Things and New Belgium Brewery will be at Bar Pilar for the Gratzer happy hour, featuring a new, smoky summer beer based on the ales knights drank back in the medieval age. There’ll also be a caricature artist giving away free drawings, and $5 New Belgium beers during the event. Free. 5:30 to 7:30 PM.

Wednesday, July 23

3D PRINTING: Don’t know anything about 3D printing? Now’s your chance to learn: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is hosting a crash course on 3D printing where you can design your own jewelry—in this case, a bracelet—and have it printed out on the library’s new printer. Free. 7:30 PM.

TRIVIA: The National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard hosts its every-once-in-a-while trivia night. This week, the theme is “American Cool,” which I’m sure you know lots about. Each question will be about someone featured in the gallery’s exhibit by the same name, which is open through September 7. Free. 6:30 PM. 

Thursday, July 24

PANCAKES: Some people like pancakes in the morning; others like them at night, with booze and a bunch of art. If you fall into the latter camp, check out Penn Social’s Pancakes and Booze Art Show, featuring an all-you-can-eat pancake bar, live body painting, works from more than 50 local artists, Penn Social’s games, and of course a fully stocked bar. $5. 8 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter

Posted at 09:55 AM/ET, 07/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Public backlash and concerns from DC environmental officials put Mia Feuer’s exhibit on hold. By Benjamin Freed
"Antediluvian," as it would have appeared in the Anacostia River this fall. Rendering courtesy of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

UPDATE, 3:10 PM: The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities says Mia Feuer's mock gas station won't be going in the Anacostia River after officials from the District Department of the Environment voiced concerns that the exhibit could interfere with efforts to clean up the distressed waterway.

Sarah Massey, a spokeswoman for the commission, says the decision was reached ahead of a letter issued Thursday by a coalition of environmentalists and rowers opposing the installation of Feuer's composition, which was scheduled to be part of the upcoming 5X5 Project, a collection of public art scattered throughout the District.

"We're responding to the issue of the toxicity in the riverbed," Massey says. "We have to do things that are responsive to the public good."

The arts commission's director, Lionell Thomas, met with Department of the Environment Director Keith Anderson about Feuer's exhibit "yesterday or this morning," says Anderson's spokeswoman, Donna Henry. Henry says their conversations were more technical and would have likely addressed permitting issues.

Although Massey says the arts commission still "stands behind" Feuer's faux gas station and wants it to appear somewhere in the District, the reaction—even from another city agency—is not that startling.

"This artist is controversial," Massey says. "Controversy and dialogue is something one would expect with her work. We are looking to relocate."

Original post follows:

Perhaps the most provocative piece announced for the DC government’s upcoming 5x5 public art project has, in fact, provoked a reaction. The Canadian artist Mia Feuer’s plan to build a full-scale replica of a gas station in the middle of the Anacostia River is the target of a letter issued Thursday by the a group of environmentalists and rowers who say the planned artwork would suggest it’s acceptable to pollute the river, even though Feuer’s mock gas station is designed with the exact opposite message.

“While we understand and many of us appreciate the global climate change message that the artist is trying to deliver, we are unified in our view that sinking a gas station in the Anacostia is simply the wrong thing to do in 2014,” the letter, addressed to DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities director Lionell Thomas, reads. “If the public misunderstands the art’s intended message as permission to put gas or oil in the river, the project could single-handedly set back the river restoration and undo years of effort on the part of the DC, Montgomery County and Prince Georges County governments to convince people to keep oil out of the water.”

Opponents to Feuer’s work may not relish the visual of a fake gas station butting out of Kingman Lake, an inlet of the Anacostia that separates Kingman Island from the mainland, the notion that it would erode efforts to clean up DC’s waterways seems incongruous with the rest Feuer’s portfolio, much of which has had an environmental bent. For her last major exhibition in DC, she installed a skating rink in the Corcoran Gallery of Art featuring ice made from bitumen, a byproduct of North American shale.

This fall marks the second installment of the DC arts commission’s 5x5 Project, in which five curators place works by five different artists around town. Feuer’s gas station, titled “Antediluvian,” is part of a series called Near Future, which focuses on energy and ecology. Feuer is still raising money for the project through an Indiegogo page with a goal of $30,000.

Posted at 10:24 AM/ET, 07/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()