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Update: Artist’s Mock Gas Station Won’t Go in Anacostia River

Public backlash and concerns from DC environmental officials put Mia Feuer’s exhibit on hold.
"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 5×5 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 5×5 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.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.