Despite the sluggish economy, four visionaries have opened galleries in the DC area over the past year. Though their offerings are diverse, these curators share a conviction that art transcends the everyday and offers solace in every climate.
When the right space opened up, Craig Appelbaum grabbed it, launching Industry Gallery in a former car repair shop above another art venue, Conner Contemporary, just north of the bustling H Street corridor. His vision: to showcase contemporary design that turns industrial materials into high-concept furniture. Displayed in site-specific installations, the work transforms the traditional concept of space.
According to Appelbaum, DC has become edgier and more accepting of art outside the mainstream. “It seemed like the right time to open a gallery that shows avant-garde designers, some of whom haven’t even shown in New York,” he says. Often stunned and fascinated at the same time, visitors to Industry Gallery commonly remark, “I can’t believe this is in Washington!”
There are very few galleries in the U.S. dedicated to exhibiting 21st-century design; Appelbaum, who believes that good design can be great art, hopes to fill this void. “These galleries exist only in Paris, London and Milan. Why not Washington, too?” he asks. Appelbaum encourages people to buy what they like and ignore the critics. “I don’t believe in prescribed culture,” he explains.
On view indefinitely: Tom Price, “Meltdown.” 1358 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC; 202-399-1730; industrygallerydc.com
Margaret Heiner opened the whimsically pink doors of her Georgetown gallery with this vision: to create a comfortable, educational and fun environment that introduces collectors to artists who haven’t shown in our region before. Her goal is to see people connect with art in a personal way and ask questions that relate to big ideas. Most importantly, she says, “I want to move people, to make them laugh.” Heiner forged ahead with her gallery despite the economy because she felt so strongly about her mission. “I believe that art is always important, but that it’s especially important now because it provides an outlet for expression that may not otherwise exist,” she says.
Heiner explains to clients that it’s important to collect art and live with it in your home and be surrounded by it all the time. Not only does it create visual interest, but it also engages viewers in conversations that can be enlightening and that can connect people to each other. “The objects represent ideas,” says Heiner. “I view art collecting as the collection of ideas.”
November 18 to January 14, 2012: “In Line/Out of Line: Chip Allen, Katherine Sable and Camilo Sanin.” 1675 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC; 202-338-0072; heinercontemporary.com.
Amy Morton, who believes that anyone can be an art collector, developed a flexible gallery model that allows her to reach broader communities that might not otherwise collect art. Her hybrid model includes a traditional gallery space in Adams Morgan along with a mobile gallery that pops up in communities that may have lost galleries during the economic downturn. She says, “These tougher economic times have allowed me to be more responsive to both the artists’ and collectors’ current needs.
It was high risk, of course, but I felt compelled to take the plunge.” Morton, whose own collection includes both antiques and contemporary artwork, advises clients and potential collectors to “buy work that has great personal meaning to you.” She says that living with art in her home allows her to interact with her collection every day—and therefore she considers it to be her most valuable material possession. Morton believes that the arts in DC are starting to make a unique impact on the local, regional, and national scenes, much of it driven by novel approaches to the traditional gallery system.
December 2011: “Small Works Month,” a group exhibition. Pop-up shows at other locations include “NYC NOW” featuring the work of New York artists Kenichi Hoshine, Choichun Leung, Jules Arthur and Jason Sho Green, November 11 to December 6. 1781 Florida Avenue, NW, Washington, DC; 202-628-2787; mortonfineart.com
Adah Rose Bitterbaum had been saving money and looking for space to open a gallery for several years; high DC real estate prices had thwarted her dream. When she heard through the grapevine that an affordable space in Kensington had become available, she jumped on the opportunity. Her vision is to show as much DC-based art as she can. An added twist: She encourages the non-artist to create art in the gallery.
Bitterbaum’s goal is to implement a salon-style environment, encouraging social interaction and intellectual discourse at Adah Rose with the addition of music and poetry. “DC isn’t just a government city anymore!” she exclaims.
The local art scene, says the gallery owner, has become more artist-driven with artist-led exhibit spaces like Pleasant Plains Workshop and Harmon Art Lab opening in the past year. “Artists are taking matters into their own hands,” says Bitterbaum, “and opening galleries” that double as studio space. Washington has always been a do-it-yourself kind of arts and culture town—and with Adah Rose that tradition continues.
November 16 to December 18: “Without Proof. Open Ended,” painting and mixed media by Thierry Guillemin and Amanda Horowitz. 3766 Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD; 301-922-0162; adahrosegallery.weebly.com
Author Philippa P. B. Hughes runs The Pink Line Project. Michael Ventura is a photographer in Silver Spring, Maryland.