Art in the City….and the Metro Area!

By F. Lennox Campello

Art in the City….and the Metro Area!

“Why DC Needs Art Galleries” is the title of a January article in the DMV area glossy Washingtonian magazine. The article is by Ian Bourland, who is assistant professor of contemporary art history at Georgetown University and an art critic for a range of international publications. Bourland does an excellent job of updating the current gallery around the District (not the DMV). He goes back a little too far in history (for my taste) to recount the halcyon days of the DC gallery scene, at least according to him when he notes:

“Decades ago, before the economic turnaround transformed Washington, it seemed as though the city might be an emerging art capital. The Corcoran School of Art & Design was thriving, and DC boasted the hard-edged abstraction of the Washington Color School, anchored by now-canonical figures Morris Louis and Sam Gilliam.”

Why am I starting my column with this observation? Two reasons: (a) It is rare to see any DC area media write and discuss DMV area art galleries, and (b) It reaffirms my commitment to this column, which for a couple of decades now has been trying to do that! Kudos to the Old Town Crier!

Another point: In my opinion, technically the zenith of the DMV gallery art scene (no pun intended with Zenith Gallery, which coincidentally represents my work) was more around the late 1990s to mid-2000s, when the number of art galleries of all flavors: independently owned commercial art galleries (such as Conner, Fraser, eklektikos, Marsha Mateyka, Irvine, Davidson, Anton, Robert Brown, Heineman-Myers, Alex, Baumgartner, Alla Rogers, Veerhoff, Neptune, Aaron, Numark, G Fine Art, Hemphill, Addison-Ripley, Littleton, Parish, and others, as well as the highly survivable artists’ cooperatives (Touchstone, Studio, Multiple Exposures, Factory Photoworks, Gallery West, etc.), and the non-profits (MOCA, DC Arts Center, Athenaeum, Art League, Target, etc.), and all the university galleries plus all the embassy and embassy-associated galleries (Mexican Cultural Institute, Goethe, etc.).

Back in those closer to the present and true halcyon days of the DMV art scene, the number of galleries in the DMV art scene exploded, as galleries colonized areas such as Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Bethesda, Alexandria, etc. At one point there were eight galleries in Georgetown’s Canal Square alone, and several in downtown Alexandria – remember Perry House Gallery on Duke Street?

And one last point: Why just DC galleries? When you cross the street in many places in the DC “box” on the map, now you’re either in MD or VA – that’s why we call it the DMV (an acronym that I invented by the way)… when pieces are written about the city’s art scene, by default it is about the DMV art scene and includes Bethesda, Alexandria, Rockville, Mt. Rainier, etc. In fact, there are more artists’ studios in Rockville or Alexandria or Mt. Rainier, than in all of DC! In fact, the Torpedo Factory hosts more artists’ studios than any other single spot in DC!

OK, I’m calm now.

A few days ago, I visited the solo exhibition by local area artist Akemi Maegawa at the Stone Tower Gallery inside the Glen Echo National Park, which by the way is another local gem full of artists’ studios, several art galleries, a couple of theatres, etc.

Maegawa’s show was one of the most innovative and curiously diverse shows which I’ve seen recently. There we some works seen previously seen around the area, and yet, within the context of the show at the very intimate Stone Tower, they seemed refreshingly modern and new.

Make no mistake, this is an artist with immense talent and a superbly educated artist and curator.  Maegawa is a constant presence at art fairs of all kinds and levels, and her keenly trained eye is matched by enviable technical skills and intelligent ideas. There is not a single piece in this show that is a breath of fresh visual delight, and they easily cement Maegawa’s position as one of the leading artists of the DMV.

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