Industry Gallery

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Editorial Review

Industry Gallery, a new space for 21st-century art, opens in NE Washington

By Jacqueline Trescott
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shlomo Harush is standing by one of his aluminum sculptures in a cavernous room, with whitewashed walls, towering ceilings, assembly-line lighting, rough concrete floors and little heat.

Harush loves the mingling of urban grit and artistic refinement in the space, which used to be an auto repair shop (and still has a huge ramp) but is now an art gallery. "I did a lot of exhibitions in galleries. I [also] feel very comfortable in the streets," Harush says, standing within earshot of a busy corner of Florida Avenue NE.

On a chilly but bright afternoon, Harush is installing his work and bringing to life not only the 4,300-square-foot room but a dream of local lawyer Craig Appelbaum. Industry Gallery is Appelbaum's brainchild, a home for 21st-century design where high art will coexist with the rough-edged feel of the old shop.

Appelbaum has been collecting 21st-century objects for as long as there's been a 21st century, lured by the thrill of discovering the most cutting-edge design and the artists who create it. "I love people who are using industrial materials," Appelbaum says.

Appelbaum, 39, grew up in Cleveland in a traditional home -- complete with a grandfather clock, a wood dining-room table and a bedroom shag rug. He earned his law degree at University of Pennsylvania, worked seven years as a tax lawyer, and now works at Mayer Brown in the District. Built like a speed runner, with a direct exuberance, he explains how he wanted to shake the decorating restrictions he'd grown up with but felt stymied by Washington's conservative style.

"I found myself having to leave Washington to go to New York and Miami," he says. His first purchase for his loft in Arlington was a wicker chair by industrial designer Marc Newson that he found on eBay.

Now that he's opening a gallery, he is traveling to London, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles and Eindhoven, the technology capital of the Netherlands, to discover what's new, purchase pieces to sell and publicize his space.

When a few artists and restaurateurs started moving onto Florida Avenue and H Street, he decided to join Leigh Conner, who owns the building and has a contemporary gallery on the first level. He rents his space from Conner and is the sole investor in Industry Gallery.

Why open a gallery in the middle of a recession? "The timing is right, it feels right," says Appelbaum, referring to growing interest in 21st-century design. He has about six shows booked for the rest of the year. Industry Gallery won't have the wall captions of an established gallery, but will have a brief catalogue and price list since this is a commercial venture.

"Most of these pieces are residentially friendly," Appelbaum says. "I want to introduce people to modern design through ordinary material."

Appelbaum had spotted Harush's work at shows and invited him to christen the gallery with a show on Saturday evening. Though Harush has exhibited in group shows since the early 1990s and is well known in the field of of-the-moment design, this is his first solo exhibit. He has collected a series of his hammered and riveted chairs for his show "Round the Corner."

The old auto repair shop ramp provided the chance to install one of his most whimsical pieces, a 1993 Ford Explorer that he covered with about 300 pounds of aluminum. What he originally did with the car might qualify as a one-man show. "About 2006 I decided to make it a moving installation. I drove it around for four to five days during the Armory Show," he says, referring to the New York mecca for modern art. "People would yell, 'We love the car!' And I would smile. People were reacting. What I loved was how the surface would reflect all the lights."

At Industry, two floors above the street, Harush is also placing a real traffic light by the car to beam off the aluminum hood.

Tall and taut, he was born and raised in Jerusalem, and discovered his passion for aluminum and stainless steel in Milan. Now 48, he lives in Milan and the funky neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. He brought the car down on a trailer.

But what could be described as his solo adventures also include a floating installation at the Venice Biennale, starting in 1993. Last year, he hammered out a 40-foot boat and floated it on the canal. "I built a white aluminum boat, broke it in half and had one piece going down into the water," he says. Dressed all in white, he stood in the upright part of the boat holding a red fish.

His chair sculptures reflect his desire for people to interact with his art. A fanciful joining of two high-back chairs, connected by a latticed arch, reaches 110 inches. "For me art is an expression of freedom. An art object has its own life outside the walls of the gallery. I like to create the unexpected meeting between the public and art," Harush says.