Art Patrons, Displaying Favorites

By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, February 1, 2008

They dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars for art -- for the honor of being patrons. And locally, when you say "collector," a few names come to mind: Heather and Tony Podesta (like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the Podestas must be taken as a pair); Pink Line Project's adventurous founder, Philippa Hughes; and Philip Barlow, who recently was photographed, painted and sculpted 15 different ways by local artists in an exhibition at the Curator's Office.

But what would an illustrious Washington collector do if offered a mini-gallery to curate as he or she pleases? The Arlington Arts Center asks that in its little experiment, "Collectors Select," which opens with a reception tonight.

Daniel Levinas, a collector of Latin American art, wanted the walls raspberry pink. Odd, we know. But raspberry does add that certain something to the room's obsessive, almost mechanical blueprints by Argentine artist Le¿n Ferrari, whose highly controlled, repetitive works reflect the atmosphere under his native country's military dictatorships.

And what to do about the Arts Center's "Tiffany Room," which has one wall covered with Tiffany stained-glass windows? Hughes chose D.C. graffiti artist Tim Conlon and his crew (Bryan Conner, The Soviet, Rams) to have his way with the other three walls, the street art playing hilariously off the staunch Tiffany, and vice versa.

Barlow selected the same geometric and ordered works he might buy, by artists such as Tomas Rivas and Michele Kong; the Podestas brought in performance artist Kathryn Cornelius, photographer Steve Alterman and Barbara Liotta (whose site-specific string bridge-like sculpture, "Ascent," is a stunning centerpiece for the space). Henry Thaggert turned his exhibit into the AV room, choosing to show the gender- and race-exploring video works of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry. And old-school collector Julian Fore went with favorite local artists, including William Christenberry and Sam Gilliam.

Though the collectors probably own hundreds of pieces, those aren't the works you'll find here. The collectors merely chose the artists who represented their vision, and borrowed.

Free. The reception is from 6 to 9 tonight; show, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through March 29. Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-6800.

Save the Date

CONCERT: "Free to Sing: The Story of the First African-American Opera Company" The upcoming performance at Strathmore, a commission featuring the Morgan State University Choir and the culmination of work by many people, including scholars and music directors, tells through song the story of Washington's Colored American Opera Company, which began in 1873 and went on to perform "The Doctor of Alcantara" to packed houses to raise money to build a new church. Announced a year ago, the Feb. 16 performance has been sold out for ages; but this week, additional tickets were released. So consider this your last notice. $21-$45. 8 p.m. 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. 301-581-5100.

CONCERT: Mary Wilson Returns Still riding the "Dreamgirls" wave is Mary Wilson (and yes, Jennifer Hudson, but that's another story). Wilson was one of the three original Supremes and continues to perform several nights a week. After a visit to Washington nearly a year ago, the singer returns to Blues Alley to perform her typical blend of show tunes and jazz later this month. $43. 8 and 10 p.m. Feb. 21-24. 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-4141.

EXHIBIT: "Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture" The name is unfortunate. But this show at the National Portrait Gallery beginning next week does offer an opportunity to see artists whose work is infused with hip-hop culture, including poetry, graffiti and spoken word: photographer David Scheinbaum, painter Kehinde Wiley, new-media artist Jefferson Pinder. Also featured in the show is a poem about hip-hop, "It's Not a Just Situation," by Nikki Giovanni, and large wall works by local graffiti artists Tim Conlon and Dave Hupp. The show opens Feb. 8. Free. 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Oct. 26. National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW. 202-633-1000.

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