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Collector Mera Rubell makes rounds of Washington's isolated artists

"If you were living in New York, you'd be pushing your work a lot harder," Mera says with firmness. "With all of the millions of dollars poured into museums here, why are artists so contained?"

A few minutes later, taking cover under Liotta's doorway before venturing into the cold rain, Mera considers the peculiar situation that is the Washington art world.

"The pecking order is so vague here, so nebulous," the collector says. In New York, top artists become untouchable. For them, it's a badge of achievement to pull up younger ones, to mentor them. Not so in Washington, where no one knows who's on top and everyone is on the defensive.

"It's like children fighting for their parents' attention," Mera say. "It's basic competitive survival here -- you don't give an inch."

There's a reason artists move to New York.

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