Amy Morton's pop-up exhibit showcases art about dreams, alternative reality

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010

Two months ago, after five years selling art at Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria, Amy Morton quit her job, giving it up for the life of an independent dealer. The idea, she says, came to her in a vision one night.

How fitting, then, that the inaugural exhibition of her newly formed venture, Morton Fine Art, is titled "I Dream Awake."

Featuring the work of nine national and local artists, and loosely centered on dream imagery and the theme of alternative reality, it's the first in what the 36-year-old hopes will become a series of "pop-up" art showcases, each nesting in a different space before moving on.

A hybrid of the short-term art fair, traditional gallery show and curated museum exhibition -- complete with explanatory label text offering background information about several of the works -- the current show has taken up residence in the former home of Numark Gallery in Chinatown. It'll be there through May 28.

Morton's next appearance, planned for the fall, will be who-knows-where. Look for show announcements, along with information about artist talks and other public programs, at

"I Dream Awake" includes painting, printmaking, photography, video, sculpture . . . and jewelry. If slightly unbalanced, the mix is more successful than not -- an impressive opening gambit by a young gallerist who hopes one day to have her own permanent space.

The jewelry by local artist Lizzie Newton, an employee of Morton Fine Art, seems out of place. But that's by traditional gallery standards. Morton says she doesn't want to be tied to such hidebound rules.

Painting standouts include contemporary surrealist Vonn Sumner of Los Angeles and Margaret Bowland of New York. I defy you to walk past the gallery's big glass windows, fronting E Street NW, and not do a double-take at Bowland's two large paintings of African American girls in white-face. They're simultaneously beautiful and transgressive.

You can see another example of Bowland's work -- chosen as the People's Choice winner in the "Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2009," on view through Aug. 22 at the National Portrait Gallery.

On the local front, Rosemary Feit Covey's well-known wood-block prints are as striking as ever (if slightly more nightmarish than dreamy). And Tim Tate -- who contributes three short video works inside his now-signature glass vessels -- expands the show's definition of dreams to include aspiration, memory and sexual fantasy.

But it's Los Angeles photographer Susan Burnstine's out-of-focus black-and-white pictures that probably come closest to articulating the show's theme. Shot using an assortment of handmade plastic cameras that allow unpredictable, and typically ethereal, optical effects, they're exactly what dreams are made of: a mix of the everyday -- a train station, a girl jumping over the lines painted down the center of a road -- and the extraordinary.

I Dream Awake
Through May 28 at 625-627 E St. NW (Metro: Gallery Place). 202-390-5118.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Admission: Free.
Public programs: Talk by Mikel Glass on April 29; talk by Margaret Bowland on May 12.

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