10 years after critic began art column, galleries still call to her

Western imitation: In Kirill Golovchenko's 2008 photo series "The Ukranian Breakthrough," one sees the trappings of excess, such as this stretch Hummer.
Western imitation: In Kirill Golovchenko's 2008 photo series "The Ukranian Breakthrough," one sees the trappings of excess, such as this stretch Hummer. (Kirill Golovchenko/goethe-institut Washington)

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By Jessica Dawson
Friday, November 19, 2010; 12:49 AM

Washington Art World, it's our anniversary. Remember when we first met, on these pages, in November 2000? Despite more than a few dust-ups with the dealers and artists among you, a decade has passed and I'm still here.

But before you send gifts - tin is traditional - let's take a moment to reminisce.

Remember when Dupont was a gallery hub? I miss Gallery K, with its curious stable and even curiouser owners Marc Moyens and Komei Wachi, both now passed. I rarely liked the art that I saw there, but I liked the vibe. And there was Troyer Fitzpatrick Lassman . . . later just Troyer . . . finally just gone, possibly for the best.

Robert Brown's print shop introduced me to William Kentridge, for which I am forever grateful. Back then, Conner Contemporary was around the corner, running out of a tiny upstairs space (a studio apartment compared to their current McMansion in Northeast).

So long, Washington Printmakers, which relocated, and Kathleen Ewing, gone private. Other than Marsha Mateyka and a few lesser lights, the only art you'll see on R Street NW is an armless Venus guarding Ms. Elaine's psychic shop.

We've also bid farewell to the 406 Seventh St. NW gallery building where Cheryl Numark once showed Peter Halley and Dan Steinhilber. Adamson was there, too, along with some co-op galleries and a handful of others that came and went. Now the Seventh Street NW scene has moved north, near the Washington Convention Center, where Civilian and Furthermore keep the art lights on.

Logan Circle and U Street are the city's gallery core now. Starting with now-defunct Fusebox (now occupied by Irvine) in 2001 and then Transformer and the 1515 arts building, the scene there lit up. Of course Northeast's Atlas District and suburban centers such as Artisphere, Arlington Arts Center and Pyramid Atlantic encourage commuting. And there's something to look forward to in Southwest, where Mera and Don Rubell plan a contemporary art center in the former Randall School (a building many of us remember as "Woobyworld," nicknamed after erstwhile studio complex manager, Bill Wooby).

Washington, while you've reinvented yourself, so have I. You like to tease me about the old days, when my prose smacked harsh. In the meantime, I wised up and recognized that there are kinder ways of saying "shape up" than likening art to "a dental hygienist scaling your tartar with a metal pick." (Though I stand behind that assessment.)

I'll never forget the torching you gave me early on - all those anonymous letters (I'm talking to you, "John Mezzocapo") and the vigorous "Dump Dawson Committee" that called for my ouster. Treasured in my fan mail folder is one anonymous reader's analysis of my first 47 columns in unnerving detail and the wonderful (sadly, also anonymous) drawing of my ex-boss, arts editor John Pancake, rendered as a blind man accepting my dagger-laden copy without edit. Happily, I didn't take this job to make friends.

Okay, the warm fuzzies end here. Let's get back to the art.

New photography exhibits

Both exhibitions worth seeing this week ride the coattails of the citywide FotoWeek celebration, which concluded Saturday but left many galleries brimming with photography for the next several weeks.

I urge you to make Goethe-Insitut your first stop. The four documentary photographers here - each won Germany's biennial Wuestenrot Foundation competition - probe formerly communist regions of Europe and remind us how difficult it is to shake the past.


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