Despite the turbulent economy, most of Washington's art galleries seem to be staying afloat, though changes abound. Ask a dealer what's new these days and you'll get an earful.
What could have been the priciest change happily never took place. It was the swallowing up of Lunn Gallery, Inc. (one of the world's leading photography and art dealerships) into a large corporation. Lunn's shareholders (including several Washington attorneys) had the gallery on the market through a New York investment firm for nine months during last year's merger-fever epidemic. Asking price: $6 million.
"We thought some corporation might want to buy us, but we were too small and there were no takers," said Harry Lunn, who built the worldwide business from a small print gallery on Capitol Hill and currently jets from deal to deal from his apartment on the Seine.
"But have no fear," said Lunn Gallery shareholder and board member, attorney Samuel Stern. "Lunn Gallery will continue under Harry's management and control as long as he's around to run it."
A major loss, however, is still looming. After months of trying to come up with an alternative solution, Nancy Drysdale has decided to move McIntosh/Drysdale--one of the liveliest and most adventurous galleries in town--to Houston, where her husband has taken a new job.
"It's been five interesting, successful years, and I hate to leave just when Seventh Street is beginning to blossom and interest in the arts is so vastly improved from what it was when I opened," says Drysdale, who took over Max Protetch's gallery when he moved to New York. "But no matter where you are, the audience for contemporary art is not large and never has been: You have to make it. Even the Impressionists had trouble selling."
Drysdale says she is looking forward to giving her stable of artists new exposure in Houston, and, as part-owner of the "406" gallery complex at 406 Seventh St. NW, she also anticipates pinning down the future occupant of her handsome Washington space. "That has not yet been settled," says Drysdale, "but there are several possibilities, including out-of-town galleries."
Meanwhile, at least one major Washington dealership is expanding. After a frustrating year of hunting for space downtown, Jane Haslem has finally decided not only to stay on P Street, but to double her space. In addition to signing a new lease on the gallery she has occupied for a decade at 2121 P St. NW, Haslem also has leased the former Osuna Gallery at the same address.
To cover the walls of her newly enlarged domain, Haslem has created an entirely new entity--Jane Haslem Prints--which will fill her "old" space exclusively with 20th-century American graphics. The new space--to be known as Jane Haslem Gallery--will be used to show paintings and large-scale drawings. "I wanted to split the print department away from paintings," explains Haslem, who has inaugurated the new space with a handsome exhibition of paintings by Washington realist John Winslow. Jane Haslem Prints, meanwhile, is featuring "Prints by Mauricio Lasansky: 1945-1982," on view through March. In the future, painting shows will run for two months, print shows for three weeks.
"Haslem's decision to stay should do a lot for all of the P Street galleries," says Komei Wachi of Gallery K, just down the street, who says he also considered downtown space, but decided against it because of the increased costs it would entail. He is currently trying to buy a building in the P Street area. "Leasing is just too expensive," he says, adding, "We'd like our own place. That is the main thing. Then we can do what we like, without being pushed."
Meanwhile, the neighborhood has added at least one significant new private dealership this season: Robert Brown Contemporary Art, located at 1005 New Hampshire Ave. NW. "The gallery is private, but it's not really private because I'm here all the time," says former attorney Brown, who also has started having regular gallery hours on Saturdays, 11 to 5.
Another dealer named Brown--Diane Brown--has kept two spaces going for the past two years, but has already announced her intention to close her "Sculpture Space" at 52 O St. NW at the end of this month. She will retain her gallery at 406 Seventh St. NW at least through this summer, but has long considered moving her gallery to New York, and is still hunting space there, though none has yet been found. That move seems firmly up in the air.
It is the craft galleries that seem to have suffered most from the economic crunch, and three have closed this season: Greenwood, on P Street (now operating privately); Seraph Gallery in Georgetown, and Branch Gallery, which featured one-of-a kind ceramics and glass. One of Seraph's owners, Anne Smith, will join forces with Sarah Hansen as co-owner of the Glass Gallery in Bethesda.
Happily, and contrary to rumor, the Georgetown Art Gallery, the fine little establishment at 2611 P. St. NW is not closing, though the simultaneous loss of its director and two owners (all for purely personal reasons) temporarily threatened its existence. A new director, Claus Preilliper, has been appointed and the gallery "intends to maintain continuity and responsiveness to emerging Washington artists," says owner Alice Pritchard. "We've steadily grown over the past five years, and that's as much as we could hope for. After all, we're showing local artists exclusively--new ones--and you can't make much money on that."