Moreand more Washington galleries are trying to sink their teeth into the Big Apple's juicy art market.
None is abandoning Washington altogether, as did former dealers Max Protetch and Diane Brown, whose moves to New York have brought them both renown and success. But several dealers here have been taking steps -- some bold, some tentative -- to expose their artists to New York's bigger, richer and (they hope) more acquisitive art audiences.
The boldest step has been that of Jack Shainman, who is currently renovating a prime second-floor space at 560 Broadway (corner of Prince) in SoHo, after 18 successful months in the East Village. He will reopen his new, larger quarters on Sept. 17 with paintings by Roman abstractionist Luigi Campanelli, who will show concurrently here at Jack Shainman Gallery, 2443 18th St. NW.
"New York is just as difficult as Washington, but in other ways," says Shainman. "The competition of 600 galleries is amazing, so it's a lot of hard work. But then every important museum curator and serious collector comes to New York at least once a year and makes the rounds, so once you get established, the rewards are potentially great."
Getting established, however, isn't as easy as in Washington, says photography dealer Kathleen Ewing (1609 Connecticut Ave. NW). In a more cautious mode, she has been testing the waters with a three-month experiment in SoHo, where she has leased the Sander Gallery, 51 Greene St., through July and again for the month of November. "It's a lot tougher in New York than I could have imagined," says Ewing, though she also reports strong sales in historical material and four times the traffic on average. "Certainly the potential is greater than in Washington, but so is the competition ... The sidewalks of SoHo are definitely not paved with gold."
Now Walker, Ursitti and McGinniss -- a smart and sharp-eyed trio of Washington artist-dealers -- has taken the plunge, signing a four-month lease on a fifth-floor commercial gallery space at 19 Hudson St. in TriBeCa, between Wall Street and SoHo. "We figure that's exactly the place to be," says Joe Walker, one of the partners in the nearly two-year-old gallery at 457 M St. NW, which will continue.
"This is an experiment to see if this space works," says Walker. "It's a place to get started, and we have an option to extend the lease. We're trying to start slow and ease our way into New York, introduce our artists to people on a personal level, and be sure our business is sound before we start to bring in a lot of people." The New York gallery will open with a group show in July, and will feature Washington sculptors Thomas Mullany in September and Charles Flickinger in October.
Meanwhile, the Washington gallery is showing painter Symmes Gardner and sculptor Betsy Shulman, and will open a new show on June 18, introducing three new gallery artists plus Mullany, who will be featured in the sculpture garden.
"We're committed to Washington," says Walker, "but if we're going to grow, the only place to go is to New York. The commercial art market isn't strong enough right now to legitimize just staying here. Our artists deserve to be seen where there's a wider audience and more people who want to see and buy art."
Georgetown dealer Barbara Fendrick has been in an expansive mood since last October, when she opened a downtown Washington branch on Peacock Alley in the new Willard Hotel. Starting in July, she will also be dealing, by appointment only, from a handsome studio in SoHo, at 216 Lafayette St., where work by gallery artists, including Walter Dusenbery (the studio's absent owner), will be shown.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, new galleries continue to proliferate and old galleries to expand. The Seventh Street art scene has just received a welcome shot in the arm with the arrival of a branch of Zenith Gallery, newly opened at 413 Seventh St. NW -- an address known as Gallery Row, though only one other gallery, the pioneering Zygos, has ever occupied the space.
Zenith, which will also keep its space at 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW, is currently showing an odd lot of work by gallery artists, including some neon sculpture that gives a nice buzz and some much-needed color to Seventh Street. The first official show, focusing on art for corporate and public settings, opens June 18. Hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6.
Paintings by Kevin MacDonald Picture a typical scene by artist Kevin MacDonald: an empty booth in a diner, with red plastic seats, a Formica table, salt and pepper shakers at the ready, and big snowflakes falling gently onto unpeopled streets outside the window. Then enlarge the scene into an oil painting roughly 5 1/2 feet wide -- including the frame, which is now incorporated into the painting -- and you've got a good idea of what MacDonald has been up to in his new work at David Adamson.
Overall, the show finds the artist in a freer, more expansive and experimental mood than ever before, dabbling not only in larger formats but in a wider range of subjects, which includes sunny sailboats as well as the bizarre fantasyland of a McDonald's restaurant. Most important: Since the last show, which announced the artist's switch from meticulous, pointillist pastel drawings to oil paintings, MacDonald has continued to expand his mastery over his new medium, especially evident in the painting of a pond with rubber tube and rubber boats, "Formerly Sal's Gerbil Farm," and in the silent "E St. Wing," a view of the bar at d.c. space, a restaurant near the gallery. There are areas of loose brushwork in the latter that are altogether revolutionary for this meticulous artist.
As before, MacDonald continues to work out his compositional ideas on paper, and several of these studies are also on view. But he no longer lavishes endless hours on fine finishes here: The finished product is now the painting itself. The switch is complete.
But one large challenge remains -- that of bringing to painting the same expressive power, the same sense of charged atmosphere that distinguished MacDonald's best work, whatever the medium. "The Distance Between Two Chairs" is an especially telling example of intent left unfulfilled. There is no palpable sense of "distance" here, just empty space. MacDonald knows the difference, and will doubtless paint his way to a satisfying solution.
His show continues through June 20 at David Adamson, 406 Seventh St. NW. Hours are 10:30 to 5, Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Laurence Bach at Zygos Laurence Bach, now showing "Nightspells" at Zygos Gallery, is not the only American photographer who has fallen in love with the intense light, strong shadows and cloudless skies of the Greek islands.
But he is luckier than most in that he manages to travel each summer to the island of Paros, where he scavenges fragments of civilizations past and present -- ancient urns, pot shards and rocks, sticks, flowers and bird feathers -- and carefully arranges them into still-life images, which he photographs in black and white, taking full advantage of light and shadow, textured walls and earth and sky.
Sometimes Bach makes double -- sometimes triple -- exposures, with results that are gently and nostalgically surreal. He also heightens the sense of past and present, old and new, by using sepia toning in certain areas, leaving others -- like a white lily or fresh towel -- to stand out with a stark crispness.
Even those who cannot respect manipulated images of any sort are likely to respect Bach's way with light and composition, excusing excesses elsewhere -- notably in work involving figures. Oddly, however, it is the unmanipulated image showing the corner of a room bathed in diffused light coming through a sheer curtain that lingers longest in this particular memory.
Bach's show will continue at Zygos, 403 Seventh St. NW, through June 28. Hours are 10:30 to 5:30 Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays.