After 35 years, dozens of high-profile shows and such celebrities as Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz and Muhammad Ali, Georgetown’s Govinda Gallery has closed its doors.
“It was such an exciting time,” owner Chris Murray told us. “I just feel proud of what we did there. I’m not sad at all.”
Without fanfare or one of his famously overcrowded parties, Murray quietly closed the tiny gallery June 30. Govinda will continue operations as an art consulting and publishing company, but its days as a gathering space for D.C. art and artists — and Georgetown’s last bastion of hippie glamour — are over.
Govinda opened in 1975 on the corner of 34th Street and Prospect. “It still feels like yesterday,” said Murray, who began by showcasing Washington artists and the work of Warhol, a friend of Georgetown college pal Bob Colacello’s. But Murray found his passion — art and photography of music legends — after Leibovitz had her first gallery show in 1984.
“I’m going to buy my first photo from you,” Murray told her as they were hanging her Rolling Stone portraits. He pointed to her famous shot of John Lennon curled around Yoko Ono. “That was taken on the day he died,” she told him. That was news to Murray, who said that’s when he had an epiphany: “I realized it was not only a good photo, but an important photo.” (He was right: In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors said it was the best cover from the past 40 years.)
But his favorite show had nothing to do with music. For Govinda’s 20th anniversary in 1995, photographer Howard Bingham shared his 30 years with Ali— and the boxing legend showed up for the opening. “He was the most charismatic, magnificent individual I ever met,” said Murray. “He stayed for hours, signed everything for everybody.”
The decision to close the gallery, which was rented all these years, wasn’t about the economy. “It just seemed like the perfect moment,” he said. “This was the completion of a 35-year cycle.”
Murray, 63, said he’ll focus more time on his work organizing exhibits for museums, book publishing and advising art collectors. He co-curated the “Elvis at 21” touring exhibit currently at the Clinton Library, is working with the Taschen publishing house on a book on the exhibit and the “Sound and Vision” show featuring rock photography.
As for the gallery? “It’s been a magical space.”