“This is a platform to promote emerging visual artists,” Reis says. “We knew that we wanted to support D.C. artists, but that we also wanted to present them in tandem with their peers nationally and internationally.”
Reis was an established fixture on the local arts scene before opening Transformer with artist and educator Jayme McLellan, curating exhibitions at galleries and independent spaces since the early ’90s. Transformer harbors her DIY ethos and penchant for D.C. punk (Reis is married to Brian Baker, a founding member of Minor Threat and guitarist for Bad Religion).
“We work in partnership with a lot of cultural institutions and artists, and what started out as a DIY kind of project in many ways still has that operational aesthetic,” says Reis, who splits her time between D.C. and Asbury Park, N.J. “We’re very nimble in what we do, but we are also now a professionalized organization with a board of 15 arts leaders in the D.C. community.”
Between online events and displaying exhibitions on its storefront windows, Transformer’s petite headquarters has avoided flatlining during the pandemic. Its latest storefront exhibition, “Looking In/Looking Out,” will showcase solo installations from D.C. area artists Absurdly Well, Armando Lopez-Bircann and Yacine Tilala Fall until April 10, May 22 and July 3, respectively. The event marked the first time Reis had been back in D.C. since sheltering in place in New Jersey, and her dream day comprises all her favorite spots that she’s been to since returning to the District.
After running errands in Tenleytown, I had to dip into Politics and Prose. That’s been a mainstay in my life in
D.C. After a year of ordering books online, it was just incredible to be in that space, touch books, flip through books and pick up the latest Tana French novels. I’m a huge fan of hers. On my dream day, I would make a stop here.
I recently connected with my girlfriends, who’ve all been vaccinated, and we had an early dinner outside at Buck’s Fishing and Camping. The owner, James Alefantis, is the board president of Transformer. I’ve been dreaming about Buck’s steak and cake for a year now. And even more now because my husband became a vegetarian in November, so I’ve been kind of vegetarian adjacent. It’s one of my favorite D.C. restaurants. Not just because of James, but the whole community he’s built around Buck’s and the staff who’ve worked there for years and their delicious food.
Eaton DC has a really interesting hotel model; it’s focused on social engagement and social consciousness. My
board member, Sheldon Scott, had been a creative director there for years, and he has been really supportive of me and Transformer. Eaton has an incredible art collection that features a lot of artists that Transformer has propelled over the years, and it’s another dreamy spot for me.
But, also is a new art initiative launched by Nancy Daly and Rex Delafkaran, who had been my intern at Transformer years ago and is an incredible artist. Their space on Georgia Avenue is a temporal space for them, and what they’re doing is really an art experiment. It was great to visit another arts space and see this new energy percolating in D.C.
Just down the block, Plain Sight is doing a storefront exhibition as well. They’re presenting Nara Park, an incredible D.C.-based artist whom Transformer worked with this summer through a project that we did with Korean artists from Seoul in collaboration with a mix of D.C.-based artists.
On my way to see Chris Addison of Addison/Ripley Fine Art, I had my lunch with me and stopped at Montrose Park. Between Montrose Park and Dumbarton Oaks there’s a road that goes down and opens up into a trail and it’s built out with all of these garden follies. Really incredible. There’s a little creek that runs through there, and one of them is designed to be a musical element in the way the water flows that you get different sounds. And Dumbarton Oaks itself is so gorgeous. I love going through all the designed gardens at all times of the year. The landscaping and design offers different experiences throughout the seasons. Of course, it’s especially gorgeous in the spring.
Having dinner at my friend Cizuka Seki’s restaurant Izakaya Seki was incredible, and it’s a place I’d go on my dream day. It’s on V Street and 11th [Street]. Cizuka has been a friend for many, many years, and we met through the music scene. I asked her to be the translator for visiting Japanese artists in Transformer’s “2:46 and thereafter” exhibition in 2012, and Izakaya Seki features several artworks by some of the artists from that exhibition Cizuka became friends with. It’s two floors, and James [Alefantis] and I had the top floor of the restaurant pretty much all to ourselves, there was one other table about 15 feet away from us, and we just had the most incredible meal: amazing fresh sashimi, fried oysters, crab and corn croquettes, tofu agedashi, lots of vegetables. Perfect asparagus. Lots of little pickled veggie treats.