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Monitoring Art Galleries

By Ferdinand Protzman
Special to
Monday, March 9, 1998


    'My Father as a Young Man' "My Father as a Young Man," by Mauricio Lasansky. (Artline/Jane Haslem Gallery)
No parking hassles, no closing times, no looking over anybody else's shoulders. Yes, the Washington gallery scene has gone online. You bring the wine and cheese.

Take a look at Artline, the cooperative Web site set up by gallery owner Jane Haslem in the summer of 1995. Since its inception, Haslem's site has gradually expanded to include 16 galleries, seven of them well-known names from the Dupont Circle area, showing works of art from the 15th century to the present. Among the local establishments that have home pages on the site are Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Kathleen Ewing Gallery, Robert Brown Gallery, Marsha Mateyka Gallery and Hemphill Fine Arts.

Work by more than 100 local artists, including Colby Caldwell, Kitty Klaidman, Christopher French and Bill Willis can be seen on Artline and ArtlinePlus, an offshoot that focuses on just the seven Washington galleries.

Both sites have a clean look and are simple and easy to use, although visually they are a bit on the stodgy side, with only a bit of Java script for stimulation. The various home pages include information about that gallery's current exhibition and upcoming shows, a list of gallery artists, biographical information about the artists, as well as images and reviews of their work. Each gallery is responsible for keeping its page up to date and supplying images of the art and information about the artists. Not all of them are keeping up with those tasks.

"Once in a while I have to call some folks up and rattle their chains," Haslem says. "But on the whole, Artline has been doing great. We've been getting about 25,000 to 30,000 hits a week, which probably translates into about 2,500 to 3,000 visitors."

Haslem says her central task has been "to educate people because there is so much misunderstanding about what the Internet can do for a gallery. It's a really great tool, a slide show in the sky, a way of getting your images to other eyes. Once you've done that, then it feeds into your old, regular ways of selling."

In recent months about 85 percent to 90 percent of her sales have been Internet generated, Haslem says. "I don't sell directly through the Net," she says. "It's not like people see something on the site that they like and just send you a check and shipping instructions. What happens is they see something and contact you, which leads to sales."

Another quick route to Washington galleries is an umbrella site called ArtWow, set up in 1995 by Ken Oda, publisher of KOAN, a local art newsletter. The site has a more cluttered, colorful look than Artline and offers a wealth of information and links to some interesting gallery sites such as Georgetown's Fraser Gallery, which has one of the liveliest, best-looking and best-organized sites in town.

'Lambis' "Lambis" (Conch Beach), by Haitian artist Wilmino Domond. (Electric Gallery)
One of the most interesting sites to play with from a technical standpoint belongs to the Electric Gallery in Falls Church, which was founded in 1994 and claims to be the city's first online gallery. It is the only one in town where browsers can participate in an online art auction, submitting bids and tracking competing offers placed within a prescribed auction period, all without ever leaving the screen. While the site is extremely well put together and has won numerous awards, such as a Magellan 4 Star Site rating, the quality of the art for sale varies widely from Impressionist prints to unknown painters.

A good site not linked to a specific gallery is Gateway to Washington Art, which was put together by Kathy Keler, a local artist, who enlisted 11 other Washington artists, including Eglon Daley, Richard Dana, Judy Jashinsky and Sheila Rotner.

The site has been up for almost two years. But the results have been a bit discouraging, says Dana.

"I wish I could say that offers for shows and sales from other countries have been pouring in," he says. "But they haven't. I got involved because it required very little time and money on my part and I wanted to see what happened. So far, no one has contacted me. It may be a question of time. It may be that other artists look at the Web sites, but not collectors and curators. At this point, it is hard to say because it is all so new. The whole question is what type of person is looking at your art."

Local online media companies are looking to develop Web galleries into an ongoing business, too. Internet guides such as Microsoft Sidewalk and's Yellow Pages sell promotional Web sites that are often linked to editorial profiles of the galleries.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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