Murphy’s digging yielded 33 locations in an area that stretches from Pennsylvania Avenue to O Street, and from Third Street to 14th Street. The map spotlights a few arts venues that survived, many that relocated and some that simply vanished as the precinct was remade. There are a few omissions, but Murphy promises to update the project with future editions.
Today’s downtown arts district is actually livelier than the map suggests. Murphy intentionally excluded well-established institutions with large budgets — mostly theaters — as well as several office-lobby galleries that resulted from the city’s zoning or historic-preservation requirements. Yet the peak period has clearly passed, and arts spaces continue to depart. The show’s punchline is this bit of information about the venue where the map is now on display: “Flashpoint Gallery and Mead Theater Lab, 2004-2017.”
Blair Murphy: Footprint aka the Lansburgh’s Notebook On view through May 6 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. 202-315-1305. culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpoint-gallery.
On one of the venue’s two longer walls, newspaper clippings and historical artifacts are supplemented by remarks and recollections from gallery visitors. There are many laments for “Footnote’s” subject: bygone arts spaces.
Some longtime Washingtonians might argue that 1997 to 2017 is not the most stimulating moment in the city’s artistic history. Perhaps that’s why the opposite wall looks to the future. As of a recent visit, most of the posted comments were, unsurprisingly, about gentrification. A tomorrow in which most artists can’t afford to live and work in the District seems likely.
Visions of the future are usually recastings of the past, so punsters twist a name that was famous yesterday: The city’s first white mayor will be Mary Anne Barry, or its first Asian one will be Mei Ri Ahn Barry. Can D.C. culture in 2037 be more than a wisecrack? That’s up to artists and patrons. On May 6 from 5 to 8 p.m., they’re invited to “help us build out a collective vision for the next 20 years.”
Meridians Lab: Experiments, Change and Praxis On view through May 6 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. transformerdc.org
Like the arts organizations based in downtown buildings slated for redevelopment during the 1970s and ’80s, Artomatic inhabits structures that will be remade for more conventional mercantile purposes. The difference is that Artomatic moves in, not for years, but for just a few weeks. That can bring spontaneity and serendipity to unlikely spots, such as the empty Crystal City office block that has briefly ceded seven floors to art. Still, after 18 years of the uncurated, unjuried fairs, certain elements are predictable.
As usual, Artomatic’s temporary home is mostly divided into small former offices. That makes it harder to survey, but the contained spaces do lend themselves to immersive installations. Among the darkened-room highlights are pulsing light pieces by Evie Altman and Barry Schnetter (whose work also emits music) and Bardia Saeedi. Also striking is Justine Light’s large tree stump, dead and yet alive, because it’s embellished with shells and pine cones embedded in moss.
Some of the most engaging pieces are 3-D. Trish Kent fashions fancy dresses out of glass, Bart Hawe makes giant metal cookie cutters, and Paul G. Cunningham crafts curving, brightly hued geometric forms that appear rubbery but are actually mesh and pigment. They twist and pop at the same time.
Joan Konkel, who shows at Zenith Gallery, has long made paintings that incorporate metallic mesh. Here she is showing a two-panel work that, uncharacteristically, features a white backdrop. The result is appealingly spacious, and seems to activate new terrain for her work. Konkel could have introduced this innovation somewhere else, but it seems apt she chose wide-open Artomatic.