WPA takes a look at some alternative art spaces in DC that bring a fresh perspective from traditional commercial galleries. Each space offers something a little different, and the people behind them offer interesting insights for the local art community. 

by Deena O. Hyatt

Delicious Spectacle is a gallery in a home in Columbia Heights, founded and run by American University graduates who met while pursuing their MFAs. Along with creating the programming at their home gallery, they each have their own art practice and jobs. Their academic background influences their approach to curation and conversation about art.

Studio 1469, also in Columbia Heights, is more of a blank canvas. Run by Norm Veenstra, a musician who works in real estate, Studio 1469 is a flexible, multi-use space that, along with curated programming, also offers opportunities for people to use the space for their own purposes.

Furthermore, located in 52 O St Studios, is owned and operated by artists and also provides printing and other services. Its four facets are “print, collect, design, exhibit.” Their programming develops organically without a particular process or approach. One of the founders, José Ruiz, splits his curatorial time with Present Company—an artspace in New York.

Pleasant Plains Workshop, located on Georgia Avenue in the Pleasant Plains neighborhood, is a gallery, shop, and studio space for eight artists. Run by Kristina Bilonick, an artist and arts administrator, the space projects an accessible community-driven atmosphere.  

Part One -- We caught up with three of the founders and current residents at Delicious Spectacle: Dan Perkins (DP), Victoria Greising (VG), and Camden Place (CP).

WPA: What does Delicious Spectacle mean?

DP:  Guy DeBord’s Spectacle is a description/Marxist critique of post-industrial society that revolves around consumer capitalism. He is a mid-century French writer; think New Left.

In my mind, DeBord looks at the consumer society rising around him as cutting off one’s ability to directly affect and control one’s individual means of interaction with that larger controlling structure (the Spectacle). In short, I see his critique of consumer capitalism as primarily concerned with the lack of autonomy individuals have within ‘the system.’ While I think DeBord’s critique is spot on in some ways, me being fairly cynical, I basically agree with his analysis and think, well hey, it’s not soo bad. While we are engaged in this spectacle, we might as well make it delicious. I think this sort of aloof apathy is a better and more accurate characterization of being alive and young today.

VG: Our reading focused on “The Spectacle” in grad school. We were gathered around Sam’s dinner table and I think Sam threw out the name.

CP: Effectively the “spectacle” is the filter between us and reality. It is what we interact with before touching reality. It’s as simple as talking to someone on the phone versus in person or as complex as interacting with a celebrity identity and then bringing them into your lives.

VG: It’s this idea that we’re so connected to the way things are cyclically made in our society and the way that there are certain phenomenon that we are so disconnected from, either the conversation or the creation of an object that we have no connection to.  But there’s no way to get out of the disconnect either because we’re cyclically ingrained in what our society has created.

WPA: Why delicious?

CP: What is the most impractical and strangest adjective you can attach to the spectacle? The spectacle has so many negative connotations but it’s neither good nor bad, just a facet of our existence. And so, we were kind of reacting to that and joking around a little bit. How can we attach this word that speaks of a totally other thing? People would respond to it as either a critical blog or food porn.  We actually started the concept as a critical blog on art. The name came first before the venue was proposed to us.

WPA: Do you think DC is a place that has these critical conversations?

VG: I think when I first arrived five years ago there wasn’t or maybe it was my naiveté not knowing where to look for these conversations, but I don’t think it was there. There’s something about the city’s transitory nature. No one really stays long enough to have a voice. I think that’s completely changing. There’s an interest level in young artists to have these conversations and it’s not all about trying to get their work shown wherever.

WPA: Do you have lots of critical discussion here?

VG: Pretty much every time we sit down. Camden’s connected with the magazine The Intentional and every time those guys come over we have interesting conversations.  It’s a new space to see exciting emerging art. It’s a space that’s going to be able to foster interesting conversation. Artists that you’ve heard of but maybe haven’t seen their work or that you’ve never heard of. Everyone was ready for this type of environment to exist and no one disrespected it in a four-hour party kind of way.

CP: Also, whenever Calder Brannock or Chris Lee come over. Not being a commercial gallery, it’s a lot more open here. People have been way more comfortable coming out and actually voicing their lack of knowledge or over-abundance of knowledge.

DP: I think our collaborative project, along with others -- like FLEX, Furthermore, O Street Studios, and others -- more critical conservation has developed. In more a general sense, I think people are becoming aware that there are young people trying to make art and maintain a scene of some kind in DC, and I think that is a new thing.

WPA: You all are coming up with all the programming, do you identify yourselves as curators?

VG: I don’t identify with the word curator. Not in a pretentious way. Working here is such a nice expansion of my own personal practice that I feel like it’s just another avenue to explore things that I’m interested in. So artist, curator, gallery director are terms you could apply to each of us.  I think curation just means intentional placement of specific things that you’ve chosen.

CP: I think it’s helpful in terms of telling people what it is we do and we can use those words as a way to define it.

DP: I think the word curator can have some negative associations, and I think a lot of that has to do with the power associated with the position. ‘If only so-and-so curator would look at my work, then I would be in the Whitney Biennial’ (insert delusional sigh here). For me, like Tori mentioned, I view curation more as another intellectual avenue I can use to explore the things that interest me.  I see curation as the opportunity to set up a framework for someone to have an experience in.

WPA: What are your favorite, and perhaps even least favorite, shows you’ve done?

DP: The Bubble that we built out of recycled shopping bags on the back porch was one of my favorite projects we put together. We worked with Calder Brannock to create this inflatable dome-like structure, kind of looked like a plastic Godzilla or something. All it was was recycled bags, packing tape, and an air mover rented from Home Depot to inflate it. It was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Hirshhorn’s failed bubble, but the thing we made was really awesome, nearly 30 feet tall when fully inflated. It was truly a thing of beauty.

I think all of us have learned some organizational and logistical things about putting shows together, often through failure. I remember the first show I curated, Conventional Wisdom. While being a really solid show of complimentary work, it was a bit crowded in terms of hanging.

WPA: How do you think your academic background influences your programming?

DP: Sam, Camden, and Tori all received their degrees when we started the project; I was in my last year of grad school at the time. I think the focus on being open, yet critical, is a skill many of us learned in grad school. It’s really about doing the hard work of trying to figure why an artist made something in a particular way, or what they are trying to communicate, even if you are not visually drawn to the work. I think that skill set has helped us put together shows that move beyond just being visually or aesthetically pleasing. Also, on an organizational and logistical level, I think we all learned a lot about how to put a show together during grad school as well.

WPA: What do you think DC needs more of for artists and art lovers to thrive?

DP: More affordable space. There are no post-industrial buildings, or very few, in DC. I really think this reality will always hold DC back from being an arts city where artists can live cheaply and make work. However, unlike Baltimore or Pittsburgh, people do actually buy art here, so it’s hard to say what a perfect art scene would look like.

 

Part Two -- Then WPA caught up with Norm Veenstra of Studio 1469.

WPA: How did Studio 1469 come into fruition?

NV: During the final stage of the development and renovation project undertaken by my company, I elected to move into the building and make it my primary residence. With this decision, renting the studio portion of the carriage house to one artist seemed quite limiting - not maximizing the potential usability of the space nor the user base.

WPA: You worked at the 9:30 Club for years and you've also been in a band, Tone, for many years. How do you think your music background has informed your approach to the space?

NV: A combination of sharing a DIY/entrepreneurial philosophy coupled with significant experience in event presentation and an ongoing effort to continually expand users of the studio to all types of arts.  I enjoy being a part of creating environments and occasions for people to experience art in all forms, including created artwork, but also performance, dance, and theater as well as music.

WPA: What does this space offer that might be different or needed in DC?

NV: One option Studio 1469 offers is for artists to hang their own work in a gallery setting and present their own show, independently. The studio also functions extremely well as a rehearsal space for performance and theatrical work - numerous companies have enjoyed successful blocks of creative time here in the studio.

WPA: Are there other alternative spaces in DC that you would point artists and art lovers to?

NV: Pleasant Plains Workshop on Georgia Avenue.  Kristina is a superhero force of energy, continually making art, learning, and opportunities happen for her community and all of the District. And I am quite excited about Annie Gawlak moving G Fine Art to the upper 14th Street corridor.

WPA: What inspires you to exhibit an artist, compels you to host a show? What are you looking for in art? Or are you playing a more passive role where you let it come to you?

NV: For visual artwork, I am extremely fortunate that a number of the best independent curatorial talents in DC have chosen to use Studio 1469 for their concepts; Faith Flanagan has been the studio's primary lead since inception, and Andrea Pollan of Curator's Office, fresh off of her recent successful pop-up of Olivia Rodriguez's sculpture, will be embarking on a residency during 2014. Plus, Chandi Kelly via Project Dispatch is presenting here yet again with a new Jerome Skiscim photography exhibit opening this weekend, Saturday, December 14th.

WPA: What was your favorite show/event/exhibition that you've hosted? And perhaps least favorite?

NV: I'm quite proud of the Mike Parker: Drawings exhibit from March of last year.  Pat Goslee's solo show, Enigma of the Eternal Now during the fall of 2012, was really cohesive and strong. And Adah Rose's recent co-promotion Mathematics, Maps, and Myths -- hung both in her gallery and the studio simultaneously and featuring the large work of Joan Belmar and Lori Anne Boocks -- was completely captivating.

WPA: As someone also involved in Real Estate, have you found that DC's landscape has changed? What effects has that had on the creative culture?

NV: DC has become quite an expensive town to live in.  Many creatives either no longer actually live in town, or are forced to cope with the time juggle of many jobs equals less time to actually create -- or both!  And the neighborhoods where the work is created or displayed seem to be shifting.

WPA: What do you think DC needs the most for artists and art lovers to thrive?

NV: More spaces for creation/rehearsal of the work. I attempt to help with this need within my profession when possible. Hopefully, the District itself will continue efforts towards this goal.

 

Part Three -- Next, WPA speaks with James Huckenpahler at Furthemore.

WPA: What do you offer with this space?

JH: Embodied philosophy: ideas in physical form, and the space around them to look, consider, and discuss.

WPA: Do you sell art here?

JH: We’ve sold a few things, but not much. We’re not a commercial gallery. That’s not our intention. The space is for our students, our colleagues, sundry folks. There’s an intellectual community and we like to get them all together to check out ideas.

WPA:  What was your favorite show/event/exhibition that you've hosted?

JH: They are all my children. I love them all. The process of collaborating with José, Ethan, and our interns and community has been really rewarding for me; José really brings out the best in my thinking about what a creative community might be. The Personal Effects exhibition may be the clearest single example of that; the idea came to José in a dream, and when he told me I knew we had to do it. It was a show that I wanted to be in! But that kind of collaborative spirit is in everything that happens at Furthermore, regardless of who is taking the lead.

WPA: Any shows where things didn’t go so well?

JH: Knock-on-wood, no disasters so far. We always have backup plans for our backup plans, and we're good at solving problems. The bigger problem that we haven't found a solution for yet is financial sustainability, but it's something that we discuss regularly. I'm not sure what business model might work for us. We probably have to invent our own solution.

WPA:  Are there other alternative spaces in DC that you would point artists and art lovers to?

JH: I really admire Pleasant Plains Workshop (PPW) right now. There are all of these funky, weird experiments happening in different corners of the space, totally unselfconscious and unpretentious. Pretty much the opposite of me!

WPA: What inspires you to exhibit an artist? What compels you to host a show?

JH: There are things we want to see. Rather than wait for someone else to do it, or complaining that no one else is doing it, we do it ourselves.

WPA: What are you looking for in art or are you playing a more passive role where you let it come to you?

JH: José and I have a pretty broad range of interests, but I think our criteria for the space boils down to:

1. What art do we want to see, ourselves?

2. What art do we wish we'd made, ourselves?

3. What art do we want to share with our students and our community?

For example, José and I both teach, and we think every art student in DC should see Jeff Spaulding's work, so we're working on a retrospective. He is not as visible as we think he should be, so we're going to try to do something about it. We've got an idea for a project with Renée Stout, same story.

WPA: What do you think DC needs the most for artists and art lovers to thrive even more?

JH: DC urgently needs more in-depth arts writing. Really substantive considerations of visual culture are few and far between, so Washingtonians have very little exposure to the ideas that their local artists are wrestling with. I'm not talking about regurgitated press releases, but rather, discussions of how the work that's being made here and now reflects both global changes (in technology and economy, for example) and the significance of work being made in the city that has been the de facto capital of the world.

DC needs an alternative space that is similar in scale to, say, the DIA Center (Dia Art Foundation). Not quite another museum, but an institution that has a faster metabolism than the Hirshhorn, and is international in scope.

DC needs some organization or mechanism for getting DC artists visible in other cities. Exchanges happen through various institutions in DC, but not often enough, and not in a dedicated, programmatic way.

DC needs someone, perhaps DCCAH (District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities) or perhaps a benevolent tycoon, to step in and provide low-cost real estate for the gallery scene. I can think of half a dozen gallerists who need decent exhibition space that is easily accessible. Meanwhile, the Dupont Underground languishes...

Part Four -- Lastly, after hearing Norm and James recommend Pleasant Plains Workshop so highly, WPA catches up with WPA’s former Program Director, Kristina Bilonick.

WPA: How did Pleasant Plains Workshop (PPW) come into fruition?

KB: It was kind of an accidental yet organic progression. I was looking for a new studio space because Gold Leaf Studios was closing. I also happened to be looking for an apartment, so I was searching craigslist constantly in all of the real estate sections. I found the building where PPW is housed in the commercial rentals, but it was listed as an apartment. I knew this was a VERY rare opportunity so I nabbed it before I even knew what I was going to do.

The storefront space was originally going to be just a shared studio space for me and one or two other artists, but the awesome storefront window and the building’s location on a busy stretch of Georgia Avenue begged for showcasing artwork. I started opening the door to the public one day a week and letting artists show there (I was working at WPA when I first moved in). Eventually it progressed to what we have today: a gallery, shop, and studio space for eight artists.

WPA: What does this space offer that might be different or needed in DC?

KB: My spot offers an opportunity for artists in a wider range than a traditional gallery. With the shop in the back, I'm able to showcase book and zine artists, crafters, and even musicians and poets. I think having the small fun items in the shop gives people who may or may not be versed in fine art an entry point and makes the space less intimidating. Well, that and the fact that I often have snacks and cookies out in the back and I let people just pull up a chair and sit and hang out...it feels more like a clubhouse/party space than a store or gallery.

WPA: Are there other alternative spaces in the DC area that you like?

KB: Oh yes. I really love what's going on in Mt. Rainier with the cluster of warehouses that house Red Dirt Studio, Flux studio space, and Washington Glass School. There are other independent studios out there, too. The Furthermore space is a kindred spirit in the sense that its model is a little funky like mine, but perhaps more refined! I like how they offer both fine art printing and present works by others. They have a really interesting mix of arts programming and they work with emerging artists.

WPA: What do you think DC needs the most for artists and art lovers to thrive?

KB: I think there is a large disparity with the number of artists working in this city, and the number of people who purchase art. Groups like Pink Line Project have made great strides in educating young professionals in the city on collecting art at all levels. We need more of that. I think we suffer a bit from a large portion of the city's population being transient. Buying art is not part of the culture like theater, opera, and other things are here. I'd like to think PPW serves a purpose as being a starting point for those new to art collecting since we sell small works and prints that are mostly under $200. 

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At Delicious Spectacle: Tomorrow, December 13 from 7-10pm  check out the opening for The Signified Man featuring paintings and installations by Janet Mills-Cooper. It will run through January 3, 2014. Find out more: http://deliciousspectacle.com/

At Studio 1469: This Saturday, December 14 from 6-9pm, join Project Dispatch for the opening reception of Absorption/Reflection, a photography and video installation by Jerome Skiscim. Find out more: http://studio1469.com/

At Furthermore: This Saturday December 14 from 7-9pm, experience Beachy, an interactive multi-sensory installation by Reuben Breslar. Find out more: http://www.furthermorellc.com/

At Pleasant Plains Workshop: Tomorrow, December 13 at 7pm, join PPW for Wintry Mix, a winter time celebration of caroling, ugly sweaters, and weenie roasting. Find out more: http://pleasantplainsworkshop.com/  

* All photos by Deena O. Hyatt, except Pleasant Plains Workshop photos courtesy of PPW

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December 12, 2013

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