Washington Leaps into the Millennium
FROM SLEEPY VILLAGE TO LEADER IN THE ART WORLD
By Lee Fleming and Edited by Warren Rogers
The great cosmopolitan centers of the world like New York, London, Paris and Rome used to look down on Washington as a sleepy Southern village that rolled up its sidewalks at night, got its culture at the movies and thought Rembrandt was a kind of cheese. But not any more. Thanks to a tremendous upsurge of artistic awareness in all its aspects, the nation's capital has come into its own. International stars in music, dance and theater appear regularly, at the John F. Kennedy Center and other venues, and paintings, drawings and sculpture of the great masters of art show routinely at the National Gallery, the Phillips Collection and elsewhere. This cultural tide lifting all the arts in Washington has swept along the city's private dealers and commercial galleries, too. From only a handful, they now number in the dozens, and the most energetic are not only keeping up with the dizzying changes of today's electronic world but also leading the way on some fronts. Art critics everywhere marvel at works of "the Washington Color School" and collectors from all over come to Washington to spend millions on its dealers' art.
To meet the rapid growth of art interest and activity in the area, three established art dealers founded the Art Dealers Association of Greater Washington in the Spring of 1981. Jane N. Haslem, Ramon Osuna and Jack Rasmussen incorporated the non-profit organization in the District of Columbia, with a fellow dealer, Ted Cooper, as its first president. Their purpose was simple: to establish high standards for firms dealing in works of fine art, to foster public confidence in their responsibility and to provide a forum for discussion of issues and events of cultural interest in the city and its environs. Rigid criteria were laid down, assuring that those accepted as members were experienced, knowledgeable professionals in the art categories they exhibited and sold.
The Art Dealers Association grew in prestige and effectiveness as its selected membership grew. It began publishing its own quarterly newsletter, participated in a variety of art fairs and sponsored forums for artists, dealers, collectors and others at the Washington Project for the Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Organization of American States' Museum of the Americas and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Its symposium in the Fall of 1998 at Washington's venerable Cosmos Club was such a smash hit that the Association decided to make it an annual event. The first one drew a capacity crowd of 250, with many others turned away. Panel discussions featured museum directors, art curators and such acknowledged experts as Paul Richards, senior art critic of the Washington Post. This year's symposium, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in October 1999, focuses, as befits the end of the millennium, on "The Business of Art in the Last Half of the 20th Century" and on "Art and All Things Computer" in the new century. Arrangements are being made for a capacity attendance of 500.
First on the Web, On the Move
The 29 commercial galleries and private dealers comprising the Art Dealers Association of Greater Washington today offer a wide variety of art from just about every place on earth. While their specialties remain constant, in some cases for decades, the hallmark of every one of them is an awareness that the art world, like American society in general, is vibrant and on the move. Hence, most of them have embraced the Internet as a marketing tool or they are about to. The Association was the first among all art associations in the country to set up its own Web site. Fifteen of its members have sites of their own up and running, while four more are putting them up. Thus, the Association finds itself on the cutting edge of an exciting new technology for showing and selling art everywhere. Chicago's art dealers association, with more members and a history of aggressive marketing, has fewer Web sites but is pushing for more. The associations in New York and San Francisco, as well as the Art Dealers Association of America, are just getting started in the field.
The Internet brought a special blessing. It gave Washington's art dealers the capability to exhibit worldwide, in effect, and to take orders from anywhere, even from potential buyers in the area who sometimes complained that the galleries were too spread out to invite regular shopping. In other cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, they said, dealers tended to cluster in a few locations, making browsing somewhat easier, even though their epicenters shifted from time to time. It was true that Washington's art dealers were split, geographically, and they still are, in the city and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. District galleries, though, have settled down pretty much in three basic locations in Northwest Washington: Georgetown, Dupont Circle and the 7th Street corridor.
Regardless of where they are, however, all 29 members of the Art Dealers Association of Greater Washington and the Association itself are easily available through the Web site created by Jane Haslem: www.artline.com. Mrs. Haslem, who specializes in American art of the last half of the 20th Century, has more than 700 images on the site for browsing with a view to purchase. The 15 members with sites of their own, soon to be 19, can be called up there, too, so that potential buyers may shop with them. As a result of going on the Internet, Mrs. Haslem found herself running a second business, designing and consulting on Web sites. Both businesses fared so well that, in 1996, she stopped having regular openings at her gallery and met clients by appointment only. She was freed of having to mail invitations and host monthly wine-and-snacks parties which favored socializing over sales. She saw that, of the people brought to her gallery by appointment or the Internet, 90 percent bought art.
Ramon Osuna made his Washington gallery private, appointments only, in 1994, but he continues to offer shows at his Osuna Lennon Gallery in Miami Beach, Florida. "After 1,100 one-person shows, I wanted a change," he says, speaking of his 16th Street gallery. Still, Osuna makes a point of frequently changing its displays of Old Masters paintings, his main focus since the early 1990s, and also of mounting an annual show of one of his contemporary artists. "Showcases and fine presentation are important," he says.
Miracle on Seventh Street
Many members of the Association, but not all, agreed in a survey conducted among them that regular, skillfully presented exhibition openings are an effective merchandising approach.
Margery Goldberg had a special reason for maintaining her exhibition schedule, even extending her hours. Business was booming at her 7th Street gallery after the opening of the MCI Center, with walk-ins from crowds attending sports, music and other events. After 21 years of struggle, particularly during the economy's downturn in the early 1990s, she says, "It's almost a miracle the way things have taken off." She adds, "I haven't yet figured out a good day to close." Another 7th Streeter apparently benefiting from the MCI Center magnet is the David Adamson Gallery, directed by David and Laurie Adamson, specializing in digital ink jet prints. Foot traffic is up since the Center opened, the directors report, especially on Saturdays, when people arrive early for events. Yet, they put up fewer shows for longer periods of time because of preoccupation with lucrative printing assignments for publishers and individual artists like William Wegman, Kiki Smith and Chuck Close. Cheryl Numark of Numark Gallery, also on 7th Street, notes that, except for the corridors' regular First Thursdays showings, she has not seen a significant increase in visitors because of the MCI Center. The Numark Gallery focus has shifted from showing contemporary prints and works on paper at its opening to showing all media by artists from all over.
Alla Rogers regards regular openings as crucial to the life of the little art-gallery colony she helped create at Canal Square, the hidden courtyard in the heart of Georgetown. Called Galleries 1054, after its address on 31st Street, it began with the Alla Rogers Gallery in 1990 and now consists of eight galleries, maximum for the available space. "From the beginning, we were dependent on having a monthly event open to the public because we had almost no foot traffic," she says. "Hundreds of people walking on M Street a quarter-block away were unaware we were there. Our survival depended on outreach, on building our own audience. Now, the space makes a strong impression on new visitors. They see everything bubbling, percolating, the music, people, a party, a festive event the Third Friday of each month, and it's exciting and enjoyable."
Another believer in regular showings is Christopher Murray of Govinda Gallery in Georgetown, which holds to what he calls "a busy exhibition schedule." A long-time advocate of openings, Sidney Mickelson, holds the record for operating a commercial gallery the longest. He began the Mickelson Gallery in the late 1940s and has had continuously changing exhibitions ever since. "In our heydays of the '60s and '70s, black-tie and champagne receptions were the routine for openings and attendance was excellent," he recalls. "We installed at least 12 shows a year." Today, his shows are fewer and they are kept on the walls for seven to eight weeks. Susan Conway also is cutting back her exhibition schedule. She feels her "best source of advertising is through the mailers that accompany the shows but now the cost is prohibitive, particularly when weighed against the response."
Christopher Addison of Addison Ripley Fine Art says, "Today's collectors have a host of competing interests and it is the dealer's job to reach them personally, particularly and effectively." To this end, he maintains extensive exhibition schedules, in both his Georgetown and Dupont Circle galleries, of fine contemporary painting, sculpture and prints. He is most happy with his "on the street" location in Georgetown with its large window for easy viewing. For the summer, he has closed the Dupont Circle location to concentrate on shows in Georgetown.
Piranesi Makes a Real Splash
George Hemphill of Hemphill Fine Arts, which features emerging and mid-career artists, maintains a full schedule of exhibitions each year. Hemphill works hard at his job but feels "blessed to be in this business, where one is surrounded by provocative, inspiring ideas, beautiful objects and people always striving to do their best." St. Luke's Gallery on Q Street off Dupont Circle also mounts the same number of exhibitions annually. Directors Ellen and Nizar Jawdat focus on Old Master paintings, drawings and prints. Consequently, they have no live artists to attract visitors. They compensate for that lack with "media savvy." For example, they succeeded in gaining coverage of a Piranesi show in the Washington Post's Style Section as well as its Home Supplement by the Post's architecture critic. When a number of architects, architectural students and admirers of Italian culture appeared among Gallery visitors, the Jawdats smiled, "The show made a real splash."
Regular exhibitions are not a major tool for Guarisco Gallery, Ltd. in Georgetown. However, they do occasionally hold theme shows that include many major artists from their inventory of 19th and 20th Century European and American paintings, watercolors and sculpture. The gallery just concluded a brisk-selling show of Impressionist and Post Impressionist art featuring valuable oils by Sargent, Cassatt, Moret, Sisley and Guillaumin. Gallery Director Jane Studabaker credits the large turnout and sales at this show, as well as at others like it, to the mailing of at least one major gallery catalogue and several flyers throughout the year.
Some dealers feel that the trend for an extensive exhibition schedule is downward and toward a lower key. In Bethesda, Sally Hansen of The Glass Gallery has reduced the number of openings primarily because "fewer and fewer people were coming." She also has opted for "soft" openings, saying: "People...prefer to follow their personal timetable, viewing shows at their own convenience....Building more local interest is a must." Marsha Mateyka Gallery at Dupont Circle also cut solo shows to seven a year. Mateyka rotates her stable of 15 artists and one estate biannually. Including group exhibitions, the gallery currently averages 10 exhibitions a year. Though fewer, the shows still draw well: "The broad range and high quality of work exhibited has generated enthusiastic public response. At one Friday night opening on a dreary day this past March, we had to post someone at the door to keep people from crowding in‹I could see the floor sagging!"
Three years ago, Marsha Ralls of Georgetown's The Ralls Collection also reduced her shows, from 12 to seven, and began leaving group exhibitions up for longer periods. December is always an "intimate objects" show, designed for exposure and sales, while Summer shows tend toward themes like "air and water." Ralls regards group shows as a marketing tool that broadens interest: "They're a nice launch for solo shows."
Ballroom Dancing and the C&O Canal
Sandra Berler, director of Sandra Berler Gallery in Chevy Chase, Maryland, exhibits 20th Century vintage and contemporary photographs. She has operated for 24 years "by appointment" but relies on four scheduled shows a year to present an in-depth view of an artist's work or to develop a specific theme. "Theme shows attract people," she says, citing recent exhibitions on ballroom dancing and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal's landscape.
The Hollis Taggart Gallery, represented by Jody Benton in McLean, Virginia, specializes in contemporary realism, 19th and 20th Century American paintings. Taggart closed his Georgetown gallery in 1996 but holds shows regularly at his New York location, examining American art schools and artists not previously studied in depth.
Betty and Douglas Duffy, directors of Bethesda Art Gallery, which focuses on American prints from 1910 through 1950, closed their gallery doors in 1987. But, as private print dealers, they continue to mount one or two comprehensive exhibitions each year at the Woman's Club of Bethesda in addition to their by-appointment-only private dealing. "In the early years, we put on a new show every six weeks," recalls Betty Duffy, "but holding to that schedule has now become impossible in view of the scarcity of high quality American prints from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. To compensate somewhat for this reduced schedule, we do publish an illustrated catalogue for each of our exhibitions which reaches people across the country."
Freedom from regular showings also appealed to Barbara Fendrick, director of Fendrick Gallery in Chevy Chase, Maryland, dealing in sculpture for public places and contemporary art of all media. After 21 years in the art business, in Washington and New York, she is still researching and getting public commissions for artists. As to running a full-time gallery with regular openings, she says: "I got back into it briefly...but I will probably do more art fairs [instead]. It's nice not having the feeling every day that you have to sell, sell, sell! There is life beyond business."
To Fair or Not to Fair
On whether or not to do art fairs, Association members appear to be divided depending on their individual sales strategy. Just over half of those interviewed do not utilize art fairs. But enthusiasm runs high among those who do, and there is some movement among Association members to establish a Washington art fair.
Guarisco Gallery exhibits in three fairs annually. The most important of them is the International Fine Art Fair in New York City. Gallery Director Jane Studabaker says of showing at fairs: "This gives us the opportunity to concentrate, in a short time, on developing new clients and re-establishing relationships with museums and old clients."
Sally Hansen of The Glass Gallery also is a firm believer. She has participated in Sculptural Objects and Functional Art shows in Chicago and New York as well as Glass Weekend, sponsored annually by the Creative Glass Center of America. She notes that the crowds who attend are already committed glass lovers with the potential to buy. Maurine Littleton of Maurine Littleton Gallery, which focuses on contemporary art in glass and ceramics and on vitreographic prints, is another Glass Weekend enthusiast. "There's a growing trend in fairs," she says, "and I've found them more valuable PR than magazine advertising." Littleton has been traveling to such art gatherings in Chicago and New York for more than 13 years.
Ted Cooper, director of Adams Davidson Galleries, which focuses on important 19th and 20th Century American paintings, drawings and sculpture, used to participate in the American Art Dealers Association Armory Show in New York City. That, however, was when he was showing his inventory of American, Italian and Dutch Old Master paintings, before he made the transition from his Georgetown Gallery to dealing privately.
Photography dealers are especially enthusiastic about fairs. Jo Tartt, Jr., director of Tartt Gallery near Dupont Circle, says he would not miss the five or six exhibitions that take him to New York, Chicago and Santa Fe. "A large portion of my annual sales comes from these shows and I meet national clients through them," says Tartt. His gallery, which specializes in 19th and 20th Century photography and American "outsider" art, has been open by appointment only for the last two years and is now in the process of upscaling.
Gary Edwards applauds art fairs as useful for sales and contacts. As director of Gary Edwards Gallery near Dupont Circle, he attends seven fairs annually, either in New York or Los Angeles. "Eventually the contacts I make at these fairs come to see me and my gallery," he says. The gallery handles 19th and 20th Century photographs, specializing in early photographic rarities, worldwide topography, American vernacular and 20th Century modernism.
Sandra Berler of Sandra Berler Gallery in Chevy Chase, Maryland, swears by the fairs conducted by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD). A dealer in 20th Century photography, she finds them a prime source for new clients, sales and information. Kathleen Ewing of Kathleen Ewing Gallery, who is AIPAD's executive director as well as a dealer, concurs. "AIPAD brings together dealers, curators and collectors from all over the world whose input is invaluable," she says. She believes the nature of the art business is changing and art fairs lie in the new direction: "For one thing, new collectors can go and view a wide spectrum of art work anonymously."
At Art Fairs, Volume Counts
Marsha Mateyka, director of Marsha Mateyka Gallery near Dupont Circle, is a recent convert to the idea that fairs are effective marketing tools. Her specialties are paintings, sculpture and works on paper by contemporary American and European artists. "For the past five years, I have been exhibiting the work of gallery artists at art fairs in San Francisco and Chicago," says Mateyka. She believes the fairs are extremely helpful in broadening her artists' audiences and making them known in other parts of the country. Ramon Osuna of Osuna Gallery in Georgetown says he has the same goal. He regularly attended fairs in Europe, where he first began showing Old Masters, and currently participates in the International Miami Beach Antiques Show. "And I probably will do more of these types of fairs," says Osuna. Cheryl Numark of 7th Street's Numark Gallery is another art-fair fan, a first-time participant in the Miami art fair and a five-year veteran of the Baltimore contemporary print fair. She sees visitors to both fairs as much more focused and "prepared to buy." Volume counts, she believes: "In Baltimore, for example, more collectors might pass through your booth in a single weekend than you'd see all year in the gallery. It's a very efficient way to reach out to an interested audience."
Jane Haslem of Jane Haslem Gallery at Dupont Circle is working toward creating a Washington art fair. It was one element in her master plan when she became president of the Art Dealers Association of Greater Washington. For many years, until recently, she had booths at the Chicago Art Fair and the International Fine Print Dealers Association Fair at the Armory in New York City. By 2000, she wants to combine the Association's annual symposium, which has been hailed as highly successful and appears securely established, with an art fair to create one, over-arching event each year. "We need to get more visibility to establish a dialogue among museums, galleries, artists and critics," says Haslem.
To that, Sally Troyer says, "Amen." As director of Troyer Gallery at Dupont Circle, shealong with partners Betty Foster and Lynne Horningnow has a new focus on photography, ceramics and sculpture. She has no immediate art fair plans but warmly supports the idea of a Washington-based event. So does Norm Parish of Parish Gallery in Georgetown's Canal Square, who says, "It would be good, serious exposure for our artists, and bring in new collectors from here and the rest of the world." Alla Rogers of Alla Rogers Gallery, also in Canal Square, feels strongly that Washington should have a prestigious art fair, making it one of the major art venues. "In the historic category, we have people dealing in work that collectors from all over should be seeking out," says Rogers. "And in contemporary American and European work, certainly we have great depth and many voices."
The Net: Immature but Evolving
The Art Dealers Association of Greater Washington was the first art association in the world to have a presence on the Internet. Yet, its members express mixed feelings about individual homepages. That may be the biggest question on dealers' minds: Do they really need to be on the Internet? Among those who have yet to take the plunge, the response is understandably hazy. But those already out there respond mostly with an optimistic "yes." Ted Cooper of Adams Davidson Galleries, for example, views his homepage as a viable selling tool for his inventory of 19th and 20th Century American and European Masters. He says: "My Web site was finished in 1998, and almost everything on the site has sold, either directly or indirectly, to new collectors and established clients coming to the site." He is adding new pictures this Summer.
The homepages of Hemphill Fine Arts are extensive and always updated. Director George Hemphill says it is important to use the Internet even though "it is in an extremely immature state at this point." He adds: "How it will ultimately affect the art business is unanswerable at present. However technology impacts the art world or retail in general will determine whether galleries remain within inner-city locations." Sally Hansen of The Glass Gallery has two homepages, one dealing primarily with arts and crafts and the other designed for a fine arts audience. "It has not yet proved a great selling tool for the gallery, but it's a different way of advertising," says Hansen.
Sandra Berler says she has made a few sales through her homepages but resists posting her Gallery's inventory. Berler does not regard the Net as a substitute for regular advertising. Kathleen Ewing is still assessing her Kathleen Ewing Gallery homepage, now two years old. "It's not producing big business yet," she says, "but it is evolving." Like many dealers, Ewing views it as an additional resource for getting the word out, rather than a substitute for advertising, newsletters or mailings. The Net may introduce an image, she says, but most people "still want to see the actual object unless they're already familiar with a certain image." Director Jane Studabaker of Guarisco Gallery says, "The Web has generated some sales and interest but is considered a waking giant."
Komei Wachi and Marc Moyens of Gallery K have also sold through their Web sitealthough Wachi adds that the buyers already knew the artist and the work. Still, for a gallery that has maintained its full schedule of shows and keeps its commitment to international art (three foreign artists shown in 1999, three more planned for 2000), the Internet may help. "I think it will work better for better-known artists," says Wachi, "although when it comes to the question of buying, they still want to see the work."
Christopher Addison is building Addison Ripley Gallery homepages at the same time he is developing a targeted e-mail mailing list. The e-mails will give clients information on specific exhibitions and images. Addison notes that "the beauty of this is that collectors can be reached wherever they are and at any time".
Easy Access, Anywhere at any Time
David Adamson Gallery utilizes the Web through Artnet. Director Laurie Adamson says: "What's good about Artnet is being able to access the gallery through an artist's name. Collectors interested in a particular person, who are coming to Washington, can look us up when they get here as a source for that person's art." Nevertheless, with no dramatic upturn in business generated by the Net, she says, "We still rely on direct advertising: magazines, mailers and conventional invitations."
Teruko Okuda, director of Gallery Okuda International in Georgetown's Canal Square, is fashioning her Internet presence for an America-Asia crossover because she concentrates on Asian contemporary artists, especially Japanese. Her Web site, not quite finished, is accessible through Jnet-USA and features text in both Japanese and English. "This is mostly a convenience for the audience," she explains. "I don't expect to sell this way, but I keep the Internet presence for the public to have another access to the gallery."
Also feeling their way onto the Net, as Teruko Okuda is, Betty and Douglas Duffy of Bethesda Art Gallery have signed with Sotheby's, which, like Christie's, offers consignment venues and plenty of startup help for neophytes like them. "We didn't even own a computer," says Betty Duffy, "but they put the package together for uswhat they think we need and what will work best."
St. Luke's Gallery has no plans to go on the Net any time soon. Director Ellen Jawdat puts it this way: "It's useful for us to have access to information about sales and auctions when we appraise. But most collectors don't want their interest broadcasta work must be unknown, unshown, unshopworn." The Net, she adds, "doesn't allow you to touch and examine, to feel all the fascinating physical details of a work. "The Alla Rogers Gallery, with its concentration on contemporary Eastern European art, would seem to be a natural for the borderless prospects and countless buyers of the Internet. But Director Alla Rogers says she is just getting started, tentatively, on Artline. "I do so much of my work through personal contact," she explains, citing her lectures, outreach programs and interaction with designers and other tastemakers who buy for clients. She respects Jane Haslem as "probably the most informed person on this subject in the United States" but her own commitment of time and resources is still a question. "Your site is a statement about you, and what you sell," says Rogers. "I would like to be true to the vision of the gallery on the Web site, and vice versa." However, she acknowledges that last Christmas was a watershed for Internet commerce, making the decision that much more pressing.
The Last Word
Also teetering on the edge of going Internet, apparently, are Maurine Littleton of Maurine Littleton Gallery, Cheryl Numark of Numark Gallery and Sally Troyer of Troyer Gallery. But Norman Parish of Parish Gallery is biding his time. "I've been seriously considering it for over two years, but my daughter cautioned me to wait, and she was right," he says. Things are more defined now, and you can see what seems to work for others and might work for you." He wonders what he would gain from putting a Web extension of his gallery within the context of his far-flung group of African American and Caribbean art collectors: "People do want to see what you've got, I believe." From experience, he says, he knows that exposure in a gallery show may still take years to spur a sale. "When they're ready to buy, they're ready, but it might take two years after you've shown it," he says. "Access through the Web becomes very important then. If they are serious about buying, this is important reference information."
The last word appropriately goes to Jane Haslem, President and CEO of Artline, and one of the pioneers of electronic imaging on CD-ROMs and the Internet. "The Internet isn't going to go away," says Haslem. "It's a superb new way of communication." She acknowledges a lot of misinformation surrounds the virtues and capacities of Web sites. But she cautions the hesitant artist and art dealer to keep several things in mind: "It's a slide show in the sky that can be looked at from any place at any time. That's why it is important to print your Internet address on everything, including your business cards." And, at the moment, Artline, which she launched in 1995, enjoys links to thousands of sites and more than 500 dealers worldwide.
"It's not a substitute for anything," she says. "It's another avenue. You have to use printed invitations and mailers and the Interneteverythingas this marketplace evolves globally."