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“If you made it to 35 you are now an adult,” says J.W. Mahoney, curator of “Catalyst,” a retrospective exhibition of the Washington Project for the Arts. After 35 years, the WPA will take some time in November and December to stand back and examine where it’s been and where it is now. Beginning with its opening exhibition in April 1975, Alice Denney’s Washington Project for the Arts provided much-needed exhibition and performance space for emerging and experimental artists and performers whose work did not easily fit into a commercial context. Its history is rich with ups and downs, with early engaging exhibits like “Another Washington” and “Punk Art,” its ongoing Options shows and Experimental Media Series, the famed Mapplethorpe exhibition, the rocky marriage to the Corcoran, and the most notable pop-up gallery to date: Frank Warren’s “Post Secret” in the former Georgetown Staples. The show’s slate of around 130 names is an impressive grouping of D.C. artists past and present, with Bruce Conner and Allan Kaprow to garnish. So, what to expect at the American University Museum apart from paintings, drawings, and video peppered with performances and panels throughout the run? The historic overview will attempt to establish D.C. as a credible alternative arts town, complete with documentation and texts that reflect on the major exhibitions and evolution of the WPA and the tens of thousands of artists who have benefited from its presence. And, if the WPA does its homework right, it’ll all be presented on pegboard.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW 11 A.M. TO 4 P.M. TUESDAY TO SUNDAY FROM NOV. 9 TO DEC. 19 AT THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY MUSEUM, 4400 MASSACHUSETTS AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 885-1300.