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Washington without Lenny is like a martini without olives,” says Jack Rasmussen, the curator and director of the American University Museum, as he stands amid the crowd of art lovers gathered at Lenny Campello’s Fraser Gallery in Bethesda.
Campello, mustached and exuberant, pops his head into the conversation and says, “I’d rather be the toothpick,” then runs off for more back-patting, handshaking, and hugs.
This is Campello’s final opening as co-owner of the Fraser Gallery, and well-wishers are everywhere. Campello has been a fixture of the D.C. arts scene since he opened the Fraser Gallery in its first location in Georgetown with his then-wife, Catriona Fraser, back in 1996. Since then, the gallery has blossomed into a center for contemporary realism, even teaming up online for a time with Sotheby’s. Campello, as a gallery owner, collector, artist, and blogger, has become a well-known champion of the local arts scene.
But Campello’s home is on the market, and in a couple of weeks he’s decamping for Pennsylvania. His fiancée lives in the Philadelphia area, and Campello is relinquishing his half of the gallery’s deed to live and work, at least part-time, closer to his bride-to-be.
“I’m going to miss it terribly,” Campello says, but he swears he’s not deserting D.C., art, or the D.C. artists who’ve come to rely on him and his blog, DC Art News, for the goings-on in the local gallery world—everything from openings and reviews to contests and grants to general musings. When Campello announced on the blog on July 11 that he was moving on from Fraser Gallery, local blog DCist posted an entry bemoaning the announcement and expressing concern that with Campello leaving town, DC Art News would lose the local focus that makes it special.
Don’t worry, Campello assures his fans. Even though he’s no longer a D.C. gallery owner, he claims he’s still all about D.C. With his more relaxed schedule, he’s going to investigate becoming a private dealer, and he’ll be traveling to art shows and fairs up and down the East Coast to explore his options. He sees this as an opportunity to introduce D.C. artists to an audience beyond the Beltway.
As for DC Art News, Campello has big plans for that as well. He’s “hiring” two new unpaid writers and plans to expand his coverage to the entire mid-Atlantic region, renaming the blog, well, Mid-Atlantic Art News. He’s already getting to know other artsy bloggers in Philly who are showing him around town. Campello sees this move as yet another way to introduce D.C. artists to more readers.
DC Art News is how most people know Campello. The blog was born Oct. 16, 2003, the product of Campello’s frustration with the lack of media coverage the D.C. gallery scene was receiving. “Other than Jessica Dawson’s Galleries column, which is published regularly every Thursday, there’s rarely any ‘art news’—certainly little of the visual arts genre, published anywhere in either of our two major newspapers,” wrote Campello in his inaugural post. “So, time permitting I hereby enter the world of online BLOGing in the hope that I will have time to use this BLOG to post art news, gallery openings, events, etc. as I receive and/or discover them.”
Time permitted, and the blog took off. While Campello remains frustrated with the local media’s arts coverage, the blog has provided an outlet for him that, he says, has been indispensable. “[I’m] getting [art news] out there and seeing immediate results,” he says. “People will e-mail you and give you immediate feedback. It’s the immediacy of how quickly you can put something up and get something back in return” that’s the most rewarding part of the job.
Nearly four years later, DC Art News is a bona fide fixture, getting 800 to 1,000 daily hits from around the world, and the site’s impact is not lost on artists or gallery owners.
“The mainstream press doesn’t see the big picture,” explains Martin Irvine, curator and director of Irvine Contemporary. “The Washington Post and the Washingtonian have never put any resources into people that really understand the arts scene here or its prominence nationally….The big story is that in the last five or six years, Washington galleries have become part of the national and international scene, and the local press totally missed the boat on that. Campello picked up the slack in coverage where local media slacked off.”
Moreover, Rasmussen, who has been in and around the D.C. arts scene for 32 years, says that when Campello posts an opening, turnout jumps. He also notes that after a D.C. Art News post about A.U.’s museum, the museum’s site will get about 40 more hits than usual the following day.
Campello’s final opening is for a group show, and he’s eager to extol the virtues of each artist: This one is by a 17-year-old girl whose work he has been showing for three years already; that one is done with the help of computer imaging; this one is a fantastic nude; isn’t that one divine?
The ardor is characteristic. “He usually isn’t negative about anything,” says Irvine. “He always tries to take the high road and try to be as positive as possible with anything having to do with the arts scene here.”
Says Rasmussen: “There aren’t a lot of live people out there. You hate to lose one of the live ones.”
Mural, mural, on the wall…
According to the latest developments from the Ariel Rios Federal Building, it’s still offensive when Native Americans are depicted as bloodthirsty, half-naked madmen out to kill white settlers who, until getting jumped by those dark-skinned heathens, had been peacefully expanding westward in covered wagons.
So offensive, in fact, that $25,000 of federal money has been spent on a new, “temporary screen” to hide this specific image from the eyes of those who may not want to see it. As of the first week in August, this specially designed perforated screen will be placed in front of the mural Dangers of the Mail by Frank Mechau on the fifth floor of the historic building, which houses the Environmental Protection Agency. The screen will stand three feet from the mural so that those who want to can walk behind it to view the gory scene, while those who want nothing to do with the mural can walk on by without having to catch a glimpse of it.
About a year ago, EPA staff who passed by the Mechau mural—and its companion, Pony Express, which depicts Native Americans stealing horses—began complaining that the paintings were offensive (“Mural Dilemma,” S&T, 8/26/05). The backlash prompted the agency’s management to delve into the murky waters of political correctness: Are the murals offensive? Discriminatory? Historically inaccurate? Historically important?
To try and appease everyone, the agency first put up temporary solid screens in front of the offending murals. Unfortunately, these blocked the artworks’ light. As a spokesperson with the General Services Administration who’s working on the project says, blocking the light is tantamount to “censoring the artwork,” so a Plan B had to be hatched.
Enter the new $25,000 solution. The perforations will allow light to shine through the screen, thereby illuminating the details of Dangers of the Mail.
As for Pony Express, its solid screen will be taken down but not replaced until its partner’s perforated screen has been properly tested.
A final decision on whether the murals will be screened indefinitely, taken down, or left out in the open will be made by the beginning of 2007.
Source Theatre’s advocates are getting serious about saving the institution from turning into a pool hall (“Source of Contention,” S&T, 6/30/06; “Return to the Source,” S&T, 7/7/06). The Cultural Development Corporation met a July 13 deadline for proposals to head off the acquisition of the space by the people who brought D.C. Bedrock Billiards. According to Anne Corbett, the corporation’s director, the idea is to buy the property from Source and act as the debt-plagued theater’s landlord.
Though Corbett would not reveal details, Source’s board now has two offers on the table to buy the property—one from Bedrock, one from Corbett’s nonprofit—and it’s up to the board to decide which offer to accept. Bedrock’s offer is for $2.8 million; Corbett’s offer is in the neighborhood of $500,000—the amount it takes to cover the theater’s outstanding bills. With the Bedrock offer, the Source board would make a profit to donate elsewhere, but would lose the theater. With Corbett’s offer, there would be no profit to sustain the place, but the future of Source as an arts venue would, at least, be possible.
While Corbett does not know when a final decision will be made, Bedrock’s closing date looms: It’s July 24.
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