If the newly christened Transformer gallery were an apartment, it would be one of those ultratiny New York City studios inhabited by a succession of struggling artists: the kind of place with a shower stall located in what might generously be called a “living room” and a small loft just big enough to hold a twin-sized futon. But the comfortably intimate space at 1404 P St. NW houses only the work of emerging artists.
It’s a fitting spot for Transformer co-directors Victoria Reis and Jayme McLellan, who, in lieu of a permanent space, have separately hosted art showings in artists’ studios and various people’s apartments, as well as in established galleries and art spaces.
“This is the best housewarming,” said McLellan at last Saturday’s opening, beaming at the crowd of friends and art lovers spilling out from the space onto the sidewalk.
Transformer’s co-directors met in June 2000, when McLellan invited Reis to be part of a panel discussion of alternative-art-space directors. Reis, an independent curator and arts management consultant, curated the ninth and 10th Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran biennials. She has also organized one-offs at local spots such as La Casa and her own apartment gallery, Mott’s Market Art. McLellan, a photographer and installation artist, worked as the development director at the District of Columbia Arts Center for several years and co-founded the Tandem Project, which brings artists from the former Yugoslavia to D.C. for exhibitions and residencies.
The Transformer space basically landed in their laps, McLellan says. When photographer Michael Benson decided to close shop earlier this year at what was then called Ozone Studio, he wanted to ensure that it would remain an art space. He called Sarah Finlay, co-owner of the nearby Fusebox gallery, who immediately contacted McLellan and Reis.
“Everything is coming together better than I could have hoped,” says McLellan. “We signed the lease on May 1, my birthday, and we’ve had about a month to get it painted and get the space up and going.”
Reis and McLellan intend to use the space to showcase D.C.’s talent alongside out-of-towners’, a strategy they believe will help place area artists in a national and international context. Their debut show, “Mica and Misaki,” exemplifies this mission, pairing D.C.-based photographer Mica G. Scalin with Japanese artist Misaki Kawai.
Scalin’s photos feature iconographic images of Japan, such as carmine-red pagoda roofs and serenely floating lotus flowers, though at slightly skewed, close-up angles that subtly poke fun at the tradition of young American artists leaving home to find exotic subject matter. Kawai’s installation of a cardboard treehouse fetishizes Western culture by creating a Beatles bachelor pad, with handmade Fab Four dolls in various positions—lounging in front of a working TV set or naked in the bathroom. Elsewhere, white-garbed John and Yoko dolls sit in repose on a cardboard tree stump.
McLellan credits Reis with coming up with the gallery’s name. Explains Reis: “Basically, things kept transforming for us. Initially, we were going to create a virtual organization. Then a nonprofit. Then the space opened up. Also, the space transforms because it’s a project space. It’s also a tip of the hat to Fusebox, who have been very supportive. So there’s another little power source on the 14th Street corridor.” —Holly Bass