As a member of a community storefront arts and service exchange in northwest Washington that pays twice as much in rent as A. Salon paid for projectspace, I was very interested in learning what could be done to save it (“Do Go Quietly,” 6/1).
It was only when I discovered that this was all that A. Salon was willing to pay for such a unique and valuable space, and that numerous artists failed to see why our community space had ultimately gotten the better deal, that I truly began to grasp the depth of spiritlessness infecting the downtown D.C. arts community.
“Every property we’ve gone into, we’ve gone into with the objective that we were going to move,” says A. Salon founder George Koch. With this sort of self-defeating approach, is it any wonder at all that the “legitimate” gallery owners down the street think so little of the Wilson Center’s closing?
It is painfully obvious that neither Koch nor others in the downtown arts community understand the basic principle: If you choose to invest at a certain level in actual art or anything else, the community will value your investment accordingly!
“They’re the guerrilla galleries….They’re a real estate hold,” says Margery Goldberg of Zenith Gallery, discussing A. Salon’s soon-to-be redeveloped arts spaces at 7th and E Streets NW. It’s that kind of poor advertising that ensures that A. Salon will never inhabit space in, say, the old Hecht’s building, or anywhere else in a soon-to-be entirely refurbished downtown.
Even the commercial art galleries seem to be unable to make the case for investment in the sort of thriving arts community this city should be willing to supportfrom the fashionable heights to the neglected strips. Instead of expanding the one sector besides liquor that can truly interact with all parts of the city, our arts leaders have managed to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
Too bad the “commercial” gallery owners, in displaying such a soul-crushingly commercial mentality (“a bit more street traffic”…”they were thrilled by the idea of more [luxury] housing downtown”) reveal that they are not willing to expend the resources on the development of challenging noncommercial art that you’d expect would elevate any sense of taste among their wealthy clients. This makes them even worse hypocrites than the A. Salon management, which can merely be accused of lacking the ambition to create a lasting space for art in the first place.
Truth be told, neither A. Salon nor the pathetically small commercial gallery row that looks forward to outliving it is displaying any sense of being in this for anything other than the bottom line. Indeed, as the last remaining storefront, Zenith must harbor a particularly “bold curiosity for the adventures ahead”!
This is only to be expected of an arts community that displays little emotional connection to the city it inhabits, where most artists seem perpetually peeved that they could not make the cut in New York (or in the few commercial galleries). Again, it implies a certain lack of commitment to their adopted community, and to their art itselfa certain obsession with commercial statusthat, in the absence of a direct line from their suburban garage to some wealthy customer, D.C. artists are so obsessed with stockpiling cheap art space that’s made out to be dispensable stop-gap development, like billboards catching eyeballs off the backs of neglected and doomed old buildings.
Is it any wonder that the citylike the arts patrons who would otherwise invest in additional commercial spaceresponds in kind to their lack of artistic zeal?
I didn’t bother to write just to tell the commercial galleries, “There but for the grace of time go you as well.” That need not even be said. After all, the “commercial” and the “guerrilla” galleries are already operating at the same levelfighting over scraps from the redevelopment cash machine that has given us Fuddruckers and wonderful, wonderful all-night Kinko’s as far as the eye can seeinstead of holding their heads high with a clear goal in mind that is not subordinated to some kind of retail-and-tourism niche market.
The tragedy is that they do not seem to recognize their pathetic status as the last tattered feathers in the cap of a downtown office-developers’ network that has swallowed Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Penn Quarter whole.