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The scene at the entrance of the Washington Plaza Hotel (formerly the Vista International) on Thomas Circle hasn’t changed much since Miami architect Morris Lapidus, the original king of groovy hotels, molded white concrete into a signature curve back in 1960: Shiny black Cadillac Sevilles slide through asphalt ravines between the black granite pilotis, depositing guests under a grid of white lights that reflect in their patent-leather shoes. But now, beyond the vintage Mies van der Rohe leather sofas and the four-piece band delivering smoky standards, serialized Pop Art portraits of George Washington line the dining-room walls.
But though these canvases seem as if they were done by Warhol or Lichtenstein, they are in fact recent nods to ’60s Pop created by local art duo Michael Clark and Felicity Hogan, aka Clark and Hogan, whose signature work manipulates Gilbert Stuart’s 18th-century George Washington portrait that graces the $1 bill. Three hundred and forty new George screen prints will be installed in each of the hotel’s guest rooms as part of a commission by the hotel’s owner, Richard Bernstein.
Back in October 1996, Bernstein added the Vista (made infamous in 1990 by Marion Barry’s FBI-stung crack tryst) to his plump food and lodging portfolio, which also includes the Morrison-Clark Inn and the Henley Park Hotel. After rechristening it, he hired British interior designer Julie Hodgess and her American partner, Kristin Hein, to heighten the mod scheme; he also commissioned Clark and Hogan to do their thing.
Bernstein met Clarka disciple of the Washington Color School who has worked with Gene Davis and Tom Downingthrough his father, District financier Leo Bernstein, who exhibited Clark’s canvases in his Bank of Washington lobby in the early ’80s. Clark and Hogan, who are married, collaborate in both painting and running their Georgetown gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Bernstein first worked with the pair in 1995, when the artists installed canvases depicting their other signature motif, fruitoranges, cherries, pears, and grapes rendered in glossy acrylicin Bernstein’s Hotel Lombardy downtown.
For the Washington Plaza order, decorators Hodgess and Hein requested a design echoing architect Lapidus’ curving building. Clark’s renditions of George’s visage have maintained a consistently placid mug for over two decades, so those curves weren’t likely to emerge from George’s mouth.
So Hogan suggested setting George on a ground of concentric circles painted in violet, bright blue, mustard, and plum. The circles are borrowed from Parisian painter Robert Delaunay’s movement, “orphism,” which flowered between 1911 and 1914, Hogan explains. “They said they wanted curves…so here they are.”Jessica Dawson