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The first thing you notice about Civilian Art Projects gallery isn’t the art. It’s the two flights of tall, gray-carpeted steps that separate the building’s first-floor entrance from its third-floor gallery. They can leave even the fittest of art enthusiasts breathing a little heavier by the time they reach the top.
“We’re a destination,” director Jayme McLellan says of her gallery’s new location. “You have to really want to get there.”
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McLellan, on the other hand, barely broke a sweat in bringing her gallery to Chinatown. Since it was founded last September, Civilian Art Projects has been a gallery without a home: Last December, it held its first exhibition, “Dynamic Field,” at the Warehouse Arts Complex; its second exhibition was shown at G Fine Arts in January. “I was prepared in my mind for [Civilian] to rove for a year,” McLellan, 36, says. But eventually she began to see the value in a permanent location. “I think virtual entities are great…but, for me, I definitely wanted a space,” she says. “You know where to go see the work.”
In late December, McLellan found a permanent home for her roaming gallery. “I was talking to [Numark Gallery assistant director] Nikki Sorg…and she said that Cheryl [Numark] was trying to rent her space,” McLellan says. “I took a look at it, and I was like, ‘This is already a gallery. I wouldn’t have that much to do.’ ” Two months later, McLellan and Numark finalized an agreement, and Civilian Art Projects moved in.
McLellan scheduled her gallery’s next show to open a little more than a week later. “We already had a Web site, we already had a press list….It was just a matter of going in, painting, changing lights, and hanging the show,” she says.
“Contours & Detours” and “Natural Acts,” featuring photography by Brooklyn-based artist Jason Falchook and D.C.’s own Jason Zimmerman, respectively, opened March 9; a third exhibition, featuring works by nine emerging artists from across the U.S., is located in the gallery’s project space. “It went very well,” associate director Brigitte Reyes, 60, says of the exhibitions’ opening reception. “We sent close to 500 invitations. I want to say we had over 200 people coming through.” Falchook’s vibrant, color-saturated photos examine “the careful design and planning of this world and how that directs our thinking,” McLellan says; Zimmerman’s 11 slide-show-esque photos, though smaller in scale, similarly analyze mankind’s relationship with the environment. But if there’s a link between the exhibitions’ theme of “questioning our connection to the spaces we develop and inhabit” and Civilian Art Project’s agnosticism toward a permanent address, it’s unintentional. And if there’s any hidden meaning behind the gallery’s leg-numbing stairs, McLellan doesn’t see it.
“I don’t mind them,” she says. “I think it’s good exercise.”
“Contours & Detours,” “Natural Acts,” and “Behind the Wall” are on view from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, to Saturday, April 21, at Civilian Art Projects, 406 7th St. NW, Third Floor. Free. For more information, call (202) 607-3804.