City Paper is not for tourists
This is not a eulogy. Just because G Fine Art, the anchor gallery of the 1515 arts building on 14th Street, will be shutting its doors at the end of its current show, it doesn’t mean that its influential director, Annie Gawlak, will disappear forever. But even though G Fine Art has a little more than a week left, its artists are already speaking in the past tense. Of the five stages of grief, it seems that they’ve already fast-tracked it to acceptance.
That may be because G Fine Art’s closing, in a struggling economy, did not come as a surprise.
“I felt it coming ever since this Fall—not necessarily with her gallery, but in general. I felt the economy shifting,” says artist Ryan Hackett. “Nobody is in a good financial place, and artwork sells the most when the economy is booming. Rent is a tough thing in D.C. I know just from my experience having [art] spaces that I could not afford one right now.”
He adds that “Annie’s been really a successful gallery in D.C. and that’s the scariest place to be in a time like this, because she’s spent a lot of time building up a business. She’s showing a lot of artists in museums, and when the economy hits the extra money to collect art, it’s not there.”
Hackett had a solo exhibition at G Fine Art last September. He said that he has benefited greatly from Gawlak’s reputation as an incubator of young talent. “Everyone that has worked with her has loved it,” he says. “She only worked to support and help my work flourish rather than control it to make it something it was not. I could have made things that were more commercial, but she was more concerned with the work and the integrity behind it.”
Past tense. Was.
But Gawlak, who can no longer afford the higher rent in the building, is seeking a new, smaller space in time for next month’s show, “El Museo Del Ghetto,” featuring Jefferson Pinder and Jose Ruiz. But until a space is secured, the gallery is homeless—and that’s how some of its artists feel, too.
“It’s like moving out of your parents’ home,” says artist Chan Chao, who has shown at the gallery several times. “It’s a personal loss… it was great to have a presence in the city and to be represented by one of the best galleries in the city. It’s nice to have a home.”
Gawlak was the head of the household: nurturer, educator, matriarch and friend. “She’s a mother figure that really gets contemporary art. She sees what I’m trying to accomplish as an artist,” Chao says.
Gawlak declined to speak to the City Paper, stating in an e-mail that “It only hurts the art world to speak of closings.” And indeed, this closing has left the local art scene shaken. A Washington Post article speculated that the gallery may not be the first to fold.
“Reality checks can be depressing, especially when art spaces close,” writes artist Maggie Michael in an e-mail. Michael has shown with the gallery since 2002. “I am hopeful that this may be a relocation version of closing, or a new form of space seeking or sharing. Many cities and communities are experiencing these shifts, closings and transitions, and good things can come of it.”
“Maybe it will be a reinvention of the way that someone can run a business in the Washington area. There’s always room for that,” Hackett says. “The landscape will change like it always has.”
By Maura Judkis.