I feel like every time I write about the art scene in D.C., I return to the same simple hard truths of being an artist in a city increasingly defined by retail-centric zoning policies and a cost of living that seriously challenges what living actually entails. Being an artist in D.C. isn’t easy and it’s made more difficult when you consider how few independent galleries exist in the city. It is for this reason that places like Ryan Dattilo’s De Novo Gallery are vitally important.
“The artists in D.C. are amazing and you have a lot of collectors in the city who maybe don’t focus as much on D.C. as they do on New York or LA,” Ryan says. “I want to promote the artists here and create environments where both those groups can interact.”
After moving to D.C. from New York City two years ago, Dattilo quickly realized the dearth of galleries across the city. “You can basically hit most of them in a weekend or even day,” Ryan says frankly. An avid art collector, Dattilo opened De Novo Gallery as a sharp departure from galleries he observed as being too focused on presenting art for artists instead of the general public. Take one step into De Novo Gallery and you immediately notice the oddly inviting minimal expansiveness of the space. Talk for a few minutes with Dattilo and you immediately relate to the passion he has for the work he presents.
“I wanted to do something completely different,” Ryan says. “Like I said before, I really felt a sense of happiness and joy when I was out searching for art. The art I have on display and the art in my apartment is fun and not super intense.”
De Novo Gallery is a welcome addition to an artistic community often unseen or unrecognized. It is also makes a strong case for why developers should make spaces for art the cornerstone of their projects, instead of added bonuses.
De Novo Gallery is located at 1287 4th Street NE. The first exhibit, “Synthetic Dawn,” runs until August 31, 2019. Follow De Novo Gallery on Instagram @Denovogallery and visit www.DeNovo-gallery.com for more information.
BrightestYoungThings (BYT): How did you decide to curate your own show at Union Market?
Ryan Dattilo: I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple years, ever since I moved down to D.C. from New York City. I was pretty involved in the art scene in New York and when I started to explore the art scene in D.C. I quickly realized that while there are some great galleries down here there’s just not that many; you can basically hit most of them in a weekend or even a day. And then you have to wait another month or two before the galleries cycle in their new shows. In New York, you can see a different gallery event every weekend.
So, with the De Novo Gallery, I wanted to provide another space for people in the city to see and enjoy art. I also noticed that compared to New York, the art scene and the young professionals are more siloed in D.C..
BYT: What do you mean by that?
Ryan: In New York, there are a lot of different organizations that had a lot of outreach to get young professionals involved in the art scene. There is a lot of that [in D.C.] but not to the same extent. I wanted to create an approachable space that was appealing to my friends who are lawyers and lobbyists that can allow them to dip their toe into art and build their interest.
BYT: Is the desire to create an approachable space reflective of your own experiences in getting into art?
Ryan: Yea, when I moved to D.C. it provided the opportunity to “start over” and pick and choose new art for my apartment. I enjoyed researching the art I wanted and I feel like a lot of people would enjoy that experience as well. I also think following an artist’s career, and tracking the art they make, is really enjoyable and something that most people don’t realize is part of the experience of being involved in art.
BYT: Yea, I totally get that. One of my good friends is an amazing artist and also a lawyer. I think for many people like yourself or my friend, art is as much an escape as it is a passion… When you moved from New York, what other observations did you have about the art scene in D.C.?
Ryan: It’s just a different environment. I’ve noticed that many of the galleries in the city are not your “traditional” galleries where artists cycle through at a constant. That’s not to say they aren’t great, they definitely are but they are cater more so to the art community and are not primarily worried about selling art. I think that leads to many galleries having art that’s more on the theoretical side and not as approachable to a more general audience.
BYT: How does the art on display in your gallery run counter to that?
Ryan: The art on display was made by Esther Ruiz and Alex Ebstein. They are unbelievably serious artists but their work is also really playful and fun. I think it’s really approachable for someone that might not feel like they’re really intellectual about art.
BYT: How did you discover them?
Ryan: I found Esther online. She was originally based in New York but moved to LA about a year ago. She had a show in D.C. as well, which is where I bought my first neon piece from her. Since then, it’s been one of the more popular pieces of art in my apartment amongst my friends and that was really the starting point of thinking about showcasing her work.
Alex [Ebstein] is based out of Baltimore and I actually met her at her studio during one weekend where I visited 7-8 galleries around the city. Alex is incredible; she’s involved in every aspect of the arts. She owns a gallery in Baltimore, she’s an artists, her partner is an artist, and she’s also a big curator. It’s been really fun to collaborate with her and get her take on my gallery.
BYT: Do you think a lot of the characteristics of the art community in D.C., including the sparsity you spoke to earlier, is due to the size of the city? Or do you think it’s something else?
Ryan: I think size is part of it, but D.C. is also very expensive. When I talk to artists about the [art] scene in D.C., they always say it’s too expensive to be an artist here. So if you don’t have the artists, you don’t have the studios. There are organizations in D.C. who are trying to combat that; places like Stable. Also, the pricing for art in D.C. is unique. In New York, you can support galleries because the pricing points for art vary and that creates an environment where galleries exist on different tiers. That sort of diversity is harder to achieve in D.C..
BYT: How do you change that?
Ryan: I don’t know. I’ve talked to a lot of people about different [ gallery ] models. There are galleries outside of New York or LA that focus on building up their reputations through fairs and expanding their clientele outside their respective cities. But with that being said, D.C. definitely has big art collectors. I was in New York a couple months ago and I spoke to gallery owner who was telling me that when he goes to [Art] Basel in Miami a third of his sales were from collectors from the D.C. area. So the market is definitely here but we just need to get them engaged in the work that’s already here.
BYT: What led you to take the step to set up your own gallery in Union Market? Was there a moment that sparked this idea?
Ryan: It really started when I moved down to D.C. I wanted to do something completely different. Like I said before, I really felt a sense of happiness and joy when I was out searching for art. The art I have on display and the art in my apartment is fun and not super intense.
I’ve also had a lot of support from EDENS (developer of Union Market). For a developer, they make art a huge priority and that’s unique when it comes to developers.
BYT: What do you hope to ultimately achieve with this gallery or future galleries?
Ryan: I really just want to create an environment where people can feel comfortable, where people who don’t know much about art can come and have fun and learn a bit. I hope that as I continue to show art that I like, people can come and develop their own tastes and maybe start collecting in much the same way I have.
The artists in D.C. are amazing and you have a lot of collectors in the city who maybe don’t focus as much on D.C. as they do on New York or LA. I want to promote the artists here and create environments where both those groups can interact.