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all photos: Temniet Mesgna
all words: Ryma Chikhoune

This is where, as part of our ongoing Year in Art effort we introduce you to some of the women working in some of our favorite galleries around town. They are often responsible for the shows looking the way they do within the space, and always there to help your possibly intimidated self while navigating the DC art world. Talk to them more often, promise?

We will be doing this in portions and today we kick off with Hamiltonian (home of our first Year in Art showcase show), Adamson and Project 4 (who are this month’s Year in Art spotlight, with Tricia Knightley’s and Jenn Figg’s show opening this Saturday)


SAY HELLO TO: Jacqueline Ionita, director of Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, and program manager for Hamiltonian Artists.

Hamiltonian Gallery, a space that showcases contemporary art while focusing on innovative works by emerging and mid-career artists, exists in conjunction with Hamiltonian Artists, a non-profit organization that offers a two-year fellowship program for artists.

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BYT: Could you talk about what you do here at Hamiltonian [Gallery]?

Jacqueline Ionita: We promote, support professional developing of new emerging artists. We put mentor artists with our new emerging artists. Mentor artists are more established mid-career artists, and they meet with the fellows months before their exhibitions to talk about their concepts, ideas, installation.  Then, they meet right before their exhibition. We hang the work, and then the mentor artist leads a critique of the fellows work during the exhibition that’s closed to the public.

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BYT: How many fellow artists do you have?

JI: We have 13 right now. It’s all cutting edge, contemporary art.

BYT: Are the artists from all over or mostly from D.C.?

JI: They come from all over, but if you are an applicant, and you’re accepted, we require that you relocate to D.C., because we meet a few times a month. I can’t have a new, emerging artist, who doesn’t have any money anyway, keep flying from California. It’s just not feasible.

One of our fellows, Jon Bobby Benjamin, lived in Philly and got accepted to the program. We have a partnership with ARCH, which provides affordable housing for artists. So, we paid for his rent, and he did 15 to 20 hours a week of work as an intern here.

BYT: That’s lovely. So, would you say that you have a close relationship with the artists.

JI: Oh yeah, absolutely.

BYT: Cool.

JI: It is really cool. And most of them are around my age, and they’re friends too. It’s not like I’m the boss of them or I’m their slave either. It’s a push and pull relationship. They have to do work for us, have good shows, show up to our programs and benefit from it. We have to support them, come up with better programming, and sell their work. It’s definitely a 50/50 relationship.

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BYT: When did you start working here?

JI: We opened in October of 2008. Paul So is the founder – He’s a physics professor at George Mason University – I started working for Paul two years ago. So, probably 10 months before we opened I started. I was the director of the gallery.

BYT: So you’ve seen its transformation…

JI: Yes, this is what it used to look like. (She points to the photograph hanging over her desk.) It was pretty gross. This building was vacant for about 15 to 20 years. If you go on our Web site under “History,” it’s all there; what this building originally was and what it ended up becoming.

BYT: Do you think Paul [So] wanted to open this space partly because he’s also a painter?

JI: Yes, he’s always been a patron of the arts. He’s always loved art and took it growing up. I guess you could call him a Sunday painter, because he doesn’t expect to do it professionally. He’s so incredibly brilliant. He’s a Chaos Theory expert. That’s insane to me. He saw a need for help with new, emerging artists.

BYT: What made you want to work here?

JI: I went to the Corcoran [College of Art and Design]. I am an artist, a painter. I was working at a law firm in college and continued after. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I had some investors and we were looking at real estate in NE on H St. to build work/live spaces for artists, but it ended up not making economic sense.

So, I started curating shows in alternative spaces with artists, and I got on Paul’s radar and we met. He was looking for a gallery director and we talked; it was great.

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BYT: What’s a typical day in the gallery?

JI: We’re open from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. I wake up early and start working from my computer right away…a lot of planning, scheduling, talking to press, sending out images of work. It’s kind of a lot to juggle 13 fellows, who you speak with on a regular basis.

We’re here a lot. We all work a lot. Paul So’s the owner, and he comes in about once a week for a meeting. He teaches three times a week. He’s incredibly busy. Plus, he’s on the board of all these other things. Sean Logue is my assistant. He’s assistant gallery manager, but there’s no gallery manager so…I’m the director of Hamiltonian Gallery and program manager for Hamiltonian Artists, so I run the fellowship program. Angie Goerner is our development coordinator. She works for just the non-profit, while Sean [Logue] just works for the for-profit.

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BYT: How competitive is the application process?

JI: The first year we had 130 applicants, and we hadn’t even opened yet. We chose 10. And the second year, we had 180 applicants, and we chose five. So it’s getting more competitive. Right now, we probably have about 60 or 70 applicants.

This year’s pool might actually be smaller, which is totally fine because I think people are realizing that this is a serious program and that quality is number one. That’s what I stress to the panel. You know, it doesn’t have to be this new thing I’ve never seen, because these artists are growing. They’re in the beginning of their careers.

BYT: You’re a support system for the artists, really.

JI: Yeah, we just want to be this incubator, nurture these guys and show them off.

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SEE: Christian Benefiel, Katherine Mann and Michael Enn Sirvet until May 1. (Info)


SAY HELLO TO: Rebecca Jones, director of Project 4, 1353 U St. NW.

The 1000 square feet, two level gallery, whose programming presents contemporary art and design, focuses “on one-person shows and thematic exhibitions by mid-career and emerging artists. It is, in effect, a room for art and ideas spanning a range of cultural issues.”

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BYT: How many artists do you represent?

Rebecca Jones: We represent 14. Some galleries will have on their roster 15 or plus artists and some only represent 6. It’s just a matter of your programming, what you really do for your artists, how big your gallery is. Right now, we have artists, who we represent, that get shows every two years. Then we have just artists that we exhibit and sell work for but are not on our main roster.

Lily [DeSaussure] quit, so as of now, I’m the director. I can’t possibly spread myself that thin to fully represent each artist, as much as I should, just being one person. We like to give them attention, help them develop and mostly do promotion.

BYT: When did you start working here?

RJ: I started working here in the summer of 2006. The gallery opened in February of 2006. At that time, Anne Surak was the director. When I started, I was just an intern, but I quickly became her assistant, then assistant director. I went to L.A. for a year and came back as co-director. And as of now, I’m director.

BYT: You made your way up.

RJ: I tell people when they come to intern, “Look, I came in as an intern. I worked for free for two months and now I’m the director.”

I came on pretty early on. I feel really connected to the gallery. Anne Surak and I, we really developed pretty much the entire programming. It’s been really nice to have that voice in the gallery of actually picking the artists that exhibit here, writing about their work, selling their work and watching their careers develop, helping their careers develop. It’s been fun to grow with the gallery.

BYT: That must be nice. What made you want to intern here in the beginning?

RJ: I was in art school, and I did a summer program at Parsons at the New School. The program was, working on your art making, but it was also connecting you with museum curators, gallery curators and professional artists. We would have a studio visit or a visit with a curator everyday…or writers, critics. It was great.

While I was there, I was like, “I don’t want to be a professional artist. I want to be in the business.” For some reason, it just became really clear to me at that point that that was the side of things I was interested in.

I don’t think I really make art anymore. I’m not interested in it as much. I’m more interested in critiquing other people’s artwork. Right after the program, it was clear to me that I needed to find a gallery. Project 4 was new, and I loved the space, the whole vibe, what Anne Surak was doing. I came in, and immediately, we clicked. It just grew from there.

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BYT: Where are you originally from?

RJ: Washington, D.C. I lived in L.A., did some programs in New York, but, you know, I like it here. I probably would be somewhere else if I didn’t have this job. This is a great job and gallery. So, I’m basically almost entirely here for the job.

BYT: How would you describe the D.C. art scene?

RJ: I think there are really great things happening. There are some progressive artists exhibiting, and that’s really exciting. I think that it’s not really unified. There’s not really communication between galleries. Everyone is doing their own thing. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that.

I mean, when I was in L.A. The Art Walk was a big thing. I know there’s been attempts to have openings on the same night, but we can’t even coordinate with Hamiltonian and we’re in the same building. Everyone has their own programming.

But, in general, I think there’s a good creative energy, which is important. I think people like Philippa Hugues with The Pink Line Project, you guys, DCist, all the great blogs and people around the arts industry are really helping that a lot.

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BYT: What are your favorite things about your job?

RJ: My favorite things are curating exhibitions, seeing new work that comes in, placing it in the gallery space and getting to be here and experience it everyday. It’s a beautiful space. I love the artwork I show.

BYT: There’s so much light that comes in here.

RJ: I know! I don’t even need to have the lights on. I feel really lucky for that.

BYT: What’s the most challenging part of what you do?

RJ: The hardest part is the stress of the economy. I think we’re doing quite well, so that’s very exciting to me. We do a lot of art consulting, and it’s hard sometimes for big corporations to understand the importance of having beautiful artworks in their space. It can be such a push. We have to work really, really, really hard to bring them the thing that they want and convince them that it’s worth the money, frankly. It’s a lot of work making those sales.

There’s the one side of our business where people walk in and buy things. But, much more often, it’s going out there in these art consulting projects, lugging artwork, creating proposals, having meetings.

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BYT: Are the corporations the biggest buyers?

RJ: Yeah, they have larger budgets. They give us a budget, and we find things within that budget. They usually have higher budgets, so we like it when we get those!

BYT: So, who’s exhibiting next?

RJ: It’s a group exhibition called The Fantastical. The artists, from different areas of the county, are creating these fantastical realities. And most of them have a darker edge to them, sort of an air of mystery. It’s going to be really fun. [Opening April 24 is the Jenn Figg and Tricia Knightley show.]

BYT: What are openings like?

RJ: They are great here. We get a lot of people. They really enjoy the artwork. They are not here to only socialize. It’s a good way to get some of our clients in for something in particular. It’s just a really good time. It’s my favorite time. You do all that hard work of taking a show down, putting one up and just have some wine.

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SEE: Jenn Figg, Tricia Keightley (A BYT Year in Art Spotlight Show) from April 14 to May 29. The opening reception is Saturday, April 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Info)


SAY HELLO TO: Erin Boland, assistant director of Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW.

Titouan Lamazou’s stunning collection “Women” was being exhibited when we went to visit the gallery. The space exists in conjunction with Adamson Editions, 926 N St. NW, which began as a lithography studio in 1979. Fourteen year later, the founder, David Adamson, “bought his first Iris 3047 printer and became one of the first digital ateliers in the world.”

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Inside Erin’s office, I was struck by these pigment print editions by Chuck Close. Here’s (a nude) Kate Moss like you’ve never seen her. [Courtesy of Adamson Gallery, photographs by Chuck Close]

Picture 111

BYT: How long have you been working here?

Erin Boland: Three and a half years. In August, it’ll be four.

BYT: How do you like it?

EB: I love my job. I really do. I love working with others, talking about their work and putting up shows. I get to do every part of that. I get to talk to artists, talk to collectors, sell art, talk to people who are interested in art, something that I love and do myself, because I’m an artist. So, it’s kind of lucky.

BYT: What made you want to get on this side of the art world?

EB: I ended up here by chance, because a friend of mine had this job. She’s getting her PhD, so I inherited it. I’ve really done a bunch of other things. I didn’t necessarily set out to work in a gallery, but that’s how it happened and ended up being really great. I feel like this is a unique place to work, because of the printing aspect of it. The relationship with the artists is unique.

BYT: What’s the process like?

EB: The studio is separate from the gallery. It’s down the street. David Adamson started it out as a photography studio, and then he got interested in digital printing. He was one of the first people to get Mac to donate printers for art purposes. Because, he was one of the first people to work with digital printing, all these artists wanted to try it, so they sort of came to him.

He works with Chuck Close, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Longo, but he also works with anybody who wants to come in and get their photos printed.

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BYT: What’s a day like at work?

EB: I get here at 10:30 a.m., and there’s a lot of just responding to emails. It’s not like we only sell locally. It’s all over the world. Then, it’s people coming into the gallery, and there’s sort of like a cycle of shows. We will be gearing up for something, getting ready, and then some days, I’ll be painting, spackling, hanging and cleaning. It’s not always glamorous, but I don’t mind that part at all.

BYT: So, what is the most glamorous part of what you do?

EB: Probably meeting famous artists. It’s really exciting, for me, anyway. I get kind of star struck. I got to meet Lou Reed, because we had a photo show with him. That was really cool, and he’s like my high school hero. And I got to meet Chuck Close last week that was really great. Openings are always fun. You get to kind of dress up, swan around, drink wine, talk to people, and look fancy.

But my favorite part of what I do is selling art to people who really love it and are really excited about it. That always makes me happy, to see somebody like really love something and really want it, to see them get it. That’s really great.

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BYT: Are there a lot of private buyers?

EB: Yes, there is a whole network of clients. But we also do museum shows. We just went up to GW for their gallery, and we work with other galleries and things like that.

BYT: Are you from D.C. originally?

EB: Yes, I grew up in Rockville and went to high school in the city. Then, I went to MICA in Baltimore, and later, I lived in New York for a while.

BYT: Is it nice being close to home?

EB: Yes, and the art scene here in D.C. is really interesting. I feel like it’s different from most cities. It’s a lot smaller. There really is more of that community aspect with the more up and coming galleries. I feel like there is support.

BYT: How do you think it’s viewed by outsiders?

EB: I feel like it is definitely always revolving. It has this reputation for being stuffy and not cutting edge. But, I feel like that is such a boring story to keep saying about D.C. Sometimes you need to take a chance and you are not sure what people will think about it. We’ve had shows that some people love and other people are kind of like, “what.” It’s interesting. I always like taking those kinds of risks and not always the stuff that people are going to like. There is a line that you have to walk and make sure that you can sell to stay in business. But, it’s also good to just sort of raise standards a little bit, I guess.

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BYT: What kind of art do you do?

EB: It’s painting and drawing. You can see it on my Web site. The simplest way that I can put it is that they have to do with anatomy drawings. Basically, I was inspired by anatomy books, where they make internal organs looks really beautiful and colorful. But, if you saw it in an autopsy it’s gross and nasty. So, I thought that was an interesting idea to take that and go with it and make my own organs.

BYT: Would you say that you’ve made it beautiful?

EB: I think it is. I would like to try that. But, it’s also about being attracted to something without quite knowing why. It’s kind of gross, but you can’t stop looking away.

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BYT: Where do you see yourself going in the next couple of years?

EB: I’d really like to eventually go back to school. I don’t know where that would take me. If I end up working in a gallery again, that would be fine. I love working for [Director] Laurie [Adamson] and David [Adamson].

BYT: Does D.C. embrace the art scene?

EB: Yes, I mean, I would think so. Our openings always have a lot of people. It’s also great, because we have three galleries in this building, and we can coordinate our openings. People can go up, down and walk around.

BYT: It’s a great space.

EB: Thank you.

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