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Tomorrow night, Transformer, one of BYT’s favorite independent art operations and gallery space in DC will host their 10th annual auction and dance party at the Corcoran. Bolstered by one of the liveliest host and advisory committees in town, it is the ONE event of the art year that perfectly melds cool with fundraising, a fancy dress party that still feels true to its roots and Transformer’s mission to expose the District to new, exciting voices while simultaneously supporting artists whose careers are now an integral part of the DC (and national) art landscape.
So, on the occasion of the anniversary, we sat down with Victoria Reis, Co-Founder and Executive and Artistic director to take both a walk down memory lane AND a little glimpse into the future. Here is to many more decades of it ahead.
BYT:  What was the initial idea when the Transformer auction was born: goals, dreams, etc
Initial idea was to raise $$ for Transformer, to build up the individual donor base for the organization which had started out as friends and colleagues of the founding co-directors and founding board.  We didn’t really have a dream for it – at least not the first Auction – other than to have a fun party, show some great art,drink & dance, and make some money to support Transformer’s work (providing artist honorariums, supporting our operations, etc).

BYT: Ten years later, how does it compare to what you initially imagined


Well we still definitely care about making sure we have a great party!  We always try to mix it up, and keep our party fun.  That’s been key.  And of course – we’ve continued to want to show strong artwork, and to increase the amount of $$ we can raise for Transformer and in turn for artists!
In tandem with this though – the Auction has really been a way to raise the visibility of Transformer to new audiences and supporters we might not have been able to reach otherwise.  All businesses, but I think especially non-profits have got to keep building relationships, building new audiences, growing donors.


14th Street, NW – Transformer’s home since our founding in 2002, has changed so dramatically since we first opened up our space in that neighborhood. 5-6 or more years ago, people from other parts of DC that are now making their way over to our neighborhood might not have come to see our exhibitions in 2005 or 2006.  However, through our growing Board of Directors (which grew via those early individual donors of early Auctions) and other supporters, they heard about this super fun  ‘not your typical DC gala fundraiser sit down dinner party, with not your typical DC guest list” Auction.  An Auction that not only had incredible art up for bidding at all different price ranges, but also had all of the participating artists attending (something we’ve always been committed to – the artists must be comped to attend the Auction they have work in!), and with DJs playing James Brown along with Minor Threat and Donna Summer and StereoLab.  And great food – and lots of free flowing drinks of course!


So through that growth of Auction audience and supporters, in addition to my ambitious vision to further Transformer’s mission of connecting & promoting emerging visual artists through all sorts of partnerships, the Auction has become an incredible vehicle for Transformer to develop new relationships that have grown the scope of our year round exhibitions and programs.


For example – the Auctions at Halcyon House (2007 & 2008 – our 4th & 5th Auctions):  they were a game changer for Transformer.  An amazing setting, in an artist’s studio (thank you John Dreyfuss), in a historic mansion in G-town – we reached out to a whole other community in DC that wasn’t very familiar with either 14th Street, NW nor Transformer at the time.  We built up Corporate Sponsorships which was a very new thing for Transformer, we further grew our Board of Directors, and we grew new relationships that led to new programming opportunities for the artists we were working with.  We were able to work more broadly in the DC community and beyond, and started seeing an increase in audience coming to our space and seeing & supporting what we were up to on 14th Street, NW.


Following those Auctions, we really built up our diplomatic relationships, and in getting connected to then Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan and his wife Veronica Valencia – who are so wonderful, very passionate about the arts, and who really understood Transformer’s mission – we not only introduced having Diplomatic Chairs for our Auction (2009, the 6th Annual Auction), but were able to build international programming in ways we had not had the opportunity to realize previously.


And then the past two years, and this year, being able to present the Auction at the Corcoran has been amazing for Transformer. It not only solidified a relationship that Transformer has informally had since our inception by presenting and supporting so many Corcoran students and graduates, but the cache of that Institute – and let’s face it no matter what highs & lows the Corcoran has faced/will face, it’s an incredible Museum and School, an important and treasured resource in DC, with a gorgeous building – has opened up even more opportunity for Transformer to grow and build relationships.  


The beauty of Transformer and our Auction for me (and I hope for others) is that we stay punk rock in spirit & aesthetic – ie we stay grassroots in our work – but we can play dress up and keep raising money to support artists within increasingly hallowed marble halls with the best of them!


BYT: As a small but mighty art organization that has survived some very interesting changing times in the District what is the one piece (or 10 pieces) of advice you’d give yourself 10 years a go?
I don’t think I have 10 pieces of advice for my 2003 self related to Transformer.  I guess I would tell 2003 Victoria:  Don’t worry so much.  Your hard work will pay off.  There is always more work to do, so maybe take more breaks.


Although really – I don’t know that I would have done anything too differently.  Whatever mistakes or stress or anxiety I may have had over the years, Transformer might not be at the point we are today without it.


BYT: What are some of the pieces of art you’re particularly excited for the audience to see? The participating list of artists is IMPRESSIVE.
OMG – so many!!!  Seriously – I probably say this year – actually I know I’ve said this every year – BUT I think we have one of the best roster of Auction works ever.
I’ve personally got my eye on about 10 pieces:
  • Thom Flynn’s sculptural painting is so so rad. He’s been supporting Transformer by participating in the Auction for years. I’m bidding!
  • The iona rozeal brown is HOT.
  • I love love love the feather & marble sculpture by US English (we presented them at this year’s emerge).  The work is gorgeous.
  • Kelly Towles‘ Skull
  • Sue Wrbican’s Dance After Catastrophe 
  • Frank Trankina‘s Zagora
  • Both of the Bonner Sale works.  
  • Amber Robles-Gordon’s The Bridge
  • Marissa Long‘s Untitled (arm) from Ursula series
  • Stephen Crouch’s Telescope #2
  • Larry Cook’s Picture Me Rollin’ (this video work is AMAZING!)

My list keeps going, I’m driving my husband crazy. As much as I would like to own every one of these and more, I really hope I get out waaaay outbid (and so does my husband) so the artists’ make more $ and so that Transformer does too. 

BYT: If you could pick one (or 10) artists to donate their work to the auction, who would it be?
I think it’s important that Transformer offers a 50/50 sales spit on Auction art sales to participating artists.  We do a 70/30 split via all of our exhibitions & our FlatFiles (with 70% of any sales going to the artists).  The Auction is the one time we ask for a 50/50 split, and I think that already a donation by the artists. They are including work in the Auction at starting bid prices that are well below their retail value.  If they sell at the starting bid price or below retail, they are already making a very generous donation to us.  I want to raise all of the $$ I can for Transformer, but at the same time, we exist to support artists!  So really – they are already donating, and so are many many of their gallery reps by supporting more established artists to keep participating in the Auction and in turn supporting their peer emerging artists that all this Auction $ goes towards supporting.


BYT: If you are someone who has never come to the Auction, why start now?
Read everything above!


It’s Transformer!  Why wouldn’t you come!?
BYT:  In 2014 what can we expect from Transformer?
So, to recap: Check out the Transformer auction tomorrow night @ The Corcoran, have fun, collect those art karma points and learn more about the organization and their year-round programming here.