Capitol Ideas: Heiner Contemporary opens in DC

Photo: Will Teass

With a few exceptions, most art galleries left the DC neighborhood of Georgetown ten years ago in search of cheaper rent. Many of them settled on the 14th Street corridor and the 1515 building before gentrification and skyrocketing rents recently pushed some of the bigger players toward more economically diverse pastures in the H St neighborhood. (As recently as a few days ago, another gallery announced their departure from 14th street, citing “unsustainable increases in rent.”)

All of this makes Heiner Contemporary’s new storefront space in Georgetown a bit of a throwback. Located in the quaint and quirky Book Hill section of Georgetown, the gallery is just far enough away from the trendy waterfront and the brutish bar scene on M Street to make the trip worthwhile. Also worth the trip is their inaugural show, Polychromatic Projection, featuring the work of Brooklyn-based painter, Elizabeth Huey. I visited Heiner Contemporary last week and sat down with owner/director Margaret Heiner to talk about setting up shop in Georgetown, her plans for her new gallery space,  and Huey’s work. Our conversation after the jump.   —Matthew Smith, DC Contributor

Photo: Will Teass

MS: How long has this been in the works and what's your vision for the gallery?
MH: I always dreamed of owning an art gallery, but the reality felt out of reach — it seemed too big. Last year in the early spring, it suddenly began to feel possible, I don’t know why exactly. As an art consultant working out of my house, I longed for an exhibition space. I was being introduced to more and more artists’ work through my job and wanted to be able to provide a platform for them in DC. I guess my desire finally outweighed my fears.

I would like for my gallery to provide a welcoming place for visitors and a supportive space for artists. My personal taste ranges from Minimalism to figurative art, and I’m not bound to a specific medium. In the current show, you’ll find installation, video, and painting. I plan to show it all, so long as I’m drawn to the idea behind it and think it’s visually interesting. A goal is for visitors to leave with a heightened curiosity about the work they see here and I would like for artists to feel like I worked hard to support their vision.

Photo: Will Teass

Can you tell me about the transition from being an art consultant to managing your own gallery space?
So far, I have loved the transition from art consultant to gallery owner. Speaking with people about Elizabeth’s artwork everyday has been so much fun. Each visitor provides an opportunity to look at the work from a new perspective. It’s so much less insular than my work as an art consultant was. Plus, the space feels incredibly comfortable to me. I look forward to coming into work each day.

Why did you open in the Georgetown neighborhood?  What are the advantages of being here rather than, say, on the more centrally located 14th street corridor?
I thought about 14th Street, but real estate there is so expensive, in part because the spaces are a lot larger than mine. Because I’m just starting out and don’t have a following yet, I was hesitant to move to Florida Ave, NE (the H St neighborhood) — I thought I would benefit from consistent foot traffic. And, the truth is, I love Georgetown. Dumbarton is my absolute favorite place in the city and Georgetown is a beautiful neighborhood to walk through. The Book Hill business owners have been very welcoming and, because my gallery is relatively small, it feels manageable. (I’m sure the space limitations will begin to feel like constraints sometime soon, though. I’m already wishing I had more storage space, for example.)

Elizabeth Huey. TOP: Glen Echo, 2011, Acrylic on wood. BOTTOM: Persuading Sanity, 2011, Acrylic on wood. Courtesy Heiner Contemporary, Washington, DC. Photos: Susan Alzner.

How did you hook up with Elizabeth Huey for your inaugural show?
Elizabeth and I met when she was a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow during the summer of 2008. When I saw Elizabeth’s work, I was floored. I loved it for so many reasons — the color, the content, the way she weaves together historical narratives. I knew immediately that I wanted to find a way to show it in DC.

When I decided to open Heiner Contemporary, I called Elizabeth to see if she would be willing to create a body of work for my opening show. She was already thinking about the work in Polychromatic Projection, which stems from the time she spent here as a Smithsonian Fellow. Much of the content relates to histories specific to DC. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Can you tell me about upcoming shows and artists you plan to exhibit?
July 8th – August 20th I will host a group show titled Women by Women. It will consist of images of women depicted by women. I found one of the artists through New American Paintings, actually: Suzannah Sinclair. The other artists are Kim McCarty, Edwina White, Bridget Mac, and Judie Bamber.  The show will be about conceptions of femininity and the ways that women both embrace and struggle against gender stereotypes.

In the fall I will mount a solo show by David Kramer, which I’m thrilled about!  I’ve admired his work for a long time and am excited about the opportunity to work with him.

“Polychromatic Projection” will be on display at Heiner Contemporary, Washington, DC, through July 2nd. An artist talk with Elizabeth Huey is scheduled for Saturday June 18.

Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to DCist.


Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55