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