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Art of Engagement

BY Michael McCarthy | December 1, 2016 | Feature Features National

Gallery owner George Hemphill dishes on how the world of DC art has morphed into a celebration of people, stories and ideas.
HILL TOPPER George Hemphill, photographed at his 14th Street Gallery, thinks DC arts patrons are the smartest in America.

Never ask a gallery owner to assess how a trend is plucked from the artistic ether. It turns out this is a silly question. George Hemphill, owner of Hemphill Fine Arts, was kind enough not to dismiss the premise. “Artwork often reflects the time in which it was created,” he says. “But the ambitions of great artists run deeper than what one might typically think of as a trend. Art, old or new, possesses the power to surprise and enlighten.”

Well played, good sir.

Hemphill, who is also one of the unflinching stars of the District’s small-gallery scene as a curator and dealer, says a better question might be whether those in DC have changed their views about what art means. “If you open your eyes, you see that [Washington] is like no other city,” Hemphill says. “It is a high-intensity place. That intensity affects the art market in a distinct way.”

The gallery owner notes that collectors are now looking for deeper engagement with art and its creators. “At my gallery, [in] show after show, we witness the increasing desire of viewers and collectors for relevant art experiences.” He notes that local artist Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi, whose show runs at Hemphill through the end of the month, is a prime example of an artist with a compelling story. “Her paintings blend decorative elements from her country of origin, Iran, with expressive characteristics of modernist American painting,” says Hemphill. “[The pieces] are technically dazzling and seriously beautiful. And, of course, she is the hottest thing happening right now.”

To new generations of patrons, art has become something more than a space to fill above a sofa, says Hemphill, but, instead, a connection to the world where they live and work. “The part of my audience that is local is spectacularly smart. Nobody is fooling anybody here,” he says. “If you can sell a painting in Washington, you can sell it anywhere.” Exhibit Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi: Everything Became Nearness and All the Nearness Turned to Stone, through Dec. 23, 1515 14th St. NW, 202.234.5601

HEMPHILL’S HOTS
National Museum of African American History and Culture, artist Julie Wolfe, contemporary string quartets, vintage transistor radios, mezcal, Airedales

HEMPHILL’S NOTS
iPhone updates, partisan politics, DC Mayor Bowser’s cancellation of the Institute of Contemporary Expression, texting—particularly at stoplights

Photography Courtesy Of: