A group gathered in front of the Logan Circle gallery Transformer around 6 pm Thursday to march to the National Portrait Gallery downtown. Organized by the executive director of Transformer, Victoria Reis, the group was protesting the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to remove the 1987 video, Fire in my Belly, from an exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The 1987 video, Fire in My Belly, is now playing continuously in the front window space at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. The video was removed from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in downtown DC after complaints about depictions of Jesus. The video will run continuously in Transformer’s front window space until reinstated at the National Portrait Gallery, according to Transformer.
“Your right-wing critics, including in the Congress, know nothing and care nothing about art. They care not a wit about freedom of expression, or free speech, or “the American promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity.” – from Transformer letter to Smithsonian
On its website, Transformer states, “Under pressure from the Catholic League, The Smithsonian Institution has removed this work from the National Portrait Gallery’s current Hide/Seek exhibition. Starting TODAY, DEC. 1, Transformer began showing this video work in our 1404 P Street, NW Washington, DC storefront project space, and we will continue to run the video 24 HOURS A DAY until it is reinstated.”
Transformer had copies of a letter that was sent to G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (and available on the website). The letter addresses one of the main criticisms of Fire in My Belly — an image of an ant-covered Jesus. Of this scene, the letter notes:
Wendy Olsoff, who represents the Wojnarowicz’s estate, said: “David believed the imagery of ants’ society was parallel to human society.” You must know – but in the event you do not – we the undersigned are here to tell you that your right-wing critics, including in the Congress, know nothing and care nothing about art. They care not a wit about freedom of expression, or free speech, or “the American promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity.”
You can read the entire letter at the Transformer website.
From Cecile Oreste at danceDC
Transformer hosted its 7th Annual Silent Auction & Benefit Party at the Mexican Cultural Institute Saturday, Nov. 13. The current exhibition, Tang: “Freedom & Its Owner,” is on display at their Logan Circle gallery space at 1404 P St. until Dec. 4. I recently spoke with Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Reis to talk about Transformer’s gallery space and to learn more about the organization.
Transformer is a non-profit visual arts organization founded in 2002 by Reis along with Jayme McLellan, Founder and Director of Civilian Art Projects.
Borderstan: Transformer is a catalyst and advocate for emergent expression. Why the focus on emerging artists?
Reis: At the point when I founded Transformer with Jayme, there were no consistent programs for emerging artists. None of the commercial galleries and no other nonprofits were consistently presenting works of emerging artists. We wanted to fill that need.
Transformer defines “emerging artist” somewhat broadly as someone who doesn’t have an established art career or who is seeking to build their career outside of his or her established base of operations. D.C. based artists Transformer exhibits may have been in group shows, but have not yet had a solo show. An artist based outside of D.C. may have more exhibition experience, but has not yet exhibited in D.C. Emerging is not necessarily tied to a specific age and the artist may or may not be represented. Transformer not only looks for artists who are just launching their careers, but are also launching new ideas or experimenting with processes and themes.
Borderstan: How do you find the artists you work with? What do you look for in artists and their work?
Reis: In launching Transformer, I personally knew so many amazing emerging artists who had recently graduated from the Corcoran and other area institutions like Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally I had been building connections with many D.C. artists who were also musicians, as well as artists from outside D.C. that I connected with through my previous work experience with the National Association of Artists’ organizations.
I started with artists I knew and found other artists from referrals of artists and arts colleagues, and word of mouth. Transformer also gets referrals from our advisory council and our network of peer arts organizations that we are connected to via the Warhol Foundation and other networks.
In addition, Transformer staff members make frequent studio visits and see exhibitions around the region, nationally and internationally. We also have an open submission process for any artists who would like to submit work for us to consider.
It’s exciting for me to see an artist that is experimenting with a new process. I look for artists who are ambitious and really committed to furthering themselves, artists who are open to feedback and working hard. It’s a combination of talent and a unique voice. Transformer does have a certain aesthetic. Our program tends to focus on artists who want to present their work in a fully realized installation format.
Borderstan: What makes Transformer unique?