Best ’90s Gallery Opened in 2011

Heiner Contemporary
1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW, (202) 338-0072
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Once upon a time, D.C.’s art scene extended no further east than Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. In your standard story of gentrification, the art galleries crept into Dupont Circle and then Logan Circle over the last few decades. Curiously, though, with every block east toward North Capitol Street, the galleries got more and more progressive. There’s a lot more than a couple miles separating the video, performance, and installation art at galleries in Trinidad in Northeast and the figurative still-life paintings still showing in Georgetown.

But in 2011, one gallery upended D.C.’s neat cartographic rule of art. D.C.’s newest and hippest art gallery has made its home in one of the city’s stiffest neighborhoods.

Heiner Contemporary, located at 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW—where residential-fusty Glover Park rubs up against commercial-fusty Georgetown—is one of the most exciting galleries to open in a decade. New galleries don’t open too often in Washington, and when they do, they tend to be of the model that sells frames first and paintings as a kind of afterthought (nothing that wouldn’t match the couch). These galleries still exist in spades in Georgetown.

That’s not Margaret Heiner. Right now, for example, the former art consultant is showing Moving a Tree and Arranging Suitcases, two video works by New Orleans–based artist Avery Lawrence. The contemplative videos show the artist at work in tasks of futility. Heiner’s first show was a solo exhibition of work that saw painter Elizabeth Huey stretching into video. Heiner’s very next show was a group show of portraits of women made by women. Alternatingly saccharine and aggressive, the works came together with a politics that was all brass.

None of these efforts, taken on their own, are setting the bar for progressive art at a D.C. gallery. But consider Heiner’s offering for the inaugural (e)merge Art Fair at the Capitol Skyline Hotel last summer. The entries at most galleries were more tentative. Even the punk-rad nonprofit Transformer, for example, showed small, accessible prints by a number of artists who have long histories with the gallery.

Again, not Margaret Heiner. She brought Lawrence, who wall-papered the room, hung drawings, and installed one of his videos. Video art is notoriously difficult to sell (hell, Hollywood movies on DVD are a hard sell in the age of streaming video and bit torrents). Heiner’s bold debut caught the eye of such publications as Artnet and Artinfo.

Heiner is catching her fair share of Washington eyes, too—even if she has to bring them back to Georgetown to do so.