Making Art, Washington DC
In July 1974, as the recipient of a Smithsonian Fellowship I temporarily moved to Washington DC for a residency in the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA) to research and write my doctoral dissertation. Usually a Smithsonian Fellowship lasts one year, but as I was reluctant to leave New York City, my loft at 98 Bowery and adjunct teaching jobs, I committed to only six months. My dissertation topic about the art associated with Lafayette’s Farewell Tour of America in 1824-25 had special relevance since 1976 marked the bicentennial of America’s independence. I returned to New York for most of 1975 but moved back to DC in 1976 when I received a second Smithsonian Fellowship for another six-month stay.
My time in Washington was dominated by work on my dissertation but my identity as a conceptual artist was emboldened by the success of my first New York exhibition. On weekends I would hang out outside the White House photographing tourists with a telephoto lens as they exited from their tour. On Sundays I set up a display at a small arts and crafts fair along the edge of the mall and talked people into drawing, writing, and otherwise participating in my interactive art. A few times I took my camera into the NCFA where I photographed my colleagues at work and asked them to write captions.
My two stays in Washington totaled over a year and introduced me to two people who impacted both my life and art. When I first moved to Washington friends suggested that I contact Alice Denney who was the center of the city’s small art scene and just in the process of setting up the Washington Project for the Arts, a new “alternative space” where I exhibited frequently during the 70s. And one Sunday on the mall I met Bettie Ringma when she stopped to participate in one of my conceptual art projects. Bettie was an art therapy student and a photographer and we instantly connected. That chance meeting was the start of an eight-year artistic collaboration. Much of our collaborative work can be seen in the website sections that follow.