Inside D.C. entertainment

Male nudes marching on Washington at Vitruvian Gallery

September 30, 2011 - 12:04 PM
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Enough of all these installations and landscapes and conceptual pieces. What the D.C. gallery scene needs are more male nudes!

That’s what Larry Hall and Jack Cox are banking on, anyway. They’re opening Vitruvian Gallery next month, D.C.’s first art space dedicated solely to male figurative art.

Hall, a 49-year-old D.C. resident who works in communications and dabbles in painting, believes male figurative work needs a home in Washington. “It’s an underserved market,” he says. “The fact is that we’ve just left behind male figurative art. We’ve painted pears to death. It’s been around from the beginning, but it’s only recently that it’s been literally stuffed in the closet.”

Both men are aware that opening a gallery with such a narrow focus might strike some as a peculiar business move. “When they hear, people say to me, oh that’s wonderful,” says Cox, a 58-year-old consultant and Arlington resident. “Then they say, are you mad?”

But Cox is convinced the interest is there for a for-profit male nude art gallery to stay afloat. “Hundreds of people have signed up already,” he says of the gallery’s communications list, “and we haven’t really done anything yet.”

Hall suggests that there’s tremendous interest in male figurative work in the region, but it’s suppressed. “D.C. is fairly conservative on the surface,” he says. “Almost everything is hidden. People are reluctant to put their tastes on the wall. In their vacation homes, they do something else.”

He describes standing by several of his own pieces of male figurative art at this year’s Artomatic show and watching people’s reactions. “You’d watch couples walk by,” he says, “and the men would snap their necks around to look at it. They didn’t want to stop and be identified with it.”

So there’s a fleet of Washingtonians out there who want to see male nudes, and they’re pretending they don’t want to? Cox and Hall think so. “If you like it, if you have it, if you paint it, people make assumptions,” says Hall. “I think a lot of people associate it with being completely flamboyant.”

But Cox stresses that the work at Vitruvian will not be kitsch or corny. “There’s a lot of trash out there,” he says. His gallery will only show fine art, he says. “We’re italicizing the word fine,” he adds. “Bold, caps. It’s not dogs playing poker.”

The gallery, located on the second floor of 734 7th Street SE, is a few blocks from the Eastern Market Metro but not in a heavily trafficked pedestrian space. Cox and Hall don’t mind; they say they aren’t counting on foot traffic or even tremendous revenues from painting sales to keep Vitruvian in the black.

“We’ll support the gallery through low-cost events,” says Cox. Artist-led sketch sessions, classes, and salons are a few of the events he has in mind for the space, which is not large. “If we had to pay ourselves, this probably wouldn’t work,” he acknowledges. “Our big concern becomes not so much sales-for-profit, but giving artists the support they deserve.”

Hall, who says the gallery is booked for shows through June, adds that “we’re a different business model.” Advertising dollars are not realistic at this point, so much of their strategy is based on tapping into existing networks of support for this type of work. “We’re part of many email lists,” he explains.

Rob Vander Zee, a painter who owns and runs an art school and gallery in Alexandria, is cautiously optimistic about Vitruvian’s odds of success. He knows Cox and Hall from his classes and is being featured in the gallery’s opening show on October 15.

“Washington D.C., in terms of the gay scene here, is pretty conservative in what people will hang in their homes,” he says. “I think they’ll be very excited in seeing a gallery with figurative male art. We’ll see how excited they are about buying it.”

Vander Zee has successfully run his gallery and school for eight years and thinks Cox and Hall have a good chance of success given their low overhead and the potential community interest. He himself has had a good run of luck selling male figurative work lately.

“The work I’m presenting is very—as far as nudes go—it’s relatively tame,” he says of his paintings for Vitruvian. “It’s very solid, figurative work that’s more about surface and beauty.”

Vander Zee thinks Vitruvian will do well, and at the very least have an excellent opening party.

“I think the opening reception is going to be a huge event,” he says. “What happens beyond that, well, with any gallery is hard to say.”

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