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Posted at 4:14 PM ET, 09/17/2008

Art in the Heart of the City

By Stephanie Merry

Gene Davis's "Red Pope" is among the newest additions to the City Hall Art Collection. (photos courtesy of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and copyright by Gene Davis)

Scenes at the Wilson Building include protesters chanting while being escorted out of the building by police officers, Mayor Fenty heading to his office on the third floor and now, the art of Gene Davis, one of the original members of the Washington Color School. This year, while the Wilson Building celebrates its centennial, the City Hall Art Collection is expanding.

Started a couple of years ago as a way to support local talent, the art collection now includes about 200 pieces. To celebrate the latest addition of 28 new works, there will be a Tuesday reception, including tours and music, that's free and open to the public.

You can't help but feel some D.C. pride while walking through the halls and looking at the impressive output of local artists and images of nearby landscapes. Franz Jantzen, for example, offers up photographs of "mile zero" of the C&O Canal, part of a series of photographs along the canal from start (Georgetown) to finish (Cumberland, Md.). The collection also managed to secure a piece by Gene Davis, whose work is on display at a number of the major museums in the area.

And then there's the vivid, rainbow-like watercolor by Alma Thomas, the first graduate in fine arts from Howard University in 1924. It wasn't curator Sondra Arkin's initial choice; she had her heart set on a different Thomas piece that would have cost $600,000. But the city could only pay each artist around $2,500 on average, so Arkin had to go back to the drawing board. Luckily, some estate-sale hunting revealed the much more affordable, but no less spectacular watercolor. Given such constraints, the presence of such big names in this collection is no small feat.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | September 17, 2008; 4:14 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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