Author, curator and artist F. Lennox (Lenny) Campello knows a thing or two about the art scene in the Washington metro area.
He writes Daily Campello Art News, a popular art blog, was co-owner of the Fraser Gallery since it opened in Georgetown in 1992 and through its heyday in Bethesda, goes to as many gallery openings as possible, and attends multiple art fairs a year.
A vocal proponent and diligent student of the Washington Color School—a bonafide D.C.-bred art movement—as well as of the malingering effects of the national museums and the local press on the evolution and reception of the Washington visual artist, Campello is as immersed as one can be in the art world.
When famed Miami-based art collector Mera Rubell knocked at his door and asked him what he thought of the D.C. art scene, Campello told her it was diverse and vibrant, but he also set to thinking.
Rubell's visit to the capital region coincided with the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) "Cream" exhibition, which would feature artists hand-picked by the Miami collector and a committee of curators. Thirty-six artists were chosen through a lottery system, and of those, 16 made it into the annual WPA art auction.
Fifteen of them became the starting point for Campello's book project. He did not include himself in the compendium.
"Most people would have simply selected artists that they liked," said Campello in an interview with Patch.
"What I have learned from having curated over 200 shows in the span of my career is illustrated by Duncan Phillips's relationship to Impressionism. The father of the Phillips Collection, Duncan hated Impressionism at first. As he developed an understanding and appreciation for it, he became the foremost America collector of Impressionist art."
Campello enlisted the help of museum directors, curators, gallerists, collectors and artists to generate the other 85 names for the collection.
"Everyone came up with ten names. No two lists matched 100 percent. I definitely included artists whose work I might not collect myself or hang in my house, but who certainly deserve to be included," said Campello, who also said that his selection process contributed to a diversity of genres and styles in the book.
A typical spread in the compendium consists of a small portrait of the artist, four to six color images of the artist's work, a biography/artist's statement reinterpreted and often rewritten by Campello and three to four citations to works that further discuss the artist.
The book includes a wide range of metro-area artists, including painters, sculptors, video artists, installation artists, printmakers and glass artists.
"Someone like Lida Moser is 91 years old and has work in 40 or 50 museum collections. Her photographs sell for $4000-$5000 at Christie’s auctions. Recently the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired 200 of her photographs," said Campello, describing what an established artist featured in 100 Artists of Washington, D.C. looks like.
"If you were to get into an argument about who should be included, multimedia artist and Corcoran Professor William Christenberry would be on anyone's list," he continued.
"Some mid-career artists are Dan Steinhilber and his wife Maggie Michael, Tim Tate and Michael Janis. Then you have someone who is emerging like Alexa Meade, who has only been in Washington for the last two years and has already shown around the planet and whose brilliant work has even been highlighted by some TV networks."
Published by Schiffer Publishing, which has published similar volumes, such as 100 Artists of New England and 100 Artists of the West Coast, Campello's 100 Artists of Washington D.C. has already restocked twice on Amazon.com.
He is already working on the second volume, which was part of the original sales pitch to Schiffer, and has compiled a list of over 250 names.
"The writing is descriptive and from an art historical rather than critical perspective. The aim of the book was to expose what insiders in Washington, D.C. arts already know—that we have a vibrant art scene here," said Campello, who dismays at the poor arts coverage that local institutions like The Washington Post provide.
"The Washington Post had a freelancer for many years covering the art gallery scene and now has cut down coverage to about once a month," he said.
The local national museums are also problematic for Campello. A Washington museum curator once told him that her institution did not collect glass.
"The Washington Color School made a huge historical contribution to art, but the closest that we now have to a current-day Washington art movement is the Washington Glass School. We have a huge proportion of glass artists compared to other areas in the country. And they're not all trying to copy Dale Chihuly," said Campello.
"It's easier for a local museum curator to take a cab to Dulles to catch a flight to Berlin to go see the work of an emerging artist than to catch a cab to Georgetown to do the same," he is often quoted as saying.
And there are plenty of emerging artists and plenty of opportunities for emerging artists in the Washington, D.C area as far as Campello is concerned. He cited the Washington Project for the Arts, which has over 2000 members, and the Art League of Alexandria, also boasting over 2000 members.
Smaller but very active organizations, like the Fairfax Art League and the many other local artist-led arts groups do not lag far behind. Artomatic and the District of Columbia Art Center's Wallmountables show are open to anyone who wants to exhibit.
According to a Washington Post article about Mera Rubell's 36 Studio visits in preparation for WPA's Cream exhibition, the collector told artist Barbara Liotta that "The pecking order is so vague here, so nebulous."
Campello, who does not shirk controversy, attributes this astute observation to the failure of local institutions to establish such an order.
"In New York, you have world-class museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney that are actively involved in the New York art scene. A critic writes glowingly about a local artist, everyone goes to see the work, the show sells out, and then the artist gets a museum show," Campello said.
"In D.C., we have some of the best art museums on the planet, and none of them give a hoot about local artists. Places like Seattle, Los Angeles and New York pay attention to their own backyard. Morris Louis of the Washington Color School had his retrospective at the Atlanta Art Museum."
Kriston Kapps of the Washington City Paper wrote a controversial article about Campello's artist selection process. Apart from describing it as a crowdsourcing exercise, which does not stray too far from Campello's own vision for the project, he all but accused Campello of including artists that he represents or writes about in his own blog. In retort, Campello did a quick count and found out that he had never represented 95 percent of the artists featured in 100 Artists of Washington, D.C.
"I consider myself an expert," said Campello who certainly has the chops to defend this claim.
"The article came out a year before the book was published and got a lot of publicity. Andy Warhol once said that 'publicity is hard to get and bad publicity is the best publicity.' My process, which was a form of collaboration and research, worked well for the first book, and I plan to repeat it for Volumes 2 and 3."
A complete list of metro-area artists in the book includes: Ken Ashton, Joseph Barbaccia, m. gert barkovic, Holly Bass, John Blee, Margaret Boozer, Adam Bradley, Scott G. Brooks, Lisa Montag Brotman, iona rozeal brown, Wayne Edson Bryan, Renee Butler, Judy, Byron, Colby Caldwell, Rafael J. Cañizares-Yunez, Chan Chao, Zoe Charlton, William Christenberry, Manon Cleary, Mary Coble, Danny Conant, Kathryn Cornelius, Rosemary Feit Covey, Jeffry Cudlin, Richard Dana, Adam de Boer, Rosetta DeBerardinis, David D'Orio, John Dreyfuss, William Dunlap, Mary Early, Victor Ekpuk, Dana Ellyn, Fred Folsom, Helen Frederick, Rik Freeman, Chawky Frenn, Victoria F. Gaitán, Carol Brown Goldberg, Janis Goodman, Pat Goslee, Muriel Hasbun, Linda Hesh, Jason Horowitz, James Huckenpahler, Melissa Ichiuji, Martha Jackson Jarvis, Michael Janis, Judy Jashinsky, Mark Jenkins, Margarida Kendall Hull, Craig Kraft, Sidney Lawrence, Amy Lin, Barbara Liotta, Malik Lloyd, Laurel Lukaszewski, Maxwell MacKenzie, Akemi Maegawa, James W. Mahoney, Isabel Manalo, Percy Martin, Carolina Mayorga, J.J. McCracken, Donna McCullough, Patrick McDonough, Alexa Meade, Linn Meyers, Maggie Michael, A.B. Miner, Brandon Morse, Lida Moser, Cory Oberndorfer, Byron Peck, Jefferson Pinder, Michael B. Platt, Susana Raab, W.C. Richardson, Marie Ringwald, Nate Rogers, Robin Rose, Erik Sandberg, Matt Sesow, Foom V. Sham, Joe Shannon, Jeff Spaulding, Molly Springfield, Dan Steinhilber, Lou Stovall, Tim Tate, Lisa Marie Thalhammer, Erwin Timmers, Ben Tolman, Kelly Towles, Novie Trump, Frank Warren, Joe White, John Winslow, Colin Winterbottom and Andrew Wodzianski.