Let's be honest. Art isn't the only factor to consider when evaluating the quality of a gallery. Atmosphere always plays a significant role. The truth is that most people enjoy a little romantic ambience to go with their art viewing, and why shouldn't they? Fine visual art deserves a fine visual space in which it can be viewed.
A sprawling brick factory in an obscure industrial section of town is just the sort of venue to give an exhibit a sense of intrigue. Jerry Miller and Ken Krause, two transplants from Chicago, along with local boy Stephan Protzen, recently purchased just such a building at 1715 Fifth Street NW. They installed a bunch of inexpensive art studios, and they began hosting exhibits. They've got plans to transform the building into a row of live/work spaces for local artists. The result is the Factory on 5th, a relatively new art complex that I just visited for the first time last week.
Miller currently lives in the big central space. It's the kind of place that immediately makes you want to slap on some skates and challenge everyone within shouting distance to an indoor hockey match. The far side of the factory contains the art studios—starting at $100 per month, all include free wireless internet access—along with a small but appealing exhibit area. Yeah, the roof leaks, but somehow that just adds to the charm. The Factory on 5th has hipster written all over it.
Featuring sculptures in limestone by Jeff Metz and oil paintings by Mary Robertson, the current show is very strong. These two purely abstract sets of work almost seem as if they were made to be displayed together. Both have an architectural quality that calls to mind fascinating manufactured spaces not so dissimilar from the building in which they're currently housed.
Robertson's paintings are large-scale and composed with an ambitious palette—sky blues, summery yellows, burnt oranges—manipulated into boxes and lines. Robertson says that these paintings were inspired by cartography, and most of them do suggest an aerial view of some alien urban landscape. They're cheerful and fun without being frivolous. They also possess a sense of movement, as if imaginary vehicles were speeding along the interconnected arteries that zigzag through this entrancing artificial space.
Although Metz' sculptures are made from stone, they have an aura of impermanence about them. They're like elaborate sand sculptures waiting to be smashed apart by a single destructive wave.
These are highly complex compositions that serve as colorless, three-dimensional counterparts to Robertson's equally complex paintings. Metz has refined the lines of his sculptures until they almost seem like inhuman creations. The shapes remind me of Mesoamerican sculpture. It's easy to imagine them containing coded messages too ancient or alien to interpret.
The show is only staying up for another few days. Luckily, Metz and Robertson are hosting a closing reception this Friday. Give it a look. You won't be disappointed.
Unfortunately, as might be expected given its location, getting to the Factory on 5th can be a small pain in the ass. I know this from experience. The best route is to turn north on Fifth Street from Mountain and drive approximately half a mile. You'll see an industrial brick building on the left surrounded by a chain link fence. There's a sign and a big "5" light to help guide you. Don't get frustrated. It's worth the trip.
Abstractions in Stone and Oil, an exhibit featuring work by Jeff Metz and Mary Robertson, runs through July 11 at the Factory on 5th (1715 Fifth Street NW). A closing reception will be held on Friday, July 8, from 7 to 11 p.m. For details, call 463-5824 or log on to www.factoryon5.com.