Exhibition Review: An Underground (Literally) Art Space in Washington DC
Dupont Underground is a subterranean art space and cultural center that hosts exhibitions and performances of all mediums. It is directly under Dupont Circle in Washington DC, inhabiting the streetcar station located there, which was abandoned in the early 1900s. Dupont Underground took over the space in 2016, and is a non-profit that has turned the venue into a major player in DC's underground (pun intended) art scene.
Surprise: I intern here! I have been working at Dupont Underground this summer as the manager of community events. I have been helping the team with marketing, organization, promotion, and daily tasks. It is a small team, so it has been a really great hands-on experience with a different side of the art world than which I am used to. While my educational background resides more in art history, visual analysis, and critical research, my internship in the non-profit art sector and all it entails (public relations, event planning, even the tedious logistics) has been eye-opening and valuable.
Dupont Underground organizes a unique rotation of exhibitions, and they also aim to host live music or performances (with a bar) every weekend. So interning here is both work and play. Pictured above is a piece from our collaboration with the Corcoran School of Art & Design and our permanent graffiti commission (created by three generations of DC street artists). Below, I've documented our special event with the New York Times.
52 Places: Iceland and Beyond
Dupont Underground and the New York Times collaborated to present "52 Places: Iceland and Beyond." It was an event directly corresponding to the extremely popular newspaper column of the same name, a travel column dedicated to presenting and exploring 52 unique destinations around the globe readers should visit each year. Our event highlighted Iceland, one of the featured destinations. Because of our unique underground space, we were able to host a virtual reality and photography show that allowed attendees to visually escape to Iceland.
Working with the New York Times to organize a photography, virtual reality, and immersive storytelling experience was pretty cool. The space was set up to present photos taken by New York Times' photojournalists from around the globe (each of the photos displayed a featured destination for 2018). Dupont Underground often presents projection work because of its accommodating dimensions and lack of sunlight. So seeing these worldly photos blown up onto the walls made for a particular viewing experience. In total, there were about 20 high-resolution photo projections.
Regarding the virtual reality aspect, New York Times' staff provided visitors with high-tech virtual reality goggles that featured scenes from Iceland, and made one feel as if they were actually immersed into the pictured Icelandic landscapes. The viewing and VR stations were then followed by a panel discussion on the state of contemporary visual journalism led by the New York Times' photojournalists themselves.
I am technically biased, but I believe the event was a success and that Dupont Underground was the perfect location. The curving walls and projection technology presented the photos in a unique and interesting format. It was a sold out event, close to 300 people attended, and it was the largest event I worked on during the entirety of my internship. Besides attendance being an indicator of quality, I really enjoyed the photos on display. They were diverse and intriguing. However, there was no wall text or photo descriptions so the viewing experience was purely visual rather than informational. As I am a lover of context, I would have appreciated at least a label of the location where each photo was taken. And although the event was meant to focus on Iceland, I found that it was actually more about the general role of photography in global journalism. This was especially highlighted by the panel discussion. Not that I had a problem with that, in fact I thought the VR goggles were the least compelling part of the event.
What was most rewarding for me was viewing photojournalism in an artistic context. I am used to seeing visual artists and creative work projected onto the walls of the Underground, so seeing these professional photos in their place immediately made me consider them as works of art. I mean, the compositions are calculated, the subjects are carefully considered, and these photographers are among the best in their field. Many of the photos evoked emotion and/or even awe. Should the photos in newspapers be completely objective, or can they be artful? Should these photos present facts or tell narratives? Of course these were photos from a travel column, so they were meant to be inviting or at least visually interesting, but their presentation at Dupont Underground—as well as the discussion surrounding them—highlights the ever-existing blur between art and news. I've featured some of my favorite photo projections from the event below.
See more art posts here.