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Artnet Interview | Amy Morton of Morton Fine Art

5 Dec
Gallery Network

7 Questions for Washington, D.C. Gallerist Amy Morton on the Capital Art Scene’s International Flavor

Morton Fine Art has championed diverse artistic voices for over a decade.

Artnet Gallery Network, December 2, 2022

Gallerist Amy Morton, owner of Morton Fine Art, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Amy Morton. Photo: Jarrett Hendrix.
Gallerist Amy Morton, owner of Morton Fine Art, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Amy Morton. Photo: Jarrett Hendrix.

Gallerist and curator Amy Morton is the founder and owner of Morton Fine Art, a stalwart fixture of the Washington, D.C., art scene. Recognized for its diverse roster of national and international artists, Morton Fine Art—and by extension, Morton herself—has developed a reputation for its thought-provoking exhibition program, and a specific emphasis on art and artists of the African and Global Diaspora. Morton Fine Art has also shown a strong commitment to exhibiting female artists, and the gallery’s current presentation is a solo show of work by Katherine Hattam, which is on view through December 20, 2022.

Morton has cultivated strong relationships both with the artists she represents (refusing hierarchy and referring to them as her partners) and collectors, for whom she strives to craft an accessible and educational experience. The result has been Morton Fine Art’s ability to consistently place museum-quality contemporary art in both private and public collections for over a decade.


We recently spoke with Morton to talk about establishing her gallery, the current exhibition, and what’s to come in 2023.

You founded Morton Fine Art in 2010. Can you tell us about your background and what led you to open the gallery? What first drew your interest to the arts?

I come from a line of under-recognized female artists on both sides of my family. My parents, although divorced, both exposed my sister and I to performing arts, music, and other cultural mediums when we were children. The occasional trip to view a museum exhibition was always a big deal in our household. My mom and I used to create drawings together at the kitchen table—what I always considered a continuing story between mother and daughter. All that noted, I didn’t know I was destined for a career in the arts until high school: I walked into an art history class and was changed. I took my first gallery job when I was 17. By the time I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles at 21, I had interned and worked at auction houses on both coasts, at art galleries local and national, and for a renowned New England artist association. Oddly, at that juncture, I had not yet found my niche in the art world, and it finally felt right when I opened my own gallery in 2010. With Morton Fine Art, I could amplify original artistic voices that I feel are simultaneously timeless and timely, substantive and layered.

Since the opening of the gallery, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any advice for young gallerists just starting out?

I’ve learned many lessons and believe I will continue to for the foreseeable future. Agility has been my best posture, and I would advise young gallerists to consider the same. There is still space to do things differently, and it is important not to get lost comparing or measuring yourself against other galleries or business models.

What are some of your guiding principles as a gallerist? How is this reflected in the artists you represent and exhibitions you show?

I often joke that I am allergic to hierarchy. I believe that empowerment through education and a comfortable environment are wonderful tools of connection and understanding. Visual art is a natural way to advance conversations and ideas, and I strive to provide a gallery environment that sometimes feels more like a salon—a place that supports exploration, emotional honesty, and growth, and doesn’t enhance insecurity. My artist partners are technically masterful in their respective mediums and integrate lasting conceptual and philosophical elements that activate the imagination. Washington, D.C., is an international city, and it follows that my gallery’s programming spans many global conversations, including social justice, environmental justice, reconciliation, and personal themes.

The art world has undergone a number of transformations since 2010. Have you noticed any trends or have any predictions, good or bad, that you find particularly interesting or significant?

It will continue to be an interesting time ahead. As a Washington, D.C.-based gallery, our pulse is always intertwined with politics—local, national, and international—and therefore the art created here is remarkably relevant. I love this aspect of the city, as there is always more to learn and contend with. Increased collector confidence in online browsing and acquisitions has also been an asset for us “secondary city” gallerists. While not a global trend yet, I have long wished for a more energized focus and interest in Washington, D.C.’s art community and all we offer.

Katherine Hattam, The Great American Novel (2022). Courtesy of Morton Fine Art and the artist.

Katherine Hattam, The Great American Novel (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art.

Morton Fine Art is currently showing “Katherine Hattam: Strange Country, Strange Times,” which is on view through December 20, 2022. Can you tell us about the show?

Katherine Hattam is a well-established Australian artist having her first U.S. solo here at Morton Fine Art. We have worked together for over a decade, so it is a great honor to share so much of her incredible artwork in one exhibition.

As an artist, Hattam incorporates literary and art-historical elements in her work, focusing on materialist explorations of ultimately psychic space. Her practice is a lifelong investigation into domestic interiors: brightly shaded walls and windows, collaged book spines, and iconographic depictions of native Australian flora and fauna make up much of Hattam’s focus. Acknowledging a centuries-long preoccupation with domestic space as both the imaginative site and societal bounds of female artistic production, Hattam’s totemic kitchen tables and charged dining room chairs recur as motifs, doubly imbued as locations of domestic labor and sites of longing.

For the current exhibition, Hattam has also included several spectacular prints—some of them jigsaw woodblock prints—that she created from 2000 to 2021.

Katherine Hattam, A Strange Country (2022). Courtesy of Morton Fine Art and the artist.

Katherine Hattam, A Strange Country (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Morton Fine Art.

With New Year’s just around the corner, what are you looking forward to in 2023? Are there any forthcoming exhibitions or other gallery plans that you can share?

2023 is going to be another great year! Morton Fine Art will have solo exhibitions with Jenny Wu (born in China; lives and works in Hartford), Vonn Cummings Sumner (born in San Francisco; based in Los Angeles), Meron Engida (born in Ethiopia; based in Washington, D.C.), Andrei Petrov (born and based in New York), Maliza Kiasuwa (born in Bucharest of European and African descent; lives and works in Nairobi), Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann (Washington, D.C.-based), Amber Robles-Gordon (born in Puerto Rico; based in Washington, D.C.), Hannelie Coetzee (born in South Africa; based in Johannesburg), Hiromitsu Kuroo (born in Japan; lives and works in Iruma, Japan) and Prina Shah (born in Kenya; lives and works in Nairobi), as well as a group exhibition focusing on the medium of collage.

If you were not a gallerist, what would you be doing?

Excellent question and one that I have entertained a few brief times in my career. Nothing else ever screamed out at me, so I would guess a preschool/elementary school educator, or advocate for a niche of sustainable living.

Learn more about Morton Fine Art’s exhibition program here.
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HANNELIE COETZEE | Dark Sky Walk (Part 2)

24 Oct
‘DARK SKY WALK’ (PART 2) – 3 November 2022
Hannelie Coetzee, Fireflies, 2022. Olivedale Corner. Image courtesy of the artist.

Artist Hannelie Coetzee and scientist Bernard WT Coetzee invite you on a dark sky walk on Thursday, 3 November 2022, the second to be hosted by NIROX. During the walk, visitors are encouraged to explore our relationship with darkness, reflecting on dark skies, light pollution, our fear of the dark, and how we can reduce skyglow so as not to interfere with nocturnal ecosystems. Writing about the previous dark sky walk on 4 July, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen wrote:“ Winding our way along the bush path at NIROX at sunset allowed us to forget loadshedding and other woes for a while. It was a perfectly still winter evening, the quiet broken by the gurgle of the stream that we crossed several times before we arrived at the eye of the fountain. Leaving the forest we headed west, up the koppie to the plateau where we gathered in a small knot and watched two dozen Cape Vultures take wing from their perches on the giant electricity pylons, marching in an impressive phalanx from north to south. Not fifty metres from where we stood, a small herd of zebra, barely visible in the gathering dark, studied us. The walk, organised by the artist Hannelie Coetzee and the biologist Bernard WT Coetzee, from the University of Pretoria, was a kind of dusk vigil to draw our attention to the significant effects of ‘sky glow’ on night-time pollinators and other insects. We stood for a while in the gathering dark and then headed home. Walking without artificial light over uneven ground, we allowed our anger at Eskom’s mismanagement of the electricity grid to be softened by a newfound awareness that darkness, for some creatures, is the best place to be.”
PROGRAMME FOR THE DARK SKY WALK ON 3 NOVEMBER (5 – 9PM):5:30PM: Arrive at NIROX Sculpture Park’s Gate 3

5:45PM: Welcome with tea and coffee at the Lawn Pavilion.

6:00PM: 6.5 km Walk from the Lawn Pavilion into the reserve at dusk (please bring sturdy walking shoes, warm clothes, a thermos, and a headlamp or torch. The terrain can be tricky in the dark and there is game. It’s also snake season).

7:30PM: Blind Drawing session with the artist

8PM: Wind down with delicious, vegan-friendly summer soup.TICKETS: R450 pp
To purchase tickets; click button below:Tickets

This includes a 6.5km, informative night hike, led by Hannelie and Bernard, light food (vegan friendly), tea and coffee. All ages are welcome. There are limited tickets available for this event, so please book well in advance. Tickets can be purchased here. If you want to extend your experience and avoid the roads, you can book accommodation at Farmhouse58 for the night of 3 November here.

Available artwork by HANNELIE COETZEE.

Morton Fine Art | Washington City Paper

24 Sep


The Little Art Galleries That Could and Do

Check out these art exhibitions off the beaten path.



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There’s no shortage of blockbusters coming to D.C.’s museums and galleries this fall. The Air and Space Museum will reopen on Oct. 14 following an extended construction project. The Rubell Museum DC will have its hotly anticipated opening on Oct. 29, creating a new venue for contemporary art in the city. And selfie snappers are sure to assemble for the last few months of One With Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection and Mexican Geniuses, a new immersive experience featuring the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. These outings are fun and all, but some of the most interesting and unexpected art can be found away from the crowds and tucked into some of D.C.’s coziest spaces.

One of the tiniest of these is Transformer, a gallery whose emphasis on emerging and experimental artists has made it one of the most exciting places in the city for artistic exhibitions and events. In June, Transformer celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it will continue to have special events through the end of the year. Starting Sept. 17, the gallery will open its 19th Annual DC Artist Solo Exhibition, which features Commemorative Strands by Artise Fletcher this season. The D.C.-born and based artist has created textiles, films, and photographs around the topic of Black women’s hair. Many of the works feature hair as a material or storytelling device. In addition to the show, a series of programming invites audience members to consider wider cultural meanings and personal feelings around hair and beauty. Events include a panel and discussion as well as a hands-on activity to make your own commemorative cloth.

The spaces at 52 O Street Studios aren’t just used as studios—Amy Morton has hosted her contemporary art gallery Morton Fine Art there for the past four years. Without a street-level entry, the gallery is open by appointment only, which is great for gallery-goers who want to linger over the work uninterrupted, or interested buyers who want to spend some time with an artist’s work. MFA represents a wide variety of artists from around the world, as well as a good slice who work in the D.C. area. This fall, MFA has two exhibits that capture the best of these worlds. Take Me to the Water features mixed-media works by Kesha Bruce, an artist and activist whose bright works explore artmaking as a form of slowness and self care. Following that, Natalie Cheung’s exhibit Made of Light opens, showcasing her experiments with camera-less photography using light sensitive paper, movement, and stencil techniques.

Entertaining and dinner parties are extremely in style, and perhaps no dinner party will be more stylish than an exhibit of tablescapes at Friends Artspace in Arlington. Mise En Place continues the gallery’s habit of showing functional art and design objects as well as fine art in the garage that curator Margaret Bakke has converted into a miniature gallery. A large table fills most of the space, and all sorts of tableware covers every available centimeter of the surface. There’s place settings of course, but also goblets, candlesticks, mugs, sugar bowls, tureens, pitchers, vases, butter dishes, floral arrangements, chandeliers, and more. The exhibition’s announcement proclaims, “people come and go but glassware is basically forever.” Local artists and designers including Hadiya WilliamsCatherine Satterlee, and Dannia Hakki are among those who get a seat at this table.

Commemorative Strands runs through Oct. 22 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. Free. Take Me to the Water runs through Oct. 11 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW. Free, by appointment.  Made of Light runs Oct. 15 through Nov. 12 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW. Free, by appointment. Mise En Place runs through Dec. 10 at Friends Artspace, 2400 North Edgewood St. Arlington. Free, by appointment

Available Artwork by KESHA BRUCE

Available Artwork by NATALIE CHEUNG

LISA MYERS BULMASH “The Home Inside My Head” reviewed in The Washington Post

27 Dec

Congratulations to LISA MYERS BULMASH for the rich review of her solo exhibition “The Home Inside My Head” in today’s print edition of The Washington Post by Mark Jenkins. (Arts & Style Section 12/27/20)

Lisa Myers Bulmash

Also spurred by pandemic-era exile from everyday life, Lisa Myers Bulmash conceived a Morton Fine Art show “The Home Inside My Head”. The Seattle artist combines found and personal objects into 3-D collages that conjure both African American history and her family’s own story. The pieces juggle the antiquarian and the immediate to express what Bulmash’s statement calls “a Black and female viewpoint”.

One series, “Rare & Exquisite,” places oversize models of endangered butterflies atop maps of regions of the United States collaged from Colonial-era (and thus not entirely reliable) charts. The effect is to correlate the threatened species — affixed with heavy railroad spikes that evoke hard labor –with Black people whose place in this country has always been at risk.

Examples of another antique tool, the wooden washboard, serve as frames in the “Bought and Paid For” series. The washboards hold books and ovals made of twine, which enclose overlapping transparencies of family photos. The pictures depict various old structures, including houses, and children at play. Again, Bulmash contrasts rough materials with fragile beings.

It seems apt that another piece is based on a torn piece of old sheet music repaired by kintsugi, the Japanese technique of using gold to both accentuate and exalt the cracks in a broken vessel. Bulmash’s assemblages can be seen as a bid to mend history.

Click HERE to read the review in full.

On view by appointment at Morton Fine Art through January 6th, 2021. Located at 52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC 20001.

(202) 628-2787 (text or call)

Available Artwork by LISA MYERS BULMASH

Wallpaper Magazine, Victor Ekpuk and Prizm Art Fair 2020

4 Dec


Prizm Art Fair gives a platform to African Diasporic perspectives

Coinciding with Miami Art Week, Prizm Art Fair is championing and examining the intersections of African cinema traditions and visual art

Sthenjwa Luthuli, Reaching For Stars (2020)

In spite of widespread coronavirus-related hurdles, 2020 has offered glimmers of hope for the art world, particularly in the steps taken to highlight, and rectify the lack of diversity across the industry.

One art fair, Prizm, has been spotlighting diverse voices in contemporary visual art since 2013, with a core mission to widen the scope of international contemporary art from Africa and the African Diaspora.

By carving out a space for cross-cultural exchange in Miami and beyond, the fair seeks to address socio-political and cultural issues pertinent to people of African descent, while educating and nurturing the city’s inhabitants.

Victor Ekpuk, Mother Series #1 (2019) as seen at Prizm Art Fair. Image courtesy of Morton Fine Art

‘African Diasporic communities have attempted repeatedly to blanket themselves from a host of incessant obstacles – systemic injustice, racism, economic disparity, gender inequality – while the goal post of progress stretched farther away with each giant leap made towards it,’ says Mikhaile Solomon, founder and director of Prizm.

For its eighth edition, coinciding with an unsurprisingly scaled-down Miami Art Week, the fair’s online programme will feature 47 artists in ‘Noir, Noir: Meditations on African Cinema and its Influence on Visual Art’, an exhibition curated and organised by Solomon and interdisciplinary artist William Cordova. Noir, Noir references the African avant-garde film tradition and encourages a deeper understanding of global African identities through the intersection of cinema and contemporary visual art. Elsewhere, highlights include a programme of film screenings and talks led by leaders in Diasporic Visual arts.

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John Baloyi, Lititha 4 (2020). Courtesy of Dyman Gallery

Participating galleries hail from eleven countries including the United States, Caribbean and the African continent including Barbados, Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Maarten, South Africa and Trinidad. Featured artists include Victor Ekpuk, Yanira Collado, Sthenjwa Luthuli, Alicia Piller, Justice Mukheli, Versia Harris and Milena Carranza Valcárcel. Prizm will also spotlight emerging Miami-based artists who engage in socio-political issues pertinent to people of African descent, and in the city’s growth as a cultural hub. 


Prizm Art Fair will be accessible online until 21 December 2020.

Link to Wallpaper* Article

Available Artwork by VICTOR EKPUK

New arrivals from Melbourne by Australian artist KATHERINE HATTAM.

18 Nov

“Katherine Hattam’s work sees the terrain of language as a wilder and more intimate place. This is not a home or a homeland, it is a landscape that belongs to itself. Perhaps it belongs to no one, but lives as all beings live, against the possibility of being owned by another…”

-Dr. Anne Norton

 Stacey and Henry Jackson President’s Distinguished Professor of Political ScienceUniversity of Pennsylvania, USA

Selected Collections include:

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC

Ian Potter, Melbourne University, VIC

Bendigo Art Gallery, VIC

Warrnambool Art Gallery, VIC

Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, QLD

Mornington Art Gallery, VIC

Grafton City Art Gallery, NSW

National Bank of Australia

Potter Warburg Collection

Hummerston Clark Collection

Bankers Trust Collection

Smorgon Collection

Queen Victoria Hospital Collection

George Patterson Collection

The Darling Foundation

Box Hill City Art Gallery, QLD

Hamilton City Gallery, VIC

Minter Ellison Collection


Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, VIC

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, NSW

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, VIC

Art Gallery of SA, Adelaide, SA

RACV Collection

University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD

LaTrobe University (LUMA), VIC

Available Artwork by KATHERINE HATTAM

Morton Fine Art

52 O St NW #302

Washington, DC USA

+001 202 628 2787

Introducing virtual exhibition tours as Morton Fine Art and Gallery B suspend daily hours

13 Mar
Visit Morton Fine Art’s YouTube Channel for virtual tours of our solo exhibition of Kesha Bruce’s “We Can Birth Worlds” at Morton Fine Art in DC and our group exhibition at Gallery B in Bethesda. We are still conducting business, in a new way.
After much consideration, and out of concern for the health and welfare of all our community, Morton Fine Art has concluded that it is necessary to suspend daily open hours at both Morton Fine Art in DC and our group exhibition at Gallery B in Bethesda, effective immediately.
We instead encourage virtual tours from Morton Fine Art’s YouTube channel.
All works are available for acquisition and additional details can be requested by emailing the gallery at or calling or texting (202) 628-2787. We are still conducting business, in a new way.
We very much appreciate your patience and understanding as we all negotiate this unprecedented situation. Please continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and public health officials. We hope that our earnest actions will help contribute to a better health outcome for our entire community.
Best always,
Amy and Julia
Virtual Tour MFA Artist Kesha Bruce Solo Exhibition 'We Can Birth Worlds'
Virtual Tour of KESHA BRUCE’s solo exhibition “We Can Birth Worlds” at Morton Fine Art in DC
Contact the gallery for an accompanying price list and additional details.
Virtual Tour #1 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda, March 2020.
Virtual Tour #1 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda
Virtual Tour #2 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda, March 2020.
Virtual Tour #2 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda
Virtual Tour #3 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda, March 2020.
Virtual Tour #3 of Morton Fine Art & *a pop-up project at Gallery B in Bethesda
Contact the gallery for an accompanying artwork pricing and artist information.
About Morton Fine Art and *a pop-up project
Founded in 2010 in Washington, DC by curator Amy Morton, Morton Fine Art (MFA) is a fine art gallery and curatorial group that collaborates with art collectors and visual artists to inspire fresh ways of acquiring contemporary art. Firmly committed to the belief that art collecting can be cultivated through an educational stance, MFA’s mission is to provide accessibility to museum-quality contemporary art through a combination of substantive exhibitions and a welcoming platform for dialogue and exchange of original voice. Morton Fine Art specializes in a stellar roster of nationally and internationally renowned artists as well as has an additional focus on artwork of the African Diaspora.
Redefining the traditional gallery model, Morton Fine Art (MFA) enhances a single gallery space with two locations: MFA’s permanent fine art gallery space and *a pop-up project, a temporary mobile art gallery of curated group shows.
Morton Fine Art
52 O St NW #302
Washington, DC 20001
Updated hours to be determined.

Morton Fine Art celebrates 10 years of artist partnerships and placing artwork!

16 Jan

THANK YOU to all of our wonderful partner artists, colleagues and collectors who have shared in MFA and *a pop-up project’s journey over the last decade. It’s wonderful to celebrate 10 years together!



From our first *a pop-up project by Morton Fine Art on E St NW in Penn Quarter in 2010 – WE APPRECIATE YOU!


To nearly 9 years on Florida Ave NW in Adams Morgan, 2010-2018, WE APPRECIATE YOU!





To our current home at 52 O St NW in NoMA, 2018 onward – WE APPRECIATE YOU!

Cheers to many more years together at Morton Fine Art



Celebrating 10 years of placing exceptional contemporary art in global private and public collections.

Founded in 2010 in Washington, DC by curator Amy Morton, Morton Fine Art (MFA) is a fine art gallery and curatorial group that collaborates with art collectors and visual artists to inspire fresh ways of acquiring contemporary art. Firmly committed to the belief that art collecting can be cultivated through an educational stance, MFA’s mission is to provide accessibility to museum-quality contemporary art through a combination of substantive exhibitions and a welcoming platform for dialogue and exchange of original voice. Morton Fine Art specializes in a stellar roster of nationally and internationally renowned artists as well as has an additional focus on artwork of the African Diaspora.

Morton Fine Art Location: 52 O St. NW #302, Washington, DC 20001

Hours: Weds-Sat: 12pm – 5pm; Sun – Tues: by appointment

Contact: (202) 628-2787,

VICTOR EKPUK’s “The Face” unveiled in Bahrain for Bank ABC

12 Dec


Bahrain’s Bank ABC unveils Victor Ekpuk-designed 5.4m-tall ‘The Face’

Sculpture is a visual centrepiece of the façade of the bank’s revamped HQ building and is made of painted stainless steel

The Face is a tribute to Bahrain’s rich heritage.

Bahrain ABC
The Face is a tribute to Bahrain’s rich heritage.

Bahrain Bourse-listed Bahrain ABC has revealed a permanent piece of architecture 5.4m-tall ‘The Face’, which designed by Nigerian-American contemporary artist, Victor Ekpuk, as a tribute to Bahrain’s rich heritage, multi-cultural fabric, and hospitable business environment.

According to Bahrain ABC, the sculpture that is made of painted stainless steel is a visual centrepiece of the façade of its recently renovated twin-tower headquarter building in the kingdom.

Commenting on the sculpture, group chief executive officer of Bank ABC, Dr. Khaled Kawan, said: “After reflecting on our 40-year journey as the Bahrain banking industry celebrates its 100 years this month, and to commemorate the renovation of our HQ building, we commissioned Victor to create this unique and majestic art piece that cleverly connects our heritage and future aspirations.

The Nigerian-American contemporary artist, Victor Ekpuk [image: Bahrain ABC]

“‘The Face’ will outlive business cycles and peoples’ tastes and remain an eternal tribute to Bahrain and its people.”

“How do you capture the essence of a people whose history is long and culture layered in centuries of civilizations? You look to their beautiful faces hoping to catch the essence of their memory,” Ekpuk said.

The Nigerian-American artist counts Smithsonian National museum of African Art, Smithsonian National museum of African American Culture & History, Brooks Museum, The World Bank, Newark Museum, Hood Museum, Krannert Art Museum, and United States Art in Embassies Art Collection among his works.

Click to read article in full.


Available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK.


Morton Fine Art, 52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC 20001

+001 202 628 2787

SHOW US YOUR WALL – The New York Times feature on the art collection of Tony Gyepi-Garbrah and Desirée Venn Frederic including VICTOR EKPUK

1 Aug




Collecting to Explore ‘Origin, Culture, Form, Function and Race’

This Washington couple has floor-to-ceiling art as well as wearable creations and folk art curiosities.

Tony Gyepi-Garbrah and Desirée Venn Frederic at their residence in Washington.
Credit Ting Shen for The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Desirée Venn Frederic and Tony Gyepi-Garbrah live in a light-filled apartment in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast Washington that is small in size but grand in scope.

The charcoal walls, stretching up to 15-foot ceilings, hold dozens of paintings, prints, photographs, 100-year-old textiles, collages, drawings, pastels, ceramics and antiques, conferring a museumlike aura on the home.

Ms. Venn Frederic is wearing art as well. Her floor-length slip dress, by the Brooklyn-based designer Fe Noel and the Chicago painter Harmonia Rosales, incorporates the image of a Yoruba deity, Oshun. Ms. Venn Frederic said the appeal of the dress was in its “fanciful and disruptive” character.

When the couple met four years ago, they were acquiring art individually. “One of the reasons I took an interest in Tony was because he understood legacy-building with art,” she said. She and Mr. Gyepi-Garbrah, 39, plan to marry later this year.

He is a first-generation American born to Ghanaian parents who works as an information technology engineer. He is also a photographer and painter.

She is of Geechee and Maroon ancestry. She was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and raised in Montgomery County, Md. Through her company, Combing Cotton, she pursues her interest in social equity.

“God Head” (2011), top, and “Untitled (Red and Black)” (2010), by Victor Ekpuk.
Credit Ting Shen for The New York Times

She also envisions creating a museum of fashion and related ephemera.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

TONY GYEPI-GARBRAH In true salon style, 75 art aficionados, collectors and artists stood shoulder-to-shoulder talking art, art, art.

How do you select works to buy?

DESIRÉE VENN FREDERIC Meticulously. I don’t merely collect what I like. I’m attracted to works that challenge the linear understandings of origin, culture, form, function and race. I call these aesthetic triggers.

GYEPI-GARBRAH We buy from galleries, art fairs and auctions. We also scour estate sales and private vintage collections. Often we buy directly from the studios of artists with whom we build friendships. I do a lot of research before acquisitions.

Is there a piece with an interesting back story?

GYEPI-GARBRAH The two mixed-media works by Victor Ekpuk. I went oversees to Galerie SANAA in Utrecht, the Netherlands, to acquire “God Head.” During that time I discovered that Ekpuk was represented by Morton Fine Art [in Washington]. They had “Untitled (Red and Black),” so I bought it too. Now the pair is in conversation. Ekpuk lives in Washington and we’ve become friends.

Figurative wood sculptures, made in Ivory Coast.

Credit Ting Shen for The New York Times

Top, “Chocolate City” (2010), by Steven M. Cummings, and “Inventions & Patents” (2014), by Charles Philippe Jean Pierre.

Credit Ting Shen for The New York Times

Those little wood statues lined up against the wall on the floor look like toys.

VENN FREDERIC They’re Colon figurative sculptures depicting occupations — policeman, doctor, baker — held by colonists in the Ivory Coast between 1893 and 1920. I have a collection of 150.

Your photos capture images that span decades and can be read as a history of our times. How do you think photography represents both society today and in the past?

GYEPI-GARBRAH Photography is a visual documentation of fleeting moments and changing landscapes, and, in this vein, we believe Steven M. Cummings is a master. “Chocolate City” speaks to forced migrations and the displacement of African-Americans from their native lands.

“Fred Meets Fred” is an oversized black-and-white double image of Frederick Douglass that contrasts past and present. A chain dangling lengthwise from top to bottom of the picture separates the two Douglasses. The bicycle wheel symbolizes change and continuance of time.

A sofa in the apartment by Sharla Hammond.
Credit Ting Shen for The New York Times

VENN FREDERIC We acquired the couch from the visual and textile artist Sharla Hammond, who was inspired by “Afro Blue” [a jazz composition recorded by John Coltrane]. The fabric depicts the heads of five Afro-clad icons — Angela Davis, Betty Davis, Pam Grier, Minnie Riperton and Diana Ross.

Above the couch that black-and-white painting seems very in-your-face.

VENN FREDERIC It’s “Cow in the Field” by Andrew Cressman. We operated a gallery in Washington and exhibited his works. I continually approached this painting with a sense of wonder and bought it after the show [in 2015]. It takes up a lot of our wall real estate. I appreciate that some pieces overwhelm, and this is one.

Read the New York Times article in full.


Available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK. 


Morton Fine Art

52 O St NW #302

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 628-2787