Last night CAG hosted an opening reception for its inaugural art show GeorgetownArts 2009 at the old Smith and Hawken space. To help mark the occasion, the founder of Govinda Gallery, Chris Murray, shared his story of art and Georgetown to the assembled crowd.
Murray came to Georgetown from Manhattan to attend Georgetown University. After seeing the university through the tumultuous late 60’s, Murray graduated in 1969. As he told the crowd, Govinda Gallery was born when he was driving back from his job teaching at Georgetown Day School. He passed the building on 34th and Prospect and saw that it was for rent. Out of curiosity he called up the landlord and found out that the rent was cheap. Although he lacked any idea or business plan for the space, he jumped at the chance to run a small shop. Govinda Gallery is still at that same spot 34 years later.
The idea to run a gallery grew slowly. At first he had a couple of artist friends and held a show for them. In telling this story, Murray waxed nostalgic for all the great galleries that existed in Georgetown in the early 70s. He mentioned Harry Lunn (who “discovered” Ansel Adams), Barbara Frederick, Jose Nunez, and Lee Silverstein (who, according to Murray, didn’t suffer fools gladly). It’s evident that even from the beginning Murray relished the village and all its comings and goings.
Govinda Gallery grew into the contemporary art establishment that it is as a result of Murray’s large network of hip friends. His two roommates at Georgetown were Glen O’Brien and Bob Colacello. After Georgetown, O’Brien was the founding editor of Andy Warhol’s iconic Interview magazine. Colecello was Warhol’s right-hand-man and was editor and chief of the magazine. Through these contacts, Murray rubbed elbows with Warhol and convinced him to have a show in Govinda Gallery.
From this opportunity, Murray built a reputation as the acceptable Washington satellite of the New York art scene. Murray told a great story about hanging out with Warhol at the Watergate after Andy returned from an event at the White House. Warhol surprised the room by removing his tuxedo pants to reveal that he’d been wearing blue jeans underneath the whole time.
Shortly thereafter Murray had a coup when he hosted a show of the then relatively unknown Annie Leibovitz. According to Murray, the crowds came in droves and he garnered two front page Washington Post articles. He told the story of buying Leibovitz’s famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It has since become Leibovitz’s signature photo, but at the time Murray wasn’t aware that, as Leibovitz informed him, the photo was taken just hours before Lennon’s murder. As Murray said “I realized, not only was this a good photograph, it was an important photograph, it was a significant photograph because it was a document of an incredible moment about an incredible artist.”
Murray ended with one great story about the night Mohammed Ali came to Georgetown. The story began when Murray convinced Ali’s best friend and photographer Howard Bingham to have a show at Govinda to mark the 20th anniversary of the gallery. At the opening party, Ali came. The crowds were huge. At the end of the evening, Murray convinced Ali to have dinner with him at Hibiscus Cafe on Water St. On the way down, Ali sensed that Murray was nervous about Ali on the wet cobblestones. Ali took advantage of this nervousness and three times faked a fall to the terror of Murray. When they arrived at Hibiscus Cafe, a man leaving the restaurant walked up to Ali and broke into a boxer’s crouch. Without dropping a beat Ali started dancing around like the old days.
It was a great trip through the artistic history of Georgetown from a man who perhaps knows that story better than anyone else.
So come on down to the old Smith and Hawken space. The show features over 25 Georgetown artists, including GM himself, who can say with utmost confidence that his photography is either the best or the second best photography in the show (alternatively, it’s also either the worst or the second worse). The art is fantastic across the board and really demonstrates the artistic talent the pulses through the neighborhood.
The gallery is open today 12-8 and Saturday 11-6. It is located on 31st st. just above M.