When art dealer George Hemphill opened his gallery in 1993, real estate was flat. Storefronts in Georgetown were empty. He didn’t have any credit to his name beyond his work with the formidable Middendorf Gallery, which had bottomed out during the art market crash a couple years prior. He more or less bluffed his way into a lease for a space on 33rd Street NW. A story about the new gallery, Hemphill Fine Arts, appeared in the Washington Post under the headline “Crash Landing.”
When Hemphill Fine Arts moved to 14th Street NW in 2004, the storefronts were once again boarded up. Former automotive showrooms along the corridor proved to be perfect templates for white-cube galleries by the likes of Fusebox and Irvine Contemporary. And Hemphill had an ideal landlord in Giorgio Furioso, who gave him and the other art dealers in the building a break on the rent for years. In this space, Hemphill Fine Arts has assembled dozens of exhibits from artists in his stable, including Renée Stout and Julie Wolfe, while also showcasing select works by Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, and other local (and national) legends.
But after 15 years on 14th Street NW, Hemphill is moving again. At the end of November, he’s closing the last of the art spaces at 1515 14th St. NW, a building that still bears “Galleries” in relief over its entrance. His former neighbors there (Annie Gawlak, Andrea Pollan, and Laurie Adamson) have all closed their shops and slowed their activity. At 68, Hemphill has ample reason to retire, too—but no desire to quit. Instead, he’s taking another big bet on art in D.C.