When Hamiltonian Gallery opened at 14th and U Streets in 2007, it was something of an oddity. Paul So, a theoretical physicist and professor at George Mason University, launched his unlikely gallery as a way to give artists something akin to the post-doc model for professional opportunities available in the sciences. Every two years, Hamiltonian endows a new class of fellows: young and emerging artists who get a chance to show their work but also take in mentorship, seminars, grant-writing workshops, placement advice, and other benefits that artists can almost never expect, much less receive.
In the 10 years since the fellowship program got its start, Hamiltonian has grown from an upstart experiment to an outstanding platform. (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s got nothing to do with it: In physics, a “Hamiltonian” refers to the total measure of energy within a system.) Where other gallery stables mix sure bets with promising rookies, Hamiltonian is all about the untested artists. The gallery typically mounts shows pairing two aspiring artists working with similar (or wildly contrasting) themes or media. When artist fellows are ready for a breakout solo show—rising stars such as Christie Neptune, Larry Cook, and Naoko Wowsugi—the gallery gives them room to flex. And the mostly unseen professional-services dimension of the fellowship program helps D.C. retain young artists, something that’s harder and harder to do for a city with such high housing costs.
Dan Perkins, Rob Hackett, Amy Boone-McCreesh, Elena Volkova, Jonathan Monaghan, Jessica van Brakle, James Rieck: Hamiltonian has a proven record in finding and drafting fellows who go on to be mainstays in the art community. Quietly, the gallery has built a reputation for allowing young artists to go all out, to put on the kinds of intensive and immersive sculpture, installation, and video-art shows that are so difficult for artists to do after leaving their MFA cocoons. The annual Hamiltonian fellow group shows are more than a preview of what’s coming next for the gallery—they’re a document of what’s happening now in the District.