Water Street Project flows into Georgetown

For 11 days, a restaurant-to-be in Georgetown has transformed into an artistic labyrinth and a self-described interactive human experiment.

The non-traditional display of art, fashion and music, dubbed The Water Street Project, opened at 3401 Water St. April 19.

Created by an ever-changing collaborative arts and marketing group, No Kings Collective, the agency brokered a deal for the space to create an easily accessible and entertaining space to bask in local artwork.

Co-creators Peter Chang and Brandon Hill said the building’s owner was a friend to whom they pitched their idea of opening a temporary pop-up interactive art and music space, something they tried in other parts of D.C.

The space offered a tangible area to bring a sensory explosion of different elements – art, music, food, drinks and a party – together, crowding a cavernous room with unusual, colorful and often interactive exhibits, the creators said.

The bizarre, interactive work of newcomer Kate Campagna creates a space for viewers to step into and become part of a fabricated environment. A grotesque pig display sits in front of three dusty, antique mirrors mounted to a turquoise wall, dotted with painted pink bugs, challenging participants to question the orientation of his own personal, chaotic world.

Contrasting Campagna’s piece, the bright, energetic pop art of local artist Maggie O’Neill raises questions surrounding artistic space. Using a palette spanning the rainbow, O’Neill painted parallel lines of color beginning at the crease between the ceiling and wall, and extended to the floor where the still-wet paint lays in puddles next to empty picture frames painted in bright primary colors. Hanging on the wall were two of O’Neill’s takes on iconic D.C. images – the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial – rendered in acrylic paints with a brushy texture.

Challenging the traditional boundaries between viewers and participants was the exhibit’s major theme, also including an interactive painting for visitors to paint and receive an “I made art today” ticket for a free beer from the bar.

Chang said pop-up collectives look to be formless and shapeless. The group’s motivation is to bring together different local artists and give them a shared space to display their work while bringing in sponsors for marketing partnerships.

The ephemeral space is full of works that may not necessarily mesh contextually and span a wide range of mediums and subjects. But as co-founder Hill said, conceptually the pieces “have really good ebb, no flow and no fluff” to comment on the future of the artist in a contemporary society that demands versatility and reinvention.

Pop-ups have been utilized by a broad range of familiar D.C. icons, including a pop-up restaurant, America Eats Tavern, by celebrity chef José Andrés and from the more rebellious crowd, Occupy D.C., which announced plans to open up a pop-up art gallery at their McPherson Square campsite in late December.

Mary Beth Brown, outreach coordinator for D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, said pop-ups have garnered a false perspective of novelty due to a rise in media attention.

“It’s always been going on,” Brown said. “But people in the District aren’t used to public art just yet.”

The once purely underground movement has been gaining popularity as pop-ups are featured more widely in the media – on blogging websites and shared social calendars – and as marketing partnerships and well-known sponsors get involved.

“It’s a really cool thing for young people to do, because a lot of times we think the only thing to do is go to a bar or a club. But there is really so much going on in the art world and with amazing artists like these,” 23-year-old collective volunteer and friend of the creators Raquel Ortega said. “We are an innovative, creative generation, so these underground events and hidden parties are getting to be really big and really popular.”

On display from 1 to 7 p.m. until April 29, the Water Street Project hosts nightly events in collaboration not only with Listen Local First, but also with fashion, green design, restaurant, blog and other creative groups.

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