An Intermission for Cross MacKenzie Gallery

Rebecca Cross in front of her gallery in Georgetown
Rebecca Cross in front of her gallery in Georgetown

Outside of Greek and Roman history, the sculptural and ceramic arts seem unfortunately neglected mediums. For every Alberto Giacometti or David Smith you can name, there are dozens more painters and architects that come to mind from those same eras. But the beauty and experience of 3-dimensional artwork remains an influential and important medium, which Rebecca Cross has been proving for the better part of her career. Since Cross opened the doors to her Georgetown gallery in March 2006, the Cross MacKenzie Gallery has given sculpture and ceramic artists a home in the local gallery community. For the neighborhood, it has been a source for contemporary sculptural and functional art, second to none in its quality and diversity.

Over the past five years, Cross MacKenzie has put on some of the most unique, fun, memorable, interactive and thought provoking exhibitions of any gallery in town. Cross will be relocating the Cross MacKenzie Gallery to a new space downtown over the course of the summer. She sat down to speak with us about her personal history, her experiences in Georgetown, owning a gallery in today’s economy, and the blessings and burdens of championing the sculptural and ceramic arts.

Why did you initially settle on Georgetown for your gallery? Do you have a long history with the neighborhood?

I love Georgetown. I love the architecture and community. Having grown up in the area, I always loved the neighborhood, and my husband Max grew up here since he was a teenager. I had thought about Old Town as well, which I also adore, but I live in Woodley Park, so Georgetown was frankly much closer. It was a pretty easy decision.

What was your M.O., so to speak, in opening a ceramic art gallery? Were there any in the city already?

There were no other galleries specializing in clay – Maurine Littleton [of Maurine Littleton Gallery on Wisconin Ave.] specializes in glass. The medium is so exciting, with such a diverse range of work, it was a shame not to have any representation of functional, sculptural art in such an art-friendly neighborhood. Clay can be organic, mechanical, it can take on any form—it’s an ancient, historical medium since man’s earliest days, and one still challenging artists today.

What was your area of focus in your school?

Well, my father is an architect, and I was raised with the arts being very central in our lives. He studied with Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, at Harvard. I was an art major at Bennington College, and then spent a year studying sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art in London.

I got my Masters Degree in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London, where I also studied ceramics. After that, I assisted Sir Anthony Caro for 2 years in London, while working at the Hard Rock Café at night. I showed for 17 years at Addison/Ripley Gallery here in town, and later at the Ralls Collection, before opening Cross MacKenzie Gallery in Canal Square.

Where else has your work been featured?

My work is in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, many private collections, hotels and Embassies, among other places. I did set and costume designs for the Norwegian dance company Bresee Dansk Co., which was performed at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre. I also did sets and costumes for Ballet Rox in Boston, “Urban Nutcracker”—very colorful work. It’s in its 10th season now—I loved doing that. I’ve also been fortunate to receive a number of grants over the years.

I married Max MacKenzie, who is a brilliant photographer as well. He specializes in architectural photography and he has been very successful as a fine art photographer.

Can you describe the trend of the gallery business over the past decade?

The financial crisis was devastating. I started off well, doubling my sales from year 1 in the 3rd year, and then boom—the financial crisis hit. Everyone decided to pay down their credit cards and rebuild their retirement funds. All of a sudden people decided they could live without art—and they did, much to all the galleries’ demise. So many galleries have closed in DC. But slowly, people are finding they can enrich their lives again with purchases of art and they are taking advantage of the current climate, where they can negotiate to their benefit. Right now is actually a great time to buy art.

What other challenges have you faced owning a gallery?

The physical aspect of specializing in 3D art has been difficult. As a result, I’m moving towards showing more 2D work in the future. 3D is not only harder to sell, it is challenging to pack and ship. There are a lot of cumbersome logistics in dealing with 3D art.

What prompted your decision to move?

As much as I love the space I’m currently in, after 5 years it’s time to change my direction. Partly for the challenge of the stairs into the current gallery—three flights up and three flights down is a real problem for moving work! I also want to be closer to our home in Woodley Park, where I can walk to work. I’m looking forward to joining the gallery walk in Dupont Circle. Our part of Georgetown is rather hidden in Canal Square. It’s a beautiful environment—peaceful, lovely, a great location. But it’s perhaps too well kept a secret, and people complain about traffic and parking when coming from other parts of town. I love all the restaurants, and my clients often eat at the Sea Catch after openings, but there will be restaurants in Dupont Circle, too.

Do you find time to work on your own projects while juggling the responsibilities of the gallery?

I have just recently started doing my own work again since opening the gallery. The gallery is very demanding—curating, organizing and promoting each show is very time consuming, and my own work has taken a back seat. I hope to one day find a balance with the gallery and my work, but for now the gallery needs all of my attention.

So…tell us about the new gallery!

We’re moving to 2026 R Street, off Connecticut Avenue, collaborating in a space with designer Mary Drysdale, who owns the building. We will open by invitation and appointment over the summer, and we’re opening to the public in September, with an exhibition of Michael Fujita.

For more information visit CrossMacKenzie.com.

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Sat, 20 Sep 2014 13:59:08 -0400

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