In 2011, Thomas Drymon and Peter e Harper opened harmon art lab in a second-floor space in a building in the 14th and U Street neighborhood of northwest Washington, DC. Their goal was to provide a venue for artists to explore new ideas in their work that might not have an immediate commercial value and to provide them with an opportunity for ongoing critique and dialogue about it. Their mission was to stimulate conversation about how art can be made and exhibited; to change the dialogue between artist and gallery owner; and to create a new market for art not typically found in the commercial art spaces in Washington, DC. From September 2011 to May 2012, Drymon and Harper curated and hosted eight exhibitions with work by 15 artists.
In September 2012, the space was rechristened doris-mae. Much of the original mission set forth at harmon art lab remains. In addition, a new curatorial practice has been added that allows outside curators to program exhibitions in the space. The website was relaunched to include a content-rich blog featuring information about the exhibitions in the space, interviews with artists and curators, reviews of local and national shows, and analysis of the art market and art practice. Its contributors come from a variety of disciplines and is overseen by an editorial board that reviews content.
In 2015, the physical space known as doris-mae was closed—one of the last buildings on the 14th street corridor to stave off gentrification finally fell to the power of market forces.
Now you can find doris-mae curated exhibitions in local galleries and alternative spaces around the DC metro area.
The history of the physical space
harmon art lab/doris-mae occupied two rooms in a building with a rich history of arts-related activity in the vibrant 14th Street northwest neighborhood from 2011-2015. For years, the building housed a close-knit group of actors and artists who operated a theater on the ground floor. The spirit of these innovators still exists in the space.
The first of the two rooms, the project space, was open to artists who wished to create a site-specific installation influenced by the space and the content of their own work. It offered prospects for transformation as each artist created something temporal and unique to the space. The solo space was used for exhibitions for painters, photographers, videographers and sculptors whose work challenges the prevailing notions of contemporary art. Artists chosen for exhibition in the two spaces may or may not have shared commonalities in their work but, nonetheless, created an interesting and provocative dialogue between them.
Thomas Drymon is an artist and writer living in Washington, DC. From 1995-2000, he published and edited spoonfed, a literary arts journal featuring the work of local, national and international writers and artists. He began curating in earnest in 2010 when he launched Thomas Drymon Selects, a series of group exhibitions held in various venues in DC. He co-founded harmon art lab with Peter Harper in 2011 and produced eight exhibitions in the space that houses doris-mae. In September 2012, he struck out on his own to create the curatorial project that is called doris-mae. He has exhibited his own work in numerous solo and group exhibitions over the past 15 years.