7 Questions for Washington, D.C. Gallerist Amy Morton on the Capital Art Scene’s International Flavor
Morton Fine Art has championed diverse artistic voices for over a decade.
Morton Fine Art has championed diverse artistic voices for over a decade.
Gallerist and curator Amy Morton is the founder and owner of Morton Fine Art, a stalwart fixture of the Washington, D.C., art scene. Recognized for its diverse roster of national and international artists, Morton Fine Art—and by extension, Morton herself—has developed a reputation for its thought-provoking exhibition program, and a specific emphasis on art and artists of the African and Global Diaspora. Morton Fine Art has also shown a strong commitment to exhibiting female artists, and the gallery’s current presentation is a solo show of work by Katherine Hattam, which is on view through December 20, 2022.
Morton has cultivated strong relationships both with the artists she represents (refusing hierarchy and referring to them as her partners) and collectors, for whom she strives to craft an accessible and educational experience. The result has been Morton Fine Art’s ability to consistently place museum-quality contemporary art in both private and public collections for over a decade.
We recently spoke with Morton to talk about establishing her gallery, the current exhibition, and what’s to come in 2023.
You founded Morton Fine Art in 2010. Can you tell us about your background and what led you to open the gallery? What first drew your interest to the arts?
I come from a line of under-recognized female artists on both sides of my family. My parents, although divorced, both exposed my sister and I to performing arts, music, and other cultural mediums when we were children. The occasional trip to view a museum exhibition was always a big deal in our household. My mom and I used to create drawings together at the kitchen table—what I always considered a continuing story between mother and daughter. All that noted, I didn’t know I was destined for a career in the arts until high school: I walked into an art history class and was changed. I took my first gallery job when I was 17. By the time I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles at 21, I had interned and worked at auction houses on both coasts, at art galleries local and national, and for a renowned New England artist association. Oddly, at that juncture, I had not yet found my niche in the art world, and it finally felt right when I opened my own gallery in 2010. With Morton Fine Art, I could amplify original artistic voices that I feel are simultaneously timeless and timely, substantive and layered.
Since the opening of the gallery, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any advice for young gallerists just starting out?
I’ve learned many lessons and believe I will continue to for the foreseeable future. Agility has been my best posture, and I would advise young gallerists to consider the same. There is still space to do things differently, and it is important not to get lost comparing or measuring yourself against other galleries or business models.
What are some of your guiding principles as a gallerist? How is this reflected in the artists you represent and exhibitions you show?
I often joke that I am allergic to hierarchy. I believe that empowerment through education and a comfortable environment are wonderful tools of connection and understanding. Visual art is a natural way to advance conversations and ideas, and I strive to provide a gallery environment that sometimes feels more like a salon—a place that supports exploration, emotional honesty, and growth, and doesn’t enhance insecurity. My artist partners are technically masterful in their respective mediums and integrate lasting conceptual and philosophical elements that activate the imagination. Washington, D.C., is an international city, and it follows that my gallery’s programming spans many global conversations, including social justice, environmental justice, reconciliation, and personal themes.
The art world has undergone a number of transformations since 2010. Have you noticed any trends or have any predictions, good or bad, that you find particularly interesting or significant?
It will continue to be an interesting time ahead. As a Washington, D.C.-based gallery, our pulse is always intertwined with politics—local, national, and international—and therefore the art created here is remarkably relevant. I love this aspect of the city, as there is always more to learn and contend with. Increased collector confidence in online browsing and acquisitions has also been an asset for us “secondary city” gallerists. While not a global trend yet, I have long wished for a more energized focus and interest in Washington, D.C.’s art community and all we offer.
Morton Fine Art is currently showing “Katherine Hattam: Strange Country, Strange Times,” which is on view through December 20, 2022. Can you tell us about the show?
Katherine Hattam is a well-established Australian artist having her first U.S. solo here at Morton Fine Art. We have worked together for over a decade, so it is a great honor to share so much of her incredible artwork in one exhibition.
As an artist, Hattam incorporates literary and art-historical elements in her work, focusing on materialist explorations of ultimately psychic space. Her practice is a lifelong investigation into domestic interiors: brightly shaded walls and windows, collaged book spines, and iconographic depictions of native Australian flora and fauna make up much of Hattam’s focus. Acknowledging a centuries-long preoccupation with domestic space as both the imaginative site and societal bounds of female artistic production, Hattam’s totemic kitchen tables and charged dining room chairs recur as motifs, doubly imbued as locations of domestic labor and sites of longing.
For the current exhibition, Hattam has also included several spectacular prints—some of them jigsaw woodblock prints—that she created from 2000 to 2021.
With New Year’s just around the corner, what are you looking forward to in 2023? Are there any forthcoming exhibitions or other gallery plans that you can share?
2023 is going to be another great year! Morton Fine Art will have solo exhibitions with Jenny Wu (born in China; lives and works in Hartford), Vonn Cummings Sumner (born in San Francisco; based in Los Angeles), Meron Engida (born in Ethiopia; based in Washington, D.C.), Andrei Petrov (born and based in New York), Maliza Kiasuwa (born in Bucharest of European and African descent; lives and works in Nairobi), Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann (Washington, D.C.-based), Amber Robles-Gordon (born in Puerto Rico; based in Washington, D.C.), Hannelie Coetzee (born in South Africa; based in Johannesburg), Hiromitsu Kuroo (born in Japan; lives and works in Iruma, Japan) and Prina Shah (born in Kenya; lives and works in Nairobi), as well as a group exhibition focusing on the medium of collage.
If you were not a gallerist, what would you be doing?
Excellent question and one that I have entertained a few brief times in my career. Nothing else ever screamed out at me, so I would guess a preschool/elementary school educator, or advocate for a niche of sustainable living.
Learn more about Morton Fine Art’s exhibition program here.
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