The triangular area between Connecticut and Massachusetts avenues northwest of Washington's Dupont Circle provides an especially pleasant place to walk on a fall day. The neighborhood welcomes strollers, with dignified townhouses clustered on quiet, intimate streets.
Equally pleasant, though not so obvious at first, is the area's role as a mecca of art. Oh yes, the Phillips Collection at Q and 21st streets is well-known. It has one of the great assemblages of modern masterpieces by the likes of Renoir and van Gogh, Braque and Rothko.
But Baltimoreans may be surprised to learn that within a few blocks of the Phillips are more than 20 galleries where you can find everything from 19th-century photography to paintings that are barely dry.
Washington residents and many visitors help make D.C.'s art-gallery scene thrive. In addition to the Dupont Circle area, galleries cluster downtown near Pennsylvania Avenue.
Gallery-goers need not think they have to buy anything just to visit. Gallery owners and their staffs are generally friendly and don't require a purchase as the price of asking more than two questions.
Most of them also emphasize that their prices are not as high as one might imagine. Gallery owners quoted prices as high as $25,000, but the usual range is from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Whether or not you can afford the art in Washington's galleries, you can enjoy it all for free. Just don't forget to feed the meters.
Dupont Circle area
* Anton, 2108 R St.: This gallery makes the visitor comfortable with its informality -- gallery and office sort of spill into one another -- and the enthusiasm of its longtime owner, Gail Enns, and her new partner, Marty Huberman.
Anton specializes in Washington-area artists. "There is tremendous work going on here," says Enns, who has operated the gallery for 15 years. "Our goal is to make Washington artists known around the world," she says, and adds that because of Washington's cosmopolitan mix that's not as unrealistic as it may sound. "Europeans come in and go home with something," she says.
She offers a wide-ranging mix of shows. A recent one combined the boxlike constructions of Laurel Ferrin and the emotionally charged still lifes of Kiki Felix. The gallery's current show pairs the austere and dignified utilitarian ceramics of Rob Barnard with psychologically taut installations by Reid McIntyre. This will run through Nov. 13 and overlap with a show of architectural landscape paintings by Peter Waddell, opening Nov. 5. In mid-November Barnard and McIntyre will be replaced with a show of paintings by Chilean artist Raimondo Rubio.
* Gallery K, 2010 R St.: Owner Komei Wachi welcomes visitors to a beautifully converted townhouse, where two floors of gallery space are topped by a skylight and connected by a staircase that narrows as it goes up to give a sense of heightened perspective.
Wachi says he and his partner, Marc Moyens, have been in the area for more than 20 years. "We bought, gutted and converted the house in 1986," he says.
"We are known for handling Washington artists, especially the young and upcoming. But recently we have also carried an inventory of internationally known artists, such names as Robert Motherwell, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg. That doesn't mean Washington doesn't have talent, but recently purchasers of art have been more concerned with investment. Nevertheless, 80 percent of our artists are local."
This month (through Friday) the gallery features the dramatically lighted and colored works of Y. David Chung, whose urban-oriented scenes impart a sense of menace. He is paired with the quieter, surrealist abstractions of Patrick Craig.
Beginning Nov. 4 will be sculpture in welded and woven steel by Wendy Ross and new paintings by John Winslow, chairman of the art department at Catholic University.
* Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R. St.: The rooms of this house, with their dark woodwork, impart a feel both domestic and traditional. Mateyka, who has been in business since 1984, carries work with a consistency of scale.
"I have intimate spaces because I am interested in works that are human in scale," she says. "I specialize in contemporary American artists, with a focus on paintings and works on paper." Her artists include Claudia Matzko, who lives in Baltimore, and Columbia printmaker Aline Feldman.
Perhaps because of last-minute changes, this month's group show of gallery artists does not look as well-integrated as one might hope. It does include a painting and works on paper by Gene Davis, the renowned Washington color school painter of the 1950s to the 1980s. From Nov. 7 to Dec. 20, Mateyka will have a one-person show of works by the contemporary American painter and sculptor William T. Wiley.