A La Carte

A Conversation With Chris Addison

January 3, 2021

What better way to celebrate the new year than to have a chat with Chris Addison, native Georgetowner and founder of one of the area’s foremost contemporary galleries, Addison/Ripley Fine Art. I’ve known Chris for over a dozen years, and one of my fondest memories is his introducing me to the amazing jazz pianist ELEW, a wonderful example of how Chris enthusiastically supports artists in every genre.


He graciously shares some childhood memories of growing up in the neighborhood, and his life-long commitment to promoting emerging, local, national and internationally recognized artists. 


The gallery at Wisconsin and Reservoir is an iconic Georgetown landmark.


Thank you, Chris!


DISH: Can you tell us how your interest in art started. 


CA: My earliest interests came from two very distinct sources. Sundays at The Phillips Collection, specifically, the Rothko Room and from the house on the corner of 30th and P Streets where we i.e. the children in my neighborhood, gathered. This house belonged to the Noland's and the children's father’s art was prominently displayed there. I went on to study and practice art in college and to work as an exhibition designer for the Smithsonian.

Justine, Chris, Julian, Sylvia, and Gerald Addison (Photo by: Chris Addison) Justine, Chris, Julian, Sylvia, and Gerald Addison

DISH: Where was the first DC gallery space you bought with your wife? 


CA: We first rented and then purchased an old carriage house in Hillyer Court, the alley behind The Phillips Collection. Two stories, 6,000 square feet and very rough, we lived on the second floor of this building when we were first married but built out the first floor for gallery space initially. The owner had intended to open it as a gallery but had lost interest. The only thing he had put in was a suspended lighting track system designed by then National Collection of Fine Arts curator, Walter Hopps. The floors were rough concrete with wash down drains in the center of each room. Two of the original stall dividers were still in place and a wall had been built around the manual water pump. There was no heat or air conditioning on the second floor which was covered with cheap plywood rescued windows and doors tacitly kept out the elements. In the winter, I stoked the pot bellied stove with wood scraps, lit it, closed the cover and pulled my bed up to the grate to stay warm. In the really cold weather, the water in the toilets froze and we had to keep the water turned on to prevent the pipes from freezing.

Addison/Ripley Fine Art Gallery (Photo by: Chris Addison) Addison/Ripley Fine Art Gallery

DISH: How did you come to choose the corner of Wisconsin and Reservoir Road for Addison/Ripley Fine Art? 


CA: This building had been a bit of an enigma to me as a young person, with gloomy grey drapes covering the windows and dusty Asian antique furniture inside, it seemed mysterious and enticing, although I had never been in. When the owner of Frameworks, Jay Houston, called me and invited us to consider renting half of the building with him, my father had died and my mother still lived in the house we had grown up in, only several blocks away. It seemed like both a good opportunity to test the idea of having two locations and to be able to spend more time with my mother. The idea then and now was that we could develop an outward facing art gallery that passersby could enjoy even when the gallery was closed. Ironically, one of the first exhibitions we mounted in this space was a collection of Tibetan antiques my wife and I had collected in Asia.

With Chris are the Owen brothers, William and Hugo, their sister Georgina Horsey still lives in Georgetown (Photo by: Chris Addison) With Chris are the Owen brothers, William and Hugo, their sister Georgina Horsey still lives in Georgetown

DISH: Share some recollections of growing up in 1960s Georgetown. (where you played, the music scene, your first job, etc).

What Georgetown establishment or business do you miss most?


CA: Loved being in Georgetown growing up. The parks, Rose and Montrose, the cemetery for which we had a key to visit after hours, the abandoned warehouses by the river under the Whitehurst, Dumbarton Oaks whose pool was fair game after dark and a quick scramble over the walls, Jelleff where we played multinational soccer, the volley ball court, such as it was, by the decaying swings and jungle gym in Montrose, the wide alley in West Lane Keys off of P Street, these and more were our playgrounds.


A rite of passage for my friends and I was working for the Scheele Brothers, Fred and George, in their small grocery store on Saturdays. I pulled groceries for many Georgetown residents and rode in the van with Billy or Sonny to deliver them, becoming much more familiar with the kitchen door than the front one. I rarely left without being offered a fresh baked cookie or piece of cake.


The T of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street sidewalks and shops was delightfully different than the more staid houses and gardens on the side streets. A wide variety of music was on offer from folk at the Cellar Door to jazz at One Step Down, local rock bands at the Corral and Crazy Horse. Eventually we were able to sample the even broader spectrum that came after, clubs like Emergency and Pisces, outdoor scenes like P Street Beach and Dupont Circle. As youngsters we plotted ways to be in the clubs underaged and as we became older, we frequented all of them and worked at some.


The Biography offered us cinematic culture, The Phillips Collection visual pleasures along with the occasional Sunday concert in their Music Room. 


A couple of times we rented and transformed the Georgetown Boathouse into all night dance parties, inviting 100 people and ending up hosting many many more. We roamed the streets safely and freely, gathering in places like the old Peoples Drug Store for an exotic cherry coke or at one of the “head” shops or the comic book rack at Morgan’s Pharmacy. As a teenager I would sneak out of my own house, walk down and wake one of my friends who would climb down the trellis from his bedroom for a 5 a.m. coffee at the counter at Peoples, thinking were so daring.


Our friends were from wildly different international backgrounds and the ages varied from 10 to 20 something. The older kids looked after the younger ones. Spanish, French and English were spoken along with other languages and one of my fondest memories is of playing soccer at Jelleff with several conversations going at once in several languages.

Chris and random furniture movers admiring a gallery opening from the outside. (Photo by: Chris Addison) Chris and random furniture movers admiring a gallery opening from the outside.

DISH: In your role as art consultant, what’s the most important piece of advice you give your clients? 


CA: For buyers, make sure that you buy what you love and buy the very best you can afford even if it’s a stretch and even if you have to wait. For sellers, it’s like selling house in the sense that you have to attach the right value; too low and the implication might be you are trying to just get it sold, too high and you probably have to keep bringing the price down, ultimately devaluing it.

Leafed works by Kay Jackson (Photo by: Chris Addison) Leafed works by Kay Jackson

DISH: Who are some favorite artists you’ve represented? 


CA: Such a long list! Here are some. Wolf Kahn has easily been the one who has the best overall name recognition. Patricia Tobacco Forrester, Graham Caldwell, an up and coming glass artist at the time, Lou Stovall and Frank Hallam Day. Jackie Battenfield and Carol Brown Goldberg for overall professionalism and fine products. Both John Dreyfuss and Martin Kotler, both of whom we no longer represent, I am really proud to have collaborated with them. All of the quilters from Gees Bend. Tom Meyer and John Borden Evans for their direct, quirky and unassuming world views. The arresting work, often with gold leaf, of environmentally dedicated artist, Kay Jackson. In fact, all of the artist we represent, many for decades now.

Wolf Kahn (Photo by: Chris Addison) Wolf Kahn

DISH: What advice do you have for someone starting an art collection? 

CA: Look hard, look a lot, so you can begin to trust your own eye and taste. Taste being something that develops over time and with experience, it is important to take note of what you see that you like, in museums, private galleries, not for profit art spaces, your friend’s home and in the auction catalogues. Some of the most dedicated collectors I know carry notebooks and record their impressions. There are no wrong choices as far as your individual taste is concerned but there are plenty of factors to consider when choosing, plenty of ways to get distracted or sidetracked. We advise many clients but we always take the time to learn what it is they are looking for first.


DISH: What are the challenges of choosing art for public spaces? 


CA: The first challenge would be clearly defining the parameters: placement, audience, purpose and costs. Public art can often seem unrelated to or at odds with its local audience. Poor placement negates both the aesthetics of the artwork and the ability of that artwork to complement its setting. Too small a budget might constrain the scale or the ability of the work to be made from the highest quality materials. Finally, public art, more perhaps than any other sort, needs to be intelligible. Signage, public events with the artist (and architect if there was that sort of collaboration), and announcement of the timetable and the process will always pay off in terms of how public art is perceived.

Polly Kraft (Photo by: Chris Addison) Polly Kraft

DISH: How do you see the art scene evolving over the next few years? 

CA: While we have always taken the position that art needs to be seen in person, the recent pandemic has shown even more clearly, that online purchases are here to stay. Online fairs, online auctions and collections presented on platforms such as Instagram are just a few of the ways collectors are finding and purchasing art works. 

(Photo by: Yuriko Yamaguchi)

DISH: Who is the next emerging artist you’re excited about exhibiting? 


CA: She is not emerging, rather re-emerging. Which seems rather appropriate given the current situation. Yuriko Yamaguchi had previously shown extensively here, nationally and internationally. Her works is on permanent display in Dulles Airport and in several area museums. However, her new body of work explodes into space, transparent and translucent pieces wired together in a complex web, lit from behind. At once delicate and impossibly complex, Yamaguchi’s work hangs jewel like on the wall or suspended in space . Her exhibition in the gallery will open in the Fall of 2021.

Chris Addison (Photo by: Chris Addison) Chris Addison

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DIGEST DESIGN XI: What I Learned From Frida Ramstedt

December 3, 2020

I was recently introduced to Frida Ramstedt on Schneider Electric’s “Home of the Future” podcast. 


With no photos and lots of equations like the 60/30/10 +S color formula, the 5-7 rule for lighting, and the 2:8 storage principle, it’s a wonder I ever bought the book. So glad I did.

(Photo by: trendenser.se)

“Furnish for how you would like to live, not for what you want people to think,” says Ramstedt in The Interior Design Handbook. With wonderful tips on creating an harmonious home, this Swedish styling guru believes in thinking about how we decorate, rather than focusing on what we decorate with.


General rules of thumb include the golden ratio and the golden spiral, the proper size for a coffee table in relation to your sofa, the optimal height to hang lighting fixtures, proper dimensions for adequate bathroom swing, and much more.

(Photo by: trendenser.se)

Here are some of my favorites: 


The red thread concept comes from Greek mythology when Theseus found his way out of Minotaur’s labyrinth by following the red thread given to him by Ariadne. Don’t ‘lose the thread.’ Look for anything that ties a room together. Create a subtle thematic bridge with color, materials, or details. 


Use the golden ratio to divide your spaces into thirds both horizontally and vertically rather than halves to create balance and harmony. Furniture designs like Arne Jabobsen’s Egg Chair and the nautilus shell are examples of golden ratio and golden spiral proportions.


Three-point thinking is a way of positioning objects so that their outlines form a triangle. 


Paint that is gloss is more forgiving, semi-gloss, or matte is easier to keep clean. Ramstedt explains what works best in different scenarios. 


When designing a room for children, get down on your knees to work from a child’s perspective. And remember to make room for adults. You don’t want to read to them in a cramped space.


Camouflage the black hole of the TV by painting the wall a darker color.


Coffee tables should not be more than two-thirds of the total length of the sofa.

(Photo by: trendenser.se)

Make sure your hall closet has the right dimensions to accommodate thick outerwear. 


Sculptural lamps with naked incandescent lights work best as decorative lights or dim cozy lighting - not for everyday lighting above a dining area. What’s needed is a suspended light over the table so you can see properly without being dazzled or disturbed by shadows. 

Remember that the best lighting is not primarily created to be in the center and be visible, but for other things around it to be seen better.

(Photo by: trendenser.se)

Compare interior design to clothes and fashion. If you're buying new shoes or underwear, you know your size. Become acquainted with the dimensions and distances that are compatible with our bodies. That’s especially true for sofas where your back should rest against the sofa and your feet reach the floor.


Mea culpa on that one. 

(Photo by: amazon.com)

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Ode to Surf Ponchos and Magical Thinking

November 12, 2020

It's been a tough year. On the positive side, here's what I've learned and the permanent changes I've made:

1. Pay attention to how I truly feel.

About people, about how I spend my time and money, and about what I eat and drink. Shouldn't take a pandemic and mandated social distancing, but it helps. Clarity is the gift of isolation. I vow to be more discerning in my associations and stay true to my best nature.

2. Tap into my creativity more.

Art. Make it. Experience it. Started painting again, and recently bought Donald Robertson's Magical Thinking, aptly named to inspire. And it does.

(Photo by: drawbertson.com)

3.  Support local businesses more

New all-time favorite room fragrance recently discovered at Le Labo: Calone 17. First I got the candle but now using the room spray.

(Photo by: lelabofragrances.com)

Must-have luxury is fresh flowers and Ultra Violet always makes me want to plan a wedding. 

(Photo by: ultravioletflowersdc.com)

All my favorite Georgetown restaurants offer take-out and/or delivery. 

4. Remain grateful for, well, just about everything. 

Fortunate to have an indoor pool and fitness center in my condominium so I'm working out and swimming daily.

(Photo by: Cathedral West Condominiums)

Minimalist me doesn't like to to take a tote and a towel to the pool so I happily discovered Surf Ponchos! Who knew?! Terry, hooded with pockets for keys, cap and phone. In the gym, ditto. Found sweat towels with zippered pockets! To complete my new shelter-in-place wardrobe, cute pool slides. 

(Photo by: versace.com)

Added protein collagen peptides to my smoothies, and almost totally eliminated meat from my diet.

For obvious reasons, reducing alcohol consumption I'm saving for 2021!

(Photo by: ruinart.com)

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