The 10 Best Contemporary Art Spaces in Washington DC

By Graziano Scaldaferri

As the seat of the American government, Washington DC is better known for its political environment than its status as a national art and culture destination. But the city is in fact home to some of the finest exhibition spaces in the country, where some of the most progressive and visionary curators and gallerists present a top notch program of contemporary art shows. We take a look at ten must-visit contemporary art spaces in Washington DC.

1. Hirshhorn Museum


Hirshhorn Museum
© Blake Patterson/Flickr
DC’s Hirshhorn Museum is undoubtedly among the top contemporary art spaces in the United States. Founded in the 1960s from art collector Joseph Hirshhorn’s private collection, the museum exhibits artworks by some of the modern and contemporary art world’s greatest masters, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, and Edward Hopper. Temporary exhibitions have showcased the iconic works of Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, and Ai Weiwei. The sculpture garden exhibits pieces by Auguste Rodin, Jeff Koons, and Alexander Calder in a peaceful, open-air setting. The highly disputed cylindrical shape of the museum building is also, arguably, a work of art in itself.

2. The Phillips Collection


With an astounding collection of over 3,000 artworks, The Phillips Collection was the first museum of modern art to open in the United States. This impressive space is home to works by classic masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, alongside Modern marvels Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ellsworth Kelly. One of the space’s most renowned features is the ‘Rothko Room’ – a separate space designed in collaboration with the artist himself in which visitors may observe four of Rothko’s hypnotic paintings. A shrine to French Impressionist and Modern art, The Phillips Collection is a must-visit for contemporary art lovers.

3. National Gallery of Art

Art Gallery

Walking through the National Gallery of Art is a veritable journey through history. With artworks from the Middle Ages to the present day, the NGA has one of the largest collections in the world. At its core are the 21 remarkable paintings that private collector and NGA founder Andrew W. Mellon bought in the 1930s from the USSR at a time when the Soviet government was selling some of the Hermitage’s finest masterpieces to finance the country’s industrialization. The central collection is made up of works by Old Masters Rembrandt, Raphael, Jan van Eyck, Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci, but the space is also home to a collection of contemporary works. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC © Josh/Flickr

4. Marsha Mateyka Gallery

Art Gallery

Art historian Marsha Perry Matekya opened her gallery in a historical stone house back in 1983. During its 30-year run, she has presented some of the city’s highest-quality shows, fostering a working relationship with DC’s finest museums. The gallery represents the works of 20 artists, including the late Gene Davis. Davis was part of the Washington Color School—a group of painters active in the 1950s and 1960s who painted their canvases with stripes or fields, each colored with a single, flat, bold tint. Alongside Davis is Sam Gilliam, an established painter also associated with the Washington Color School, and Jae Ko, one of the most respected local artists who creates curved forms with nothing more than rolled ink paper.

5. ConnerSmith

Opened in 1999 under the name Conner Contemporary Art, ConnerSmith has since become a major part of DC’s contemporary art scene. Boasting 12,000 square-feet of exhibition space, ConnerSmith mainly exhibits abstract and conceptual works with social relevance. The gallery is particularly committed to promoting emerging artists on an international scale, and to this end, contributed to the foundation of the local Emerge Art Fair. Alongside its commitment to up-and-coming artists, ConnerSmith also represents a selection of established artists such as Leo Villareal—an acclaimed American artist who combines LED lights and computer technology to create awe-inspiring large-scale installations.

1013 O Street Northwest, Washington, DC, United States, +1 202 588 8750

6. Adamson Gallery

Adamson Gallery is primarily devoted to fine art photography and artists who produce lens-based works. Past exhibitions have showcased the work of Gordon Parks, Robert Longo, Karen Knorr, and Lou Reed. The gallery’s collection of Chuck Close’s work is one of its strongest points of attraction; known for his large-scale, often wall-sized portraits, Chuck Close has represented the human face through a variety of techniques and a striking level of photorealism. Companion to Adamson Gallery is Adamson Editions, a digital publication of artist monographs.

Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St NW Washington, DC, USA, +1 202 232 0707

7. Hemphill

Art Gallery

Hemphill, Washington DC
© Elvert Barnes/Flickr
A part of DC’s art scene since 1993, Hemphill is a commercial gallery that represents a selection of talented painters, sculptors, and photographers. On the exhibition space’s roster is Dutch painter Willem De Looper, whose work is associated with the Washington Color School, and American multimedia artist William Christenberry. Hemphill has hosted a number of socially, culturally, and politically relevant shows throughout the years, such as Paul Fusco’s photography series profiling the journey of the train carrying Robert Kennedy’s body across the USA.

8. Project 4 Gallery

Washington DC’s 14th Street has seen a multitude of exhibition spaces open since the new millennium. Amongst this string of new galleries is Project 4, which exhibits some of the most promising local and national artists. The space offers a cutting-edge take on American contemporary art, representing multimedia artists such as Margaret Boozer and Thomas Muller who are known to work with less conventional materials. All artists represented by the gallery are united in their innovative visions are striking aesthetics.

Project 4, 1353 U St NW #302 Washington, DC, USA, +1 202 232 4340

9. Morton Fine Art

Art Gallery

Morton Fine Art is located in the Lower Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC – an area that hosts several cultural venues. Every two years, the gallery staff curates a series of mobile exhibitions for the so-called *a pop-up project, which is, as the name suggests, a pop-up art project across the city. *a pop-up project is one of several initiatives undertaken by Morton Fine Art to innovate the contemporary art market and connect a wider audience to museum-quality artworks.

10. Art Whino

Located on the National Harbor waterfront, Art Whino specializes in ‘lowbrow art‘ – an artistic movement that draws inspiration from underground and pop culture. Showcasing works inspired by street art, graffiti, and Pop Art, the gallery regularly promotes public mural projects outside of the space and the city as well.

Art Whino Gallery, 120 American Way, National Harbor, MD, USA, +1 301 567 8210

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