In 2002, Transformer’s inaugural year, the artist-in-residence at the gallery hosted an exhibition centered around dinner parties, with menu items like duck in pepita molé and marzipan truffles. The artist then photographed the dirty dishes, documenting the detritus left behind.
Early artworks like that set the tone for Transformer: avant-garde, daring, a platform for artists to try something new. In 2010, the group led a protest against the National Portrait Gallery’s censorship of an artist’s film. In 2017, it presented a three-story-tall shadow-casting performance in partnership with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
And in 2022, the gallery presented “Transformer20,” a large-scale retrospective exhibit looking at all that the organization achieved in the past 20 years. From November 11 to December 10, people in the DMV can immerse themselves in the exhibit at George Washington University Corcoran School of the Arts & Design’s Flagg Building.
“As a small organization, [I’m proud] that we’ve gone so far outside and so far out of the scope of what most organizations our size would be able to achieve,” says Victoria Reis, Transformer’s co-founder and executive and artistic director. “I mean, it’s pretty incredible for a very DIY type of small nonprofit like Transformer to be able to have worked so substantially with so many incredible cultural institutions and embassies.”
Works from at least 100 artists adorn Transformer20’s space in the Flagg Building: photos, collages, a frilled metal sculpture, a red model of a hand, an illustration of eggs with legs, a miniature piano, chain jewelry, eerie drawings and so much more.
Two of the exhibition walls display giant timelines, one for the organization’s first 10 years and one for its second 10, like a “scrapbook” of the past 20 years, Reis says. The space fits the retrospective well, she adds, especially because about a third of Transformer’s artists are affiliated with Corcoran or GW more generally.
Within the exhibit, Reis says she can see the stories of artists who got their start at Transformer. Now, she’s hoping visitors to Transformer20 help sustain her vision of a platform for emerging contemporary artists in D.C.
“We do sell work, and we want to sell work to support artists. But the majority of the work that we do is really not — it’s not commercially based, and it’s not commercially viable,” Reis says. “It’s about education and building community and building connection around the ideas that artists are exploring.”
Transformer20 may be wrapping up soon, but the gallery’s 20th-anniversary celebration won’t end just yet. The celebration kicked off with a birthday party in June, on the same day that Transformer had opened its first exhibit back in 2002. It runs until May. This spring, Reis says Transformer will release a 20-year-anniversary book.
And after that, she can’t wait to continue her work.
“Transformer’s really like my own evolving art project,” Reis says. “I am excited to continue to evolve this living art program and to continue to engage emerging artists on creating platforms that will help connect, advance and promote them and their ideas and cultural production.”
Transformer20 will be on display at the Flagg Building until December 10. Transformer’s 20-year anniversary celebration will continue until May 2023.