Zenith Gallery’s Closing Leaves a Hole in the City’s Soul

The Examiner

Harry Jaffe

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Margery Goldberg had an idea shortly after Barrack Obama won the election last November. Why not mount an inaugural exhibition at Zenith Gallery, her storefront on Seventh Street, a block north of Pennsylvania Avenue?


Goldberg has had plenty of ideas in her more than 30 years as an art dealer, wood sculptor and agitator for creativity in a capital city known for squelching the creative impulse.


She had an idea to start a gallery at 14th and Rhode Island Avenue in 1968 just after riots torched the neighborhood. And she did. She had an idea to establish the Zenith Community Arts Foundation in 2000; now its programs and calendars have raised more than $100,000 for the Capital Area Food bank. Why not give some of her signature artists – like Bradley Stevens and Robert Freeman and Drew Ernst – a chance to paint Obama?  “Inaugural Inspiration” opened Jan 14.


“So many people came in, it was frightening,” Goldberg tells me. “This inauguration stretched the city to its limits. It certainly stretched ours.”  Zenith’s inaugural show will be its last. After 22 years in what we now call Penn Quarter, Margery Goldberg is closing up shop. Her first and last art sale started yesterday and is scheduled to continue through April. “I have been grappling with it for a number of years,” she says. “When you own a business, you can never get a sabbatical. I need one.”


Art galleries and artists have always served as pioneers in D.C.; as they have in many cities. It’s hard to believe that Seventh Street was an urban frontier when Goldberg and other artists settled here in the 1980’s. As the neighborhood changed, the windows of Zenith always treated the eye to the whimsical and serious art that caught Goldberg’s fancy – like Stephen Hansen’s papier-mache caricatures or James Carter’s Trompe l’oeil, or Paul Wolff’s metal sculpture.


“Street-level retail art galleries in the District of Columbia are largely over,” Goldberg says. She lists a few in Georgetown, Dupont Circle and U Street, but adds: “A lot of people who had galleries are doing what I hope to do: To open up in a different way.”


Goldberg already has mounted exhibits in the immense foyer of the office building at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. She is working with theaters to hang art on their walls. “I want to create a mobile gallery,” says Goldberg, 58. “Not just shows in other places, but I want to bring art to people where they live and work. The days of needing a gallery, especially for corporate clients, is over.”


Goldberg is optimistic, but she knows something is gone.  “There’s a loss of soul here in this community,” she says. “A business like Zenith has history that’s knitted into the community. We bring the uniqueness, the feistiness.”


We will miss Zenith in Penn quarter. But something tells me Margery Goldberg will be heard from again soon. She already has an idea for a new Zenith in the Mount Vernon neighborhood – her next frontier.