Govinda Gallery/The Georgetowner

by Chris Murray on October 4, 2011


July 27, 2011

Goodbye and Good Luck to Govinda Gallery

By Gary Tischler

We heard the news today, oh boy. Actually, we heard the news – that Govinda Gallery, Chris Murray’s singular sensation and creation would be closing its 34th Street site in Georgetown after 35 years – some time ago.
Murray made the announcement with a posting on Govinda’s website under the heading of “Govinda Gallery/The Omega Point,” complete with a black-and-white photograph of a (very) young Murray with hands-in-pocket, long-haired, sports-jacket-and-tie and I’m betting blue jeans and attitude.
The Omega Point is as described on the site ‘a term coined by the philosopher Pierre Teihard de Chardin to describe a maximum level of consciousness and complexity towards which the universe is evolving.”
There is nothing to say to that except this: that Govinda and Murray rocked, that Murray himself looks pretty much the same with something of the same attitude, and that time marches on and on and on, and that the gallery space is bare and empty, deserted like Woodstock without people.
Murray announced on the website “the opening of our new office dedicated to organizing and curating exhibitions for museums and other venues, the publishing of fine books, and continuing to assist and advise collectors of fine art.” Murray himself had of course graduated and shifted to many of these things already, including getting invloved in publishing limited edition coffee-table books of rock photography on the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and so on.
But the gallery will be gone, nothing to be done about that, and with it the march of 35 years of evolution, with a very, very, personal touch.
Govinda reflected Murray’s sensibility, his persona, his musical tastes, his lifestyles, and a sort of classy, eclectic collection of loved ones, family, friends, backers, acquaintances of note or not, artists, musicians, and writers. The smallish gallery is an accumulation of worlds, memories of noise and rock and roll, and of a one-of-a-kind opening receptions were you could run across Muhammad Ali, Annie Leibowitz, a Rolling Stone, Elvis on the wall, Donovan, and other artists of particular gifts. As time went on with repeated exhibitions of rock and pop photography, the results became accumulative. Govinda became something of a floating history of our national rock and pop culture with Murray acting as a kind of delighted promoter and ringmaster who brought something unique to that corner of Georgetown.
Govinda had style, it had cred and rep, it was manifestly fun and dripping with nostalgia as well as electric originality, a combination hard to beat and harder to find.
The last exhibition – “The Pure Drop,” a collection of drawings of Irish musicians at a national Irish music festival – was particularly characteristic of what both Murray and Govinda were all about. It was of course personal – Hester, an artist and school teacher, and Murray are married and the drawings come from a trip to Ireland the two made together – but it was also an exhibition of drawings which seemed mysteriously casual and intense all at once, another combination difficult to beat and find. It was also reflective of not only Hester’s work, but other artists Govinda showcased in its beginning as well as later – Kim Murray, Art Beatty, David Waters, Mati Klarwein, Christopher Makos and Howard Finster with his American Flag paintings.
Finally, “The Pure Drop” was musical and about music, tying the Govinda-Murray loose end together with work that had a great deal of affection in almost every line and had a preternatural touch of the Irish glowing from it. Because the drawings were done on the fly so to speak and in the moment unlike en plain sketch work, they had a casual, windy energy to the point that you practically were there, to feel the sun and the wind and hear the old sound and their newer variations. Hester would sit at performance sites which could be in the green, open summer air, at or inside a corner pub, or a nearby music stage and catch with swift lines people, notes, and times of a day on the fly. Not an easy thing to do; like trying to draw a bird in flight and get the details of wings and feathers.
Hester executed the drawings in County Cavan, Ireland in the summer of 2010 when she and Murray were at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, the largest of all traditional Irish music festivals. Hester roamed the festival, capturing street musicians, sessions, classes and dancers. Music is ,after all, about people, and she captured people like Catriona McKaye from Glasglow and her harp, Seamus and Gareth Tierny from Cavan on flute and button accordion; Catie Flynn and Aiofe Flynn on their banjo and button accordion; and scores of others.
The names, the place names, the music and the instruments appeared as all of a piece in Hester’s drawings, evocative as a village rising out of the green mist of Ireland.
“The Pure Drop” was a one of a kind exhibition, but in spirit, it resembled the gallery itself and almost everything that went on there. Murray, by the way of his interests and passions, and a keen appreciation of artists and rock and roll and every other thing that ended up in the gallery, created something unique and memory-lasting. He was a born promotor to the point that people who came passed the word on. There was nothing like the Govinda Gallery in Georgetown, not to mention the rest of Washington. He has in some ways made a rock and roll museum, floating, chimeric, but full of the documented sights and sounds of original American music.
He had help. His friends, of which there were many in number and eclectic in makeup, his family, the artists and painters, the photographers and the musicians, some of them famous, all of them keenly interesting.
The atmospheres at Govinda are gone. No doubt you’re drawn there at times automatically, thinking you’ve heard a blues note, seen an old time hurdy gurdy man holding forth. It’s not there anymore, but then again, in minds like mine, it always is.

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