DC’s Buzziest Gallery Is in This Broker’s Backyard

Cushman & Wakefield’s Aaron Pomerantz showcases local artists in a studio built out of a shipping container

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About 150 art enthusiasts flooded Studio A at 4116 Ellicott Street NW on a recent Saturday in April, according to an estimate from Aaron Pomerantz, who had the shipping container structure built in the backyard of his home in the historic Tenleytown neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C. nearly two years ago.

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Though his personal art collection has exceeded 600 works, Pomerantz isn’t an artist himself. He’s an executive managing director at Cushman & Wakefield in Washington, D.C. Studio A is a passion project that lets him promote his artist friends’ work and satisfy his love of art.

That Saturday evening, Pomerantz hosted a one-man show by Rick Bach, a full-time painter and sculptor who lives in the outskirts of D.C., in suburban Virginia. Throughout the night, a new group of people found their way down the back alley and into the narrow space. They mingled, enjoyed light fare and drinks and remarked on Bach’s works—about 80 figurative paintings and 18 sculptures—that occupied every inch of available floor and wall space in the gallery.

“It’s pretty funky—some people liked it, some people didn’t like it at all,” Pomerantz said of his guests, many of whom were friends with varying tastes. But there were enough folks there to keep him busy and make the night a profitable one. “I had to greet 150 people, make sure everybody was having a good time, sell art, pay attention to who wants to buy art, and make sure the artist is meeting the right people—it’s a lot of work,” said Pomerantz, adding that he takes his showings seriously because the people he partners with are full-time artists.

The broker also stressed how he carefully curates exhibits. “Since it’s my passion and not my job, I have two rules: I have to really like the artist and really like the work. If those two things line up and they’re interested, then there’s a possibility we’ll work together.”

Pomerantz conceptualized Studio A in 2016 after his personal collection had taken over his home—hung on walls, stacked in corners, tucked under beds, stored in closets. “It got to the point where I didn’t need more art—not to say I don’t buy art still—but I slowed down quite a bit,” he said. After doing some research, he found that renting a space for an art gallery in D.C. was too much of a commitment between financial obligations, hiring and managing employees and making sure that art gets sold. “There’s a pressure to perform,” he said. “I can’t sit there and have to worry about that.” So he decided to build a space on his own property.

After talking to lots of architects who weren’t excited about such a small project, he came across a Washington Post article about Travis Price, an architect who was designing a building out of shipping containers. Pomerantz called him that morning and signed a contract that afternoon.

“For a local person living in a townhouse to take that step is fantastic bravery that DC could use more of,” Price told Commercial Observer.

Though Pomerantz wasn’t initially sold on the idea of a shipping container, DC zoning regulations made the decision simple. “Literally, I could build 320.8 square feet of additional space on my property and a shipping container is 320 square feet—so when it lined up that perfectly, I was like ‘I guess it’s supposed to be.’ So we built it.”

Though Price has designed projects in rear and hidden spaces, such as Leopold’s Kafé in Gerogetown’s Cady’s Alley, this was the first time he built a shipping container structure in someone’s backyard. For him, the most important part of the project was telling Pomerantz’s story. “He’s brilliant, complex and loves art. He’s embedded in it even as a real estate broker and that passion is infectious,” he said. “So the space is bubbly and has places to show the art and see nature. Even looking at the building, you’re looking at a piece of art.”

The shipping container cost $4,500, but Pomerantz’s biggest expense was custom glass panels that bring natural light into the compact structure. The construction took about four months to complete. He’s hosted nine shows since opening the space.

At C&W, Pomerantz focuses on nonprofits clients. In November 2017, he represented the American Institutes for Research in its move to a 90,000-square-foot space at 1400 Crystal Drive in Crystal City. The organization vacated two of its Georgetown offices to move 320 employees across the river to Arlington, Va. It still has 650 employees at its 100,000-square-foot headquarters at 1000 Thomas Jefferson Street NW.

But even at work, Pomerantz can’t get away from the art—he has about 16 original paintings on his office’s walls. “I’m not a person who believes in work life balance. I don’t see any hard lines between one thing and the other,” he said. “I think this is all life.”