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From DC to the Netherlands: Olivia Niuman, June Featured Artist

We interviewed Olivia Niuman, outgoing Director of Programming for 52 O Street (she will be missed!) who's pursuing her MFA in painting at the Frank Mohr Institute at Academy Minerva in the Netherlands. She explains how she first got involved with 52 O St, and started interviewing artists and organizing events, all the while shaping her own fine art career.


Olivia in front of her painting Interpretation is an Exercise in Being at (Not) Strictly Painting at the McLean Project for the Arts in 2023.

Olivia in front of her painting Interpretation is an Exercise in Being at (Not) Strictly Painting at the McLean Project for the Arts in 2023.

Recounting her foray into 52 O Street Studios

"So it started with Cianne [Fragione].


I cold emailed every artist in DC whose work that I liked and asked them if they needed an assistant; Cianne answered me and said that she did.


So we traded emails, I sent her pictures of my work, I came into her studio and we just kind of struck up a very old school apprenticeship / mentor-mentee thing. I would do whatever she needed, like mopping, editing proposals, working on her inventorying system, and she would critique my work and just let me watch her do her job.


I could tell through her work that she was in a place where I really wanted to push myself towards the future. Everything just came from that. It's definitely been the best thing that's happened to my career, period. Through her, I got to know 52 O Street too."


Composite view of Olivia's recent series That Which Divides, Connects. 

Composite view of Olivia's recent series That Which Divides, Connects. 


Becoming 52 O Street's Director of Programming. Interviewing artists


“I had been working for Cianne for almost a year. At first, I didn't even know there was a whole building here because I would come in through the garage. Cianne told me that Marty [the owner of 52 O Street Studios] was looking for someone to do light social media and website stuff, part-time.


There wasn't a website then, and I kind of started taking the reins of the social media and doing a newsletter, designed the website, and started the features. Really, just anything I could think of that would increase the profile of the building online and in the community.


I was kind of given free reign to just go do it.


With the features, I think as an artist, all you want is for someone to look at your work and think about your work. So it's really nice to be doing that for people. Through writing, you get more eyeballs on the work and that's always what everyone wants.


Yeah, and it's really cool to pop into the studio, see what they're working on, talk about it and see it kind of develop; just being a part of community is so important in such a solitary job."


Twombly / Dionysus / Rothko / Apollo, 2024. Acrylic, graphite, and excerpts from Derrida's Truth in Painting and Gardner's Art Through the Ages on canvas. 30 x 20 inches.

Twombly / Dionysus / Rothko / Apollo, 2024. Acrylic, graphite, and excerpts from Derrida's Truth in Painting and Gardner's Art Through the Ages on canvas. 30 x 20 inches.


Olivia describes her own artistic practice as a research-based


"I'm always reading books, pulling these references, and then physically pulling the references by cutting pages out of the books and integrating them into the paintings.


And then, I also reference anything I can through the title or the materials, allowing the viewer to kind of pull these different connections and bring them together as they look at the work.


So I'll reference religion, philosophy and science through different people's names in one painting and then just kind of throw it out there and see how people make those connections.


It can be kind of almost esoteric, I think, but I prefer work that's very dense in terms of potential meaning.


I think with good work, you can kind of think about it for a long time and let it unfold."


Installation view of Olivia's work at the Rat Gallery December 2023 show.

Installation view of Olivia's work at the Rat Gallery December 2023 show.



She's found opportunities to show her work. Some at 52 O Street


"I've shown not as much as I would like to, but I think that's everyone's answer. I had a piece in a show in Rhode Island in 2022 and I did a few student things when I was in school, but the biggest things I've had were the McLean Project for the Arts (Not) Strictly Painting show in October and the Rat Gallery Show. 


[The Rat Gallery Show] is the most work I've ever had up at once, and it really just came from a conversation with Katharine [Heyl] when she casually asked me if I wanted to be in the December show. 


I was like, ‘are you serious? But if so, yeah, obviously.’


And that's, like, the magic of this building. It's just those little conversations and then things happen."



Arachne / Philomela / Ariadne / Penelope, 2024. Acrylic, string, and excerpts from Derrida’s Truth in Painting and three different translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on canvas. 30 x 20 inches.

Arachne / Philomela / Ariadne / Penelope, 2024. Acrylic, string, and excerpts from Derrida’s Truth in Painting and three different translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on canvas. 30 x 20 inches.



Her forthcoming MFA is uniquely located in the Netherlands


"My mom is Dutch. So I have dual citizenship.


And, honestly, it all started because I was watching House Hunters International with my mom in 2021, and I wondered what it would be like to live there. So then I started looking at fine art programs, and realized all at once that it's a lot cheaper to go there.


And the art programs there are a little bit more theory and research based than they are here, where they're more open to this kind of almost gray area between practice and theory and writing, which is always where I feel like I've operated. As opposed to programs here, I feel, are more, almost conservative, where it's like, if you paint, you paint, and that’s it.

So all of that kind of came together at once.


I feel like a little bit of a fraud, because I have my Dutch passport, and I am a citizen, but I've never been there.


I don't speak the language (yet!). So that will be fun."



Three of Olivia's Roman Copies, each one 5 x 7 pastel on a book page.

Three of Olivia's Roman Copies, each one 5 x 7 pastel on a book page.



Olivia's aspirations extend well beyond her MFA


"I look pretty far ahead. I would love to do a PhD someday.


Art PhDs are somewhat controversial, and there are a lot of debates about the landscape of higher education in Europe, and art specifically. But there are some programs that kind of operate in this nexus between, like, theory, writing, and practice, and doing a PhD that's aligned with that is my dream, ultimately.


It might take me 10 years to get to the point where I can do that, but, I mean, after I graduate, I'm ready to go wherever I need to go for my career, whether that's staying in the Netherlands, or moving back here, or moving to England, or New York, I don't know. But wherever the opportunities take me, you just gotta send it!"



To keep up with Olivia's art practice, follow her on Instagram and check out her website.

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