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Timeless and Timely: Morton Fine Art, May Featured Business

This month, we interviewed Amy Morton, founder and owner of Morton Fine Art. She told the story of her gallery, from its inception to its future direction, and shared how she built a successful business that prioritizes supporting art and artists that engage in relevant and substantive conversations. 

Amy Morton in her gallery at 52 O Street Studios. Photo by Jarrett Hendrix.

Amy Morton can still remember the moment she fell in love with art. As a high school student, she was able to attend classes at nearby schools. When she walked into her first art history class, the lights turned off, the slides came out, and she was sold. “That one opportunity of sitting in on that class absolutely solidified my path,” she reflects. 

From there, she knew she wanted to be an art history major. The early start paired with Morton’s incredible work ethic meant that she was completing internships and jobs in her field of interest throughout college, gaining hands-on experience that set her apart from her peers. 

Still, after graduating college, she didn’t have any opportunities that gave her a clear path into the arts, so instead, she went into fashion and worked as a stylist. “That helped me make a lot of decisions confidently at a young age,” she shares, “at that time I was 21, 22 and handling some pretty big accounts for that age. It put a lot of responsibility on my lap and also forced me to really behave in a way that was confident in the workspace.” 

After working in fashion, Morton lived in Turkey for six years. While learning the language and getting acclimated to a different culture, she was also immersed in the rich artistic heritage of Turkey and found herself longing for more intimate engagement with art. Returning to the US, she worked in a commercial gallery and started thinking about how she would like to push things further. 

Installation view of Hope Brew, a solo show by Hiromitsu Kuroo at MFA (on view through May 18, 2024). Photo by Jarrett Hendrix.

“I wanted to amplify voices I believed in and I wanted to work with artists who I felt like were really having relevant discussions that were timeless and timely,” she shares, describing what would become the ethos of Morton Fine Art. “Not just something pretty, not just something beautiful, not just something technically masterful - more substantive, emotional, psychological. For me, that’s where the meaning is; then, I just had to figure out how.” 

At this time, Morton had been attending free business classes with SCORE while trying to navigate starting a business in the wake of the market crash in 2007. Advice from her business advisor helped provide the push that she needed, and Morton got started using a mobile gallery model (she still uses her trademark *a pop up project when she expands beyond her gallery space) and eventually got a space on 18th and U Street, where she was for nine years. 

Morton describes her former 18th & U location as a white cube space on the ground floor near a busy intersection, and her move to 52 O Street accommodated a desired shift in her gallery model. Now, being open by appointment allows her the flexibility to show different work if needed and to cater the experience to the visitor. For a gallery where discussion and connection are prioritized, this model works well. 

Being in what is primarily an art studio building provides a different atmosphere than a highly trafficked retail space. “I like being around other creatives because I feel like we understand each other. It’s easy to have a lot in common and to be supportive of each other.” Morton frequently collaborates with other creatives in the building, like photographer Jarrett Hendrix.

Morton runs her gallery as a true collaboration between her and her artist-partners. “All of the shows are artist-led,” she explains. “Through a creative process, artists need to be able to explore.” If one of her artists needs to do something and Morton can feasibly support it, she will, even if it is not particularly commercially viable. As a business owner, she has learned where she can take risks in order to support work that needs to be made. This attitude is rare in the art world and is a part of what makes Morton such a valuable partner to the artists with whom she works. 

Installation view of It Depends, a solo show by Jenny Wu at Morton Fine Art. Photo by Jarrett Hendrix.

Morton didn’t initially plan to focus on mostly international artists, but her roster is a result of her interest in representing artists who she thinks are having important conversations, no matter where they are located. “Sometimes, we can think it’s an American conversation and then we realize there are other places that are having similar conversations,” she explains.

The conversations she is most interested in? “Timeless and timely. Not something that’s momentary but that’s going to be digested. Something that hopefully makes people grow or has the opportunity to make people grow.” Personally, she is looking to learn and grow as well. “I think that’s why it continues to get more global, because I want to learn more, too. I learn a lot from my artist-partners.” 

An emphasis on human experience is also visually apparent in the work of many of MFA's artist-partners. Jenny Wu, Rosemary Feit Covey, Natalie Cheung, and Jaz Graf are just a few MFA artists for whom attention to labor, material, surface, and innovative processes are evident in the finished work.

Many of the artists that she works with she has known for over a decade. “You go through life together, and you build that level of trust that becomes really pivotal.” By cultivating personal relationships with her artists, Morton is able to be a true advocate for their work. “As an artist, your soul is connected to everything that you produce. To not act like that’s first and foremost, is not honoring the practice. Not honoring the artist. I feel strongly about that.” 

Morton likes being located in DC because, like many of the professionals who live and work here, her artists are also engaging with relevant social and cultural discussions. “We’re close and personal with all the political ideas and all of these ebbs and flows, so of course we’re going to be impacted by that.” Morton also prefers to conduct business in a personal way, getting to know her collectors and having intimate conversations, so the smaller scale of DC’s art scene relative to bigger cities like New York is also a benefit. 

“I feel really lucky because this space attracts really positive, smart, interesting people,” she says of the collectors she works with; “They want to get to know the artists, and they value the artists. They see themselves as custodians of the art; they don't sell it and they don't flip it. They treat it with the dignity and respect that the creator would want.” 

Photo of guests at the opening reception of Creating in Abstraction, *a pop up project by Morton Fine Art in Gallery B at Bethesda, MD. Photo by Olivia Niuman.

When asked about where she sees the future of Morton Fine Art, Morton replies that the only thing that is certain is that things will shift. Her flexibility is part of what has made her so successful. Recently, she’s been experimenting with reactivating *a pop up project, which has allowed her to access different communities who may not have interacted with her space at 52 O Street. Creating in Abstraction, which was on view at Gallery B in Bethesda this past April, showcased work from eleven of Morton’s artist-partners all working with abstraction in different modes.

Her advice for young art professionals is to have a high tolerance for adaptability and to truly embrace the fact that experience is the most valuable currency. Elbow grease and getting hands-on experience is the only way to learn important professional practices that aren’t taught in school. She also notes that it is important to think carefully about whom you model yourself after. For anyone reading who hopes to build a successful business around their creative passion, Amy Morton is an excellent role model.

To connect with Morton Fine Art, follow them on Instagram and check out their website.

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