Slice of Life: Alex Goldstein, keeper of D.C.’s graffiti art scene

Hoai-Tran Bui, special to

WASHINGTON – Art in D.C. isn’t known for being particularly daring or avant-garde. But if you look beyond the shiny veneer of the Smithsonian art museums, you’ll find a small gallery nestled in the back alley of 8th Street on Capitol Hill.

The gallery, called The Fridge, is quite easy to overlook unless you’re a member of the graffiti and street art community. Throughout the years, The Fridge has become the unofficial center of the graffiti art community and a space for performance artists to explore their creativity.

Owner and founder Alex Goldstein sits in a corner of his gallery. He smells like the strong coffee he gulped down to keep awake in the aftermath of inauguration day celebrations, and his face is mostly hidden by his thick black glasses, checkered cap and bristly beard.

As soon as he starts talking about his gallery — a passionate project that turned into a real financial venture — he becomes as warm and welcoming as the art that hangs on the walls.

What made you decide to start a graffiti art gallery?

Yeah, it was a crazy idea I had. I guess I’ve been working with street artists, graffiti artists and doing art myself for a very long time. Honestly, over 20 years, you know, in my life. I’m 41 now. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve always wanted to have. I felt like D.C. had a lot of pop-up galleries, things that would come up for a week or two, and then they would go away. It seemed like there was a demand. It seemed like street art was getting trendy enough that it could work, and here we are.

I mean this place is kind of more like a pop-up gallery than it is — I don’t want to say real gallery — an established gallery.

And you mean that because of the variety of programming?

The variety of programming, the space, the style.

Yeah, I mean, I put a lot into it when I first came. There wasn’t even dry wall. It was just bricks, a garage door. Certainly wasn’t up to, you know, getting through inspection for events. So I had to do some things to make it legally feasible, but also to make it into what I feel is a classy space.

Yeah, it’s a small space, but it’s very welcoming. It brings in that street art feel you want in with graffiti art.

I think so. I mean, it’s a bigger space than people think. We have a second gallery in the back that used to be my apartment when I lived here for the first three years, including the one-year renovations I did. Then in late 2011 I was able to move out into a real apartment so I didn’t have to live with my work anymore. So that marked a change with me in a lot of ways — in the way The Fridge was being run and kind of the role in my personal life as well because it was really my life 24/7. And that’s what I think made us explode on the scene because I was always here, always doing it.

What kind of events do you do? I know you’ve done some live painting.

We do some live painting events. Over the years we’ve done, we’ve had over 1,000 artists in this space. It’s a lot — I mean visual artists, dance, theater. And even one-night art shows or live art events. This has become the home of a pretty burgeoning live poetry scene.

Are you preparing for an event right now?

No, that was from a DJ event. We rent the place out for private events. So, for example, on inauguration night, there was a private rental here, and I DJ’ed. So that’s my DJ equipment.

Oh, so you DJ as well?

Occasionally. I don’t as much anymore. But yeah, I have a large collection of vinyl records that I love to play around with. I probably have 4,000 vinyl records. Way too many.

What’s your favorite kind of music?

Phew, that’s a tough one.

I know that’s hard asking a musician what’s their favorite music!

Yeah, it’s — I guess R&B and soul. Jazz I guess. And that leads into all kind of music. I like electronic music — not necessarily hard electronic music, but stuff from the

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