By Suzanne Volmer
Boston, MA – From the dusty landscape of the Big Dig, the SoWa Art+Design District emerged as an accessible phenomenon to become the ‘it” location for contemporary art galleries in Boston. SoWa is buzzing on First Friday when galleries have their openings from 5-9 p.m. The public is, of course, welcome during other stated business days; however, First Fridays have a nice block party vibe that is sophisticated and bohemian, with evenings that are fun with family and friends, solo or as a date night activity.
Harrison Avenue’s Thayer Street block is a pedestrian promenade pinched between two nearly identical buildings numbered 450 and 560 Harrison Avenue. The promenade stretches straight through to Albany Street. It is landscaped to create a sense of place framing architectural characteristics like spatial openness, which is achieved by a subterranean undercut to expose lower level galleries. This allows exhibition spaces sun while sheltering them with the grid of a catwalk above that leads to galleries on a main level. Terraced planting frames 450 with curls and swirls to focus attention on brick walkways that lead to more galleries and boutiques and the building’s main entrance. Upon entering folks can go up in the building to visit artist studios.
Across the promenade utilizing its upper floors for residential space, 460 also dedicates its two lower floors to the gallery paradigm. It adds to that design offices and a concentration of décor purveyors, clothing boutiques and DIY shops. GTI, which manages the overall property, seems to aim for a ratio of 60 to 70 percent galleries in the mix. Fountain Street Fine Art, FEZ Home and the International Poster Gallery (from Newbury Street) are newly on the scene in 2017 making this their first autumn in the neighborhood.
What keeps the district fresh is that exhibitions usually change monthly. The panorama’s changing prerogative is often relevant to current events as much content explores artist’s interiority or invented narratives. Art on view can have a flavor of the month feel emphasizing one medium over another, but there are always areas including the full spectrum of drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, installation, digital and multimedia work. The multimedia work might include light and sound. Everything is available for purchase, which means anyone can have a piece of the experience; the art as memorabilia, the art as meaning, the art as a sign of the times, or art as an indicator of the future. Take your pick, SoWa has huge variety.
As sort of an early indicator it is worth saying that the September/October show offerings are leaning toward abstract work. This is refreshing, as narrative work in recent months has prevailed. Of course, every style can be seen given the range of venues of this district, but among the current shows consider for a moment the power behind the abstract paintings of Jeannie Motherwell who will show fluid color compositions at Rafius Fane Gallery through October 22. Yes, she is Robert Motherwell’s daughter, so you might say abstract vocabulary is in her blood.
Thinking further about abstraction it is interesting that Bob Oppenheim, who has had a studio at 450 Harrison Avenue since its beginning, will show across the promenade in the 460 building at Yezerski Gallery from October 13 through November 14. This is not Oppenheim’s first show with Howard, but each time that the artist has exhibited, he has explored different qualities of abstract painting, different topics, thoughts and emotions. Those familiar with Harrison Avenue will realize this September that Howard Yezerski has returned to being a sole proprietor. What was last year’s Miller Yezerski is this year’s Howard Yezerski Gallery. Yezerski is a long-time supporter of contemporary art. He has a full roster of artists he shows regularly. He moved to this district from Newbury Street to be a part of SoWa’s lively scene.
SoWa morphs each season and among obvious changes this September is that Carroll and Sons Gallery, which previously anchored the entrance to the Thayer block on Harrison is no longer. Instead, Joseph Carroll will continue his presence at 450 having downsized to space on the 4th floor. Ellen Miller (formerly of Miller Yezerski) also has downsized. In conversations with them both it is clear that they will be incubating rather than going away. Their respective upper floor spaces will allow them to show artwork to clients and represent artists with whom they have existing relationships.
Also newsworthy is that this October, Galatea will be structured as an exhibiting foundation where works are sold. Re-configuration will have the effect of enlisting greater volunteerism from its membership. It will have a new director so that Marjorie Kaye can step away from that duty to have time for her own work. This artist is having a good year, having won the Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grant from the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. She will show at Galatea in October and exhibit at PAAM soon. She is subletting a friend’s studio space at 450 this year as a way to try out whether she likes creating artwork in the neighborhood daily (likely she will).
To be honest, last season, the 460 Harrison building enjoyed perhaps greatest popularity in foot traffic due to the newness of this section along the promenade. Nearby 450’s catwalk galleries always have strong attendance. Kingston Gallery (mid-catwalk at 450 Harrison Avenue) will have its opening September 8 with the main gallery devoted to photographs by Kathleen Gerdon Archer, polypropylene prints on Sintra, that explore abstraction.
SoWa extends for blocks as a neighborhood along Harrison Avenue down side streets and includes, along the way, signature spaces like Boston Sculptors Gallery and Adelson Galleries on Harrison Avenue proper. On Waltham Street, which is slightly farther afield, an interesting light on the horizon (perhaps a call before going location) is Pinkcomma. It is worth checking out if you are curious about seeing a gallery within an architecture and design firm (over,under). Pinkcomma founded Design Biennial Boston and most recently has curated the 2017 iteration sited on the Greenway, which continues through October 11. This year’s Design Biennial sponsors are The Rose Kennedy Greenway Nature Conservancy, Autodesk BUILD space, Boston Society of Architects, The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Boston Art Commission.
Opening September 12 at Pinkcomma will be a show featuring photographs of Deer Island by Mark Lamster, the architecture critic of the Dallas Daily Mail. Pinkcomma’s programming is interesting and it offers maps for sale detailing examples of Boston’s Brutalist Architecture; they recently had a concept show called “Best Sandwiches” of Jennifer Bonner’s architectural prototypes that looked at that topic with whimsy.
Galleries are in some cases stores, and in other situations, platforms to develop new ideas and engage in risk taking — sometimes it can be wonderful when what is achieved is a synergy of all these things. Go with an open mind. Think of acquiring art that speaks to you.
(South End Open Studios takes place on September 16 and 17; for more information, visit useaboston.com. For the latest schedule of SoWa Art + Design District events, visit www.sowaboston.com/calendar.)