In the heart of the South End lies an art lover’s oasis, 450 Harrison Ave. Upon arrival, it is apparent that 450 Harrison is not a single craft shop or gallery, but it is, in fact, a dead end side street paved with red brick that spans back nearly a block. Hanging over each door in the narrow, red-bricked inlet are numerous signs, each with a different name and a different owner. As you begin to process the sight, it soon is discernable that this hidden nook is the home of an eclectic mix of Boston fine art galleries.
The first step to paying a visit to this small part of Boston’s fine art world is to know exactly what direction to head. The location of 450 Harrison is very close to where E. Berkley St. and Harrison Ave. intersect. It really can’t be missed.
Finding your way to gallery row is one challenge, but knowing the opportune time to visit 450 Harrison is an entirely different obstacle. Every month the galleries at 450 Harrison synchronize their schedules on the first Friday of the month. They open their doors to the public in an evening event, and show off their new exhibitions. This, arguably, is the best time to visit the galleries, because artists, owners, and collectors are in the area, dressed to impress, and ready to further the dialogue of the fine arts world.
First Friday can get a bit daunting if you don’t know exactly what gallery to go to. There are so many versatile artists being shown at 450 Harrison, it would be a shame to miss their work. Fear not! There are a select few galleries at 450 Harrison that are a must-see on any experienced gallery-hoppers list. The versatility these handful of galleries have can satisfy many different artistic tastes.
Type of Art: Contemporary Mixed Media
Address: 450 Harrison Ave
As you open the glass door of Bromfield Gallery you step onto a lightly colored wooden floor, and are surrounded by white walled space. The area is not a square, but instead a narrow alcove that is greater in length than in width, adding a specific uniqueness to the gallery setting.
The gallery chooses two resident artists every show to highlight their work. The spring show exhibits the art work of Betsy Duval: “Infinite Progression” and Laurie Alpert: “ Milori Blue. The cyclical change of artists is unique to Bromfield Gallery. Each artist that shows at Bromfield Gallery goes through a rigorous process to be a part of the artistic cooperative the gallery has established since 1975. Now there are approximately twenty-six members, as part of the cooperative.
Gary Duehr, manager of Bromfield Gallery and part time photographer, explains the application process for the gallery: “We look at their work online, and at a subsequent meeting they bring some work in person to talk with us about. And, if they are accepted at that point there is a three-month trial period. By the end of that time they become a member.” The process seems like a difficult few hurdles to get over, but once a member as an artist you have complete control over what you make, the exhibition, and curation of the show. “ The artist answers to know one,” Duehr explains.
In the spring exhibition the artistic talent of Betsy Duval particularly shines through in the concept and execution of her work. She lined the front room of the gallery with small 3”x 3” abstract painted post-its. One line bifurcated each wall in a single leveled linear path. Duval also expressed in her written artist statement that, “People seem to love these colorful little moments, yet when I show them in more formal gallery settings people question their substance or endurance, with questions, such as, “is this paper acid free?” She in this exhibition in turn enlarged the scale of these moments she created on the post-it notes and used new mediums.
What was most enticing about Duval’s exhibition was the table in the center with packets of blank post-it notes and a bowl full of pastels. This set up is an invitation to interact with the artist, and with the people who have already posted notes on the gallery wall. This interaction becomes a silent dialogue between strangers, which is a new and abstract form of communication.
Type of art: Contemporary painting, sculpture, and photography.
Address: 450 Harrison, No. 57
The Chase Young Gallery is located at the end of the 450 Harrison inlet on the far left. As you walk into the gallery it is pleasing to see that the space is one large square, which makes all the artwork visible at once. It may be overwhelming at first, but it enables you to find out which piece captures your attention at first glance.
Chase Young Gallery has a list of rules and regulations for artists to apply to have their work shown in the gallery, that can be found on their website. Unlike Bromfield, The Chase Young Gallery keeps shuffling artists from many different places. But still emphasizes a focus on paintings, sculpture and photography in contemporary context.
This time around Stephen Coyle has his contemporary paintings decorating the space. In particular one painting of his captured my attention. The way that he depicts people, or moments in an image, is through motion. This is quite prevalent in his new body of work, which make his mundane subjects more interesting to view.
Type of art: Ceramics/ Installations
Address: 450 Harrison
Vessels Gallery isn’t like a regular gallery. To be honest, it looks like a store where decorative objects delicately sit on shelves. Though, once you begin to really look and even touch the pottery—vessels policy allows the viewers to touch what is on display— the craftsmanship, materials, and beauty place it in a gallery setting.
Like the Chase Young Gallery, Vessels also has a wide range of artists who show in the space. Their pottery comes from the United States, Europe, and Asia. In their spring show there is a hodgepodge of different ceramics artists from different areas of the world.
One artist in particular, Naoko Matsumoto, is from the New England area, and her new collection of pottery resides at Vessels. This potter’s work stood out on the walls, because each pot precisely crafted with a specific theme in vision. She created a collection of teapots that mimic the natural beauty of the sea. This mimetic concept works for her new body of work, because each teapot is sea foam blue, but structured as if it were a coral, barnacle, or even a sea star, a unifying effect..
Type of art: Photography
Address: 450 Harrison
Strictly a photography gallery, one would think isolating a business to one medium is confining, but Kayafas has a lot to offer. Their gallery space is large enough for two other galleries to fit inside of it, and they utilize their space by compartmentalizing each section with walls that do not touch the ceiling or the floor. No, the walls do not float, but instead are elevated by poles. It is a very dynamic set up, because the fact that the walls don’t touch the ground creates the illusion of more space, when in fact placing walls in the middle of the floor makes the space smaller.
Gallery Kayafas has a list of exhibiting artists, they are not residence, and they do not have to apply, the gallery just represents them. In the galleries spring show two photographers exhibit their talents in their latest bodies of work, Robert Richfeild and Aaron Siskind. Both are worth noting, but Robert Richfeild’s concept behind the artwork is haunting and sentimental.
Richfeild’s body of entitled “Perpetuated” is shot in rural Mexican cemeteries. Richfeild’s images reflect the idea of the famous line written by Octavio Paz: “Death defines a life. In viewing Richfeild’s portfolio it is no secret he set out to find the meaning within Paz’s words. His images bring perspective to Boston a visual image of a cultural tradition, not everyone is aware of. The colors, the trinkets, the messages, flowers, jewelry all of these material items are given to the dead for their passage to the next life. It is eerily mesmerizing, and almost feels as though you are in the presence of the dead resting in peace.
Type of art: Sculpture
Address: 486 Harrison Ave.
Boston Sculptor’s Gallery is a cooperative art gallery with thirty-four members participating in yearly shows. The gallery, of course, only shows sculpture pieces. The space is given to two resident artists each month. Of course the artists have free range to work with whatever materials, or types of sculpture they wish to explore, there is no preference to what type of structures have to be built.
In the spring show artist Joseph Wheelwright has taken over the enormous front room with little miniature wooden and bronze sculptures. His show is entitled “Roots: A riot of cavorting root figures.” The sculptures are miniature figures of couples and triplets distorting their little arms and legs in unattainable positions. The front room feels wild and fierce as you walk through it to admire each mastered pose of the sculptor and his sculptures. They look as though they are dancing, and they beckon to you to join in. It is a show that shouldn’t be missed!