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ON SOUTHIE: SOUTH BOSTON ART ASSOCIATION

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Suddenly, there’s an art gallery on South Boston’s West Broadway, just down the street from the Russian-owned liquor store. Next door to the Irish Bakery. You can’t miss it, since it’s the only art gallery on Broadway. And most appropriately, there is a painting in oil by Maureen Murphy, a modern day still life of a Dunkin Donuts bag and cup of coffee hanging in the window. And with this first announcement, it is easy to see that this is not a Starbucks kind of gallery.

Pauline Magarone is one of a small group of artists from the South Boston Art Association who’ve established this commercial outpost for the organization. Her own photographs hang in the corner of the room, lovely and delicate scenes from her lifetime in the neighborhood. Today she sits at the desk at the back of the room. The gallery sells three dollar postcards and three thousand dollar paintings, so I ask her who she thinks the ideal client for this gallery would be. She replies,

“You know, the old timers come in and they like the Dan McColes and the pictures of landscapes. But some of the younger types, the professionals that’ve moved here, they like the more abstract work.” She points to John Provenzano’s contribution, Sugar Ray Robinson, a big collage-like oil painting that jumps from the wall. “Like that one. I could see that one hanging in a loft somewhere.”

It is easy to see Pauline’s observation in terms of the neighborhood outside the storefront window. The long time residents find resonance in the tangible, concrete visualizations of their memories of a place while the yuppies who’ve invaded of late gravitate toward the interpretive, abstract possibilities of what the neighborhood might become. But perhaps this is to binary, too simplistic a reading of her sense of what appeals to the people who stop by.

“We’re all artists who either grew up here or live here,” Pauline says. The evolution of the neighborhood is vivid in an anecdote she tells about Dan McCole, who hid his painting from his friends when growing up for fear they’d think he was a sissy. And that Southie still exists in places, as anyone who has ever tried to stop into the Teamster’s Pub or the Clock Tavern for a beer can attest [1]. But today, the Clock Tavern stands gutted, ready for renovation like so many other places on this land-fill peninsula. The tension of that change seems captured somehow in this little gallery. Perhaps in this regard, the eclectic blend of paintings on display rightly captures the strange, evolving sensibility of South Boston, where the recent West African immigrants might do their shopping at O’Callaghan’s convenience store.

“We’re not like Fort Point,” she tells me, which to her mind is in South Boston, but spiritually not of Southie. “Well, we’re trying to celebrate Southie here.” She says this without venom or bitterness, but with the satisfaction of someone who knows a city’s neighborhood in a way I can only imagine and envy. Even more impressive is the chthonic energy that gives life to the place. This is a gallery to show paintings by people who live this neighborhood’s houses and lend their spirit to the good things and embroidered memories of the place. The paintings and photographs here are mostly provincial and clubby (like Southie), but also sometimes surprisingly intimate and quite genuine (like Southie).

So now, with this little storefront next door to the bakery, Broadway has an art gallery. If you find yourself heading east on Broadway, stop in, take a look and talk to the artists who maintain the place as they document the streets around them. But do it soon, before the painting of the Dunkin Donuts bag in the window becomes Still Life with Starbucks Double Latte.

[1] Shortly after moving to the neighborhood, I went into the Clock Tavern to check out the place. I was promptly ordered to buy a round of drinks for the five or six men sitting at the bar. After that, they all just ignored me. My foray into the Teamster’s Pub was more engaging, especially when the bartender somehow magically yet correctly identified the friend I was with as Jewish and then tried to sell us Sacred Heart of Jesus cards designed to lessen the time of loved ones in Purgatory. It was nice to know that the tentacles of the Reformation have not yet reached the corner of 2nd and D Streets.


The South Boston Arts Association Gallery is located at 369 West Broadway, at the intersection of Broadway and E Streets. The gallery is open from Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm. A website is in development.


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