Sitting on a beach in Provincetown, on a Saturday morning following the traditional Friday evening “gallery stroll” that the locals call “gallery creep,” I try to verbalize impressions, visions that I found engaging. I pull together a mental file that I can store somewhere, maybe put words to. There are many galleries that cling to nostalgia here, traditional landscapes, seascapes and still lifes galore, most are hard to be emotional about, unfair to criticize. They are simply there, they always have and will always be done by artists in P-town because, like the drag queens on Commercial Street hoping to snare tourists into bars by artfully dancing in sky high heels and feathers, they are expected to be. The light, the water, the gulls, the rocks: all good.
Then there are galleries that are faux hip. They cover their walls with strange, sensuous, moody paintings and sculpture that are to art what designer handbags are to fashion. Really, really tired and really, really wrong. These galleries are one notch below the ones featuring cute craft made from old typewriter keys that are now manufactured in China, the inner workings of clocks, old scrabble letters, collaged fabric and Japanese paper on distressed wood…. One needs a shot of insulin to deal with the sugar high. Pass-a-dena.
Each year hope springs eternal that the groups of artists that band together to form vanity galleries will produce something unexpected and that not being dictated by a curatorial vision their work will enlighten and refresh, take risks or create a cacophony of relevant talent. So far this has not happened in Boston and it is not happening in Provincetown.
Ah, but one gallery that is off the beaten track steals my heart every year. Julie Heller’s crowded little shop of beauty on Gosnold Street is packed with work, some mounted shoulder to shoulder on the wall, while much of it is on the floor, framed, separated by brown paper, six, eight deep. This is not a gallery that one breezes into while engaging in clever talk with other art mavens, munching pretzels and cold wine. There is nothing to eat or drink. In fact, my low-fat, low-sugar pomegranate ice cream was taken away before I could crouch down to look at the pieces by Provincetown artists who work here, but also lots of timeless, original work from the early days of this fishing village. The thrill of the hunt was worth the ice cream melting into a blob.
But thinking about Provincetown’s art galleries brought me around to the art scene in Boston. There are parallels and there is a discussion called for, an analysis of the status quo, which is what Big, Red and Shiny has been about. It takes a sensitivity to the zeitgeist and intelligence to walk that line between rabid negativity and fluffy smugness. The old Museum School adage about art that is big, red and shiny being trendy, commercial and undesirable has been tested over and over and BRS has questioned everything without condemnation. Every voice has been given a microphone, every artform has been shepherded into “print.”
It makes me sad not to be able to hang out here anymore, to clear my mind while hitting the keys. It has been a distinct privilege to be a contributor. Thank you Micah and Matt.
All images are courtesy of the artists and Boston.com