Provincetown: Art with a View

View of Provincetown Harbor from the East End of Commercial Street, where most of the town's galleries are located

Call me a creature of habit, but at the Provincetown galleries I find myself responding to the same artists and galleries summer after summer. (I stay at the same place, and go to the same beach—Herring Cove—and ride the same bike trails, too.)

Out of many possible galleries, this season I again turned to these: Albert Merola, Ernden, Kobalt and Rice Polak, all within a couple of blocks of one another on Commercial Street; and the DNA Gallery one block over on Bradford.
At the Albert Merola Gallery, although a Jacqueline Humphries show was in the front gallery, it was a small piece in the back gallery—in a sightline from the front door—by Provincetown resident Helen Miranda Wilson that beckoned: small, imprecisely geometric, luminous. I've been a huge fan of her work ever since she switched from landscapes (and I liked those, too). Not to ignore Humphries; her gestural paintings, smaller than what she shows at Green Naftali in New York, are always changing. This year glitter charged her surfaces. Above: Albert Merola Gallery

Looking into the Albert Merola Gallery: A small geometric abstraction in oil by Helen Miranda Wilson.
Below: The painting up close
One thing to know about the Provincetown town gallery season: It's short, roughly May through October, so shows last about two weeks each. Openings are on Friday nights, and the entire art community turns out

At Albert Merola Gallery: Installation wall of paintings by Jacqueline Humphries. Her gesture is familiar, but her surfaces seem newly reflective

At Ernden, this year as last, I liked the work of Carlos Estrada Vega and Linn Meyers. Gallery owner Dennis Costin has an interesting mix of the coolly reductive, such as these artists, and the neo-fauvist. My preferences are, well, you know where they lie. XXX

Left: Carlos Estrada Vega. Right: the little building that houses Ernden Gallery (the ocean is just out the back door)

Carlos Estrada Vega at Ernden Gallery. Small constructions in oil paste on canvas

Linn Meyers at Ernden Gallery. I love this piece, which is ink on Mylar or vellum, one sheet layered over another.

At Kobalt, my buddy Reese Inman showed three small paintings in acrylic whose dot-dot-dot compositions, rendered in layers built up and scraped back, suggest television static or electronic noise in brilliant jolt-the-eye colors against black. The small size pulls you in close; then the color zaps you.

Above: Looking into Kobalt Gallery. Below: Three small paintings by the Boston-based Reese Inman


I also like the constructed grids of Barbara Cohen—not sure if she calls herself a painter or a sculptor, because the work could go both ways. I first saw her work in an otherwise empty storefont a couple of years ago when I biked past, caught a glimpse, stopped short and drove back for another look. (How's this for a bumper sticker: I Brake for Grids).

At Kobalt: Small grid constructions by Barbara Cohen. I also like the gallery's gridded tile floor, below

At Rice Polak, three painters and a sculptor interested me: Steven Baris, a Philadelphia-area painter who works a spatial and floaty kind of geometric abstraction; Rusty Wolfe (sounds like a stripper’s name, no?) whose geometry shares a similar spatial quality but with scores of overlapping circular shapes; Peter Arvidson, whose monochrome(ish) grids in luminous oil are exquistely rendered; and the Boston sculptor Anne Lilly, whose elegant stainless steel constructivist pieces balance machine precision with a whimsical kineticism. You have to see them move. (Disclaimer: Baris and I were in a show together in Philly last year; Lilly and I show at the same gallery in Boston.)

At Rice Polak Gallery. Above: Three acrylic-on- plexiglass abstractions by Steve Baris. Below: Peter Arvidson's elegantly ordered oil-on-canvas grids

At Rice Polak Gallery. Above: Rusty Wolf's exuberant geometries of incised lacquer on board. Below: A stainless steel kinetic sculpture by Anne Lilly

At DNA, a large loft upstairs from the Provincetown Tennis Club (!), a group show that included Eric Aho and Sara Lutz was terrific. Aho, whom I know of as a painter of fairly reductive Vermont landscapes, did some pink-hued, sweepingly gestural dunescapes of Truro (Edward Hopper country), the town just west of here whose spectacular bluffs face Cape Cod Bay. Lutz makes a particular kind of abstraction that looks sweetly pretty from a distance and which turns out to be more satisfyingly stringent when you get up close. (She has a show opening at Lohin Geduld in New York next week.) I’d tell you more, but the gallery’s website is sorely lacking in installation shots and artists’ images, and when I went to look for information about this show, there was no mention of it.

At Lohin Geduld, New York: Sara Lutz, Nautilus, 2007, oil on linen, 30 x 26 inches


Fortunately, I found Cate McQuaid’s Boston Globe review of the show (courtesy of Two Coats of Paint, an excellent blog maintained by Sharon Butler, who posts reviews and essays about painting).

One evening, on a "Wax Walk" that I took with students from my Encaustic Master Class (at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill), these works in encaustic stood out: Deanna Wood at Ernden; Kim Bernard at Bowersock Gallery; Cid Bolduc at Lyman-Eyer; and Cherie Mittenthal at Julie Heller Gallery. (These latter three painters also had work in "Thinking in Wax," the show I juried at Castle Hill.)

Paintings by Deanna Wood, above, and Cid Bolduc, below
Paintings by Kim Bernard, in the window of Bowersock Gallery, above; and pulled from the gallery website, below

Cherie Mittenthal, from her Patron Saint series. This one is Patron Saint of Bad Weather, 14 x 11 inches, encaustic on paper. (If there's one thing you think about in P-town, it's the weather.)

. For those of you who don't know about Provincetown, it's at the very tip of Cape Cod, which extends from the Massachusetts mainland out into the Atlantic like a flexed arm with curled fingertips. P-town is the fingernail of the fingertips. If you've visited ports in Portugal, you get a taste of its maritime flavor, as it was settled by Portuguese fisherfolk. (Improbably, the town of Lahaina on Maui could be its twin, because New England whalers settled that town, bringing their spears and their architectural ideas with them.) Hans Hoffman called it a summer home for many years in the Fifties, and many artists live and work there part-time or yearround. (The Provincetown Art Association and Museum, newly renovated and enlarged, occupies a prominent spot in the East End.) And, if you've ever been to Sheridan Square during the Gay Pride Parade, P-town is a lot like that, too.

Recent sightings: Summer resident John Waters on his bicycle; the comic Kate Clinton in earnest conversation with a friend outside one of the town's many coffee shops; at Packard Gallery, the man who inspired Sex and the City's Mr. Big; and at least four versions of Cher.

It's a nutty and savory mix.

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