FIRST FRIDAY CROWD I: Visitors browse Howard Yezerski Gallery’s new digs at 460 Harrison.
By September, the Harrison Avenue gallery district seemed to have become a zombie, stiffly stumbling forward, as the citywide exhibit-space upheaval that began this past spring caught up with the neighborhood. Ten galleries were shuttered across Boston in 2008, seven of them in the South End, driven mostly by expiring leases and gloomy economic forecasts. The number of local venues deeply engaged in the future of contemporary art — particularly locally-made contemporary art — shrank. This fall, with each day auguring further economic catastrophe, the future looked even worse.
But this past week, Harrison Avenue came back to life, abuzz with hundreds of people out for the First Friday gallery receptions. All told, eight galleries have opened or changed addresses in the district since February. On Friday four of those galleries participated in the monthly showcase for the first time since settling in. Two more spaces are slated to open there next month.
Over the past decade, the South End has increasingly challenged Newbury Street as the heart of the city's art scene. This year's changes shifted the center of gravity to Harrison Avenue. "Before we were a destination because of the uniqueness of First Fridays," says Arlette Kayafas of GALLERY KAYAFAS. "Now I think we will be a destination because of that, but also the quality of the work."
Friday's visitors and dealers were energized, hopeful, and happily surprised. The rearrangements landed substantial players in more prominent storefronts, making the neighborhood feel as if — maybe — it was in better shape than it was a year ago.
The upheaval has made the South End feel excitingly new, but has diminished Newbury Street. Economic nervousness abounds. And some worry that this new world order may mean more shows of less adventurous work.
This year's gallery shakeup has been nothing short of seismic. Over the course of 2008, the gallery building at 450 Harrison Avenue — where multi-year leases were up and rents were increasing — lost ALLSTON SKIRT GALLERY, BERNARD TOALE GALLERY (whose namesake, Bernard Toale, switched his focus from exhibiting to consulting), Michael Price's MPG CONTEMPORARY, GALLERY XIV (which last fall had taken over the 450 space previously occupied by Locco Ritoro), and JULIE CHAE GALLERY (which opened in 2007 in space vacated by Genovese/Sullivan when it moved to Andover; Chae now plans to move to New York).
Nearby, in the South End, SPACE OTHER gallery at 63 Wareham Street closed and RHYS GALLERY at 401 Harrison Avenue moved to Los Angeles. Back on Newbury Street, PEPPER GALLERY, JUDY ANN GOLDMAN FINE ART, and BETH URDANG GALLERY shuttered (though Urdang says she's looking for another Newbury Street location).
Then there was the game of musical chairs. HOWARD YEZERSKI GALLERY, a Newbury Street fixture, moved to 460 Harrison, a redeveloped building that began taking tenants just this fall. Yezerski's new space opened Friday and is seen by many as an anchor to the building. STEVEN ZEVITAS GALLERY doubled its space by moving down from an interior unit on the third floor of 450 Harrison to one of the storefronts there. Frank Roselli moved his SOPRAFINA GALLERY from a garden-level storefront at 450 Harrison up one flight into what had been MPG Contemporary. Kayafas doubled its space by moving from one of the garden storefronts at 450 Harrison upstairs to Gallery XIV's space. Kayafas has long specialized in photography, but may add some video, painting, and sculpture. DIAMOND-NEWMAN FINE ARTS moved from the third floor of 450 Harrison downstairs to the storefront Allston Skirt had occupied.
MILLER BLOCK GALLERY, which opened in 1990, moved from 14 Newbury (lease was up) to Pepper's space at 38 Newbury in June. Ellen Miller is splitting from her long-time partner Katie Block and will run the gallery solo. John Colan moved his HALLSPACE gallery from Roxbury to 950 Dorchester Avenue. ARTANA, which primarily features traditional landscapes or expressionist paintings by New England artists, moved from Brookline to 355 Boylston Street, near the Public Garden, in October.
Boston's also attracted some new galleries of late, including CARROLL AND SONS, which former Toale gallery director Joseph Carroll launched in much of Toale's old space on Harrison. Ami Bennitt opened SPACE 242 on East Berkeley Street in January. And on Friday night, Stephanie Walker, former director of Newbury Street's Chase Gallery, debuted WALKER CONTEMPORARY gallery in Kayafas's old space and KHAKI GALLERY, a Wellesley gallery and frame shop, opened a branch at 460 Harrison. "This is where everything happens," Nahid Khaki says of the South End.
Next month, two more galleries are slated to open at 460 Harrison: GALERIA CUBANA, a branch of a Provincetown gallery specializing in contemporary Cuban art, and ANTHONY GREANEY gallery, a contemporary-art venue run by Greaney, who currently designs and installs exhibits at Harvard's Peabody Museum.
Other Boston galleries are contemplating switches, including KIDDER SMITH GALLERY on Newbury, which would like more space and may have to move because its building recently changed owners. JUDI ROTENBERG GALLERY, also on Newbury, has ambitions to expand.