Brick-and-mortar galleries outside of New York don't have it easy in these days of art fairs and Internet purchases. In recent years the gallery scene in Boston has taken some sad blows — particularly the loss of LaMontagne Gallery and Anthony Greaney, two keenly original contemporary galleries.
Now, with developer GTI Properties opening a newly refurbished wing along Thayer Street — the 450-460 Harrison Ave. pedestrian thoroughfare — we have an influx of new blood and a handful of veterans relocating to the SoWa gallery district.
It's impossible to gauge a gallery's staying power, or even its aesthetic, from its first exhibition. There are a half-dozen new spaces at 460C Harrison Ave. and more to come; Alpha Gallery has plans to defect from Newbury Street by the end of the year. I visited a few of them, and discovered a lively, hopeful vibe.
Rafius Fane Gallery, a large space with windows overlooking Albany Street, anchors the wing. Director Ann Vincenti-Michelman tapped New York artist Tom Butter for the inaugural exhibition. He builds sculptures with steel girders, and plays against that industrial austerity with interactivity and contrasting materials.
For instance, "Watching" features a bridge-like armature outfitted with rotating blades, upon which Butter suspends sheets of transparent vinyl. The viewer can step on a pedal and set the blades turning. The light reflecting on the vinyl ripples and flies. Butter's paintings are softer, gestural abstractions that echo the kinetic and formal qualities of his 3-D work, but they're sweeter, smaller, more intimate — like bonbons after the meal.
Longtime Boston art dealer Beth Urdang opens her new space with a show of rare prints by Alex Katz. Many of these pieces will be familiar to viewers who saw "Alex Katz Prints" at the Museum of Fine Arts in 2012. Katz's Pop art is hard to resist, but that likability can work against him. He pares down figures and scenes to their essences, twisting them into icons. They can be too charming — for instance, the mop-topped, cloyingly adorable "Dog at Duck Trap."
On the other hand, Katz expresses so much with so little. "Day Lily 2" is a jolt of sunshine in its careful color choices: pale coral, gleaming yellow-orange. And with just a few swipes we have languid petals, supporting stems, and a wide-open lily pulling us into its embrace. "Gray Umbrella," a portrait of a woman in the rain, pings with pattern, form, and indeed its contrasts in grays (11 of them!). It appears simpler than it is. Maybe that's always the case with Katz.
T+H Gallery, under the stewardship of co-owner and director Ting Liu, gets off to a strongly contemporary start with "Typology Morphology," a selection of digital media from Alfred University's Institute for Electronic Arts, including works by bigwigs who have worked there, such as Ann Hamilton, Kiki Smith, and Xu Bing.
Hamilton's grid of digital prints from the "phora" series, 12 images of faces from medieval altarpiece sculptures shot with a small surveillance camera, covers one wall with close-ups of painted mouths. The whole series comprises 174 images, but even this morsel conveys the spooky shift in scale, and unnervingly highlights the erotic in works made to be sacred.
For his raucous "Cheryl Side A & B," Oliver Herring photographed a model from all angles, then clipped the photos on a sculpted portrait of her. Here, we have photos of that 3-D work; the whole process shuttles from 2-D to 3-D and back, and the consequential distortions turn the figure into an uncanny idol.
The new Abigail Ogilvy Gallery and Gold Gallery, which relocates from Tremont Street — focus in their first shows mostly on paintings.
Ogilvy puts her stock in emerging artists, such as Keenan Derby, a recent Boston University graduate who makes dense, organic, patterned paintings mixing paint with sand — strong, almost heroic abstractions typical of the BU aesthetic under recently retired John Walker, head of the graduate painting program. They feel earthy and sculptural, yet Derby's clever layering in works such as "Cirrus" also suggests explosions of light or energy.
Also on view are Katie Wild's vinegary, character-driven portraits. In "Outside the Lines," a self-portrait (in character) on Plexiglas, she wears striped pants, a tasseled bra, and a tripod on her head as she does a split. And, just for fun, the collaborative Straw-k makes panda figures out of melted drinking straws. The two black-and-white bears lean toward the cutesy, but apparently they have profound structural integrity: Hello Kitty, meet Superman.
Gold kicks off exhibiting its stable of gallery artists, including local Joerg Dressler, a graceful landscape painter who deftly swerves into abstraction. My pick of the show is German artist Silke Schöner, whose nighttime garden scene “Still Life on Dibond 1” sets lush gestures aglow against a jet-black ground, as if the stems and petals were stirred to being from utter, dark, nothingness.
Tom Butter : Astir
At Rafius Fane Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 26. 508-843-2184, www.rafiusfanegallery.com
Alex Katz : Rare Prints
At Beth Urdang Gallery,
460 Harrison Ave., through
Dec. 24. 781-264-1121, www.bethurdanggallery.com
At T+H Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 28. 401-390-1033, www.tandhgallery.com
Certainty in Possibility
At Abigail Ogilvy Gallery,
460 Harrison Ave., through
Nov. 29. 617-820-5173, www.abigailogilvy.com
In With the New
At Gold Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 3. 857-239-8972, www.au-gallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.