After 10 and 17 years of living on the Island, respectively, Tanya Augoustinos and Maria Westby were thinking of moving off-Island. They needed a change. The arts scene in the wintertime was unsatisfying, and their day jobs were getting a little dull.
“We were ready to get out of here,” Ms. Westby said. “We were wondering, how do we change our lives? It was either move on or bring something here.”
In mid-May Ms. Westby and Ms. Augoustinos found the red brick warehouse behind the site of the former Island Furnishings on State Road. At 4,000 square feet, it had high ceilings, and zero windows, a stark industrial feel. It was just what they were looking for. “There are no other spaces like this,” Ms. Augoustinos said. The walls of the warehouse called out to the couple — they were like blank canvasses waiting to be painted. Perfectly suited to hang contemporary art.
In early June, the two signed a lease, and began furiously planning the A Gallery summer season. Within the partnership, Ms. Westby, a Swede who studied architecture and used to own a shed-building business, handles the manual labor and design, which first involved tearing down some walls, and installing 120 heads of track lighting.
Ms. Augoustinos, a native of Johannesburg who previously owned the e’kaya gallery in Vineyard Haven, handles the artists. “She’s more the eye, and I’m more the hand,” Ms. Westby said.
They are confident that Island homeowners crave contemporary art. In her work cleaning windows, Ms. Westby has kept an eye on the artistic tastes of wealthy Island homeowners. “They have a lot of contemporary work,” of famous artists hanging on their walls, she said. But it’s work that was purchased elsewhere. “It’s a market we haven’t gotten into. It’s about getting it into their heads that they can see and buy it on the Island,” she said. How to convey that message to patrons? “Just being here and promoting the artists as best we can,” Ms. Augoustinos answered.
The response has been positive, they say, having counted more than 400 people at the first opening of the season in early July.
“The Island is hungry for something different,” Ms. Augoustinos said. “It’s about identifying a gap that isn’t being filled.”
The gallery will represent a variety of modern creativity this summer, continuing this weekend with a solo show of Chilmark summer resident Mariana Cook’s photography.
Ms. Cook, the last protÃ©gÃ© of Ansel Adams, is best known for character studies of people in and out of their public lives. In 2007, she moved away from portraiture to produce a body of work called Close at Hand, which was mostly landscapes, close-ups, and light abstractions. Her current work, to be shown at a gallery st arting this weekend, is published in a book called Stone Walls, which pairs her photography of stone walls found all over the world with essays penned on the subject of the stone wall.
The first photographs of the series were taken in Chilmark, the up-Island town known for its characteristic stone walls. “I never paid much attention to the boundary wall, until I saw where the [my neighbor’s cows] were able to get across, and realized how beautiful the wall was,” Ms. Cook said. For the project she spent eight years of traveling to almost every continent. “Finally a friend told me I had to stop,” she said.
Ms. Cook has summered on the Island for years, but hasn’t shown her work here for some time. She called Ms. Augoustinos an asset to the Island art scene because she takes artistic risks and has the space to give artists a solo show. “The season is very short on the Vineyard, so I have the sense that galleries on the Vineyard have weighted their seasons toward group showing, to increase the possibility of appealing to more people,” Ms. Cook said. “The Vineyard needs a place like A Gallery.”
In an effort to bring some urban industrial atmosphere to the Island, the owners emphasize their wish to show art that would be relevant elsewhere. “There are some really amazing landscapes out there,” Ms. Augoustinos said. “But a lot of galleries want to play it safe and show only what is commercially viable. You can go to any large town or small city and see work that is universal, and doesn’t reflect only what’s local. The Island attracts people from all over the world, so we want art that will reflect that.”
One particularly universal object is Ganesha, a robotic sculpture designed by local artist Tim Laursen. She’s blue, fuzzy and elephant-like, and wears a crown made of pig skulls. She regularly delights visitors with her percussive sounds and colorful lights. “She’s a smash hit with all ages,” Ms. Augoustinos said.
The owners invite installation artists to approach them with more site-specific work, as they have the ceiling height and electricity to support such endeavors. Artist receptions are held on the loading dock-turned-courtyard, which juts off the larger room of the gallery. Later in the summer, A Gallery will host a solo show for local artist Rez Williams, to display his survey paintings of a fleet off New Bedford and Fairhaven. Cindy Kane’s paintings, works on paper and mixed media will hang in August.
An opening reception will be held for photographer Mariana Cook from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at A Gallery, 412 State Road Rear in Vineyard Haven. Call 744-327-9422 for information.