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Surprising Finds in Provincetown

PROVINCETOWN - The Julie Heller Gallery, one of the mainstays of the Provincetown gallery scene, is also one of the few that is not located on bustling Commercial Street. It’s a weather-beaten beach shack sitting in the sand at the end of Gosnold Street. The building was the Box Office Museum for the legendary Provincetown Playhouse, where Eugene O’Neill staged his early plays nearly a century ago.

Works hang salon-style on the wall of the tiny, jam-packed space. There’s a rare Hans Hofmann color print, “Composition in Blue,” for instance, and a lugubrious and imposing biblical painting by early modernist Marguerite Zorach, “The Expulsion.” Other pieces lean against the baseboards in stacks. Heller specializes in the 20th-century modernists who passed through Provincetown, but here at the gallery’s satellite, Julie Heller East, on Commercial Street opposite the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, you can also find work by contemporary artists.

Both places feel like treasure troves. You have to be carful not to stub your toe on the art, and you may need to prowl through piles of it to find a gem you didn’t even know you were looking for

On Gosnold Street, Heller is now spotlighting Douglas Brown, a self-trained artist who worked in the 1920s and 1930s, traveling around painting watercolors of vernacular architecture and the occasional portrait. It’s a refreshing and strange body of work, bearing the marks of someone who never was properly taught principles of perspective and volume, yet in his wavering lines and smart use of color, captured something original and true.

“Cabrer...Inc.,” for instance, shows a curiously alive building bright as a strawberry, with an airy porch along the second floor and palm tree branches floating in from the edges. The details are precise, if a bit loopy - the roof is slightly lopsided, and the walls fan out on either side beyond the building, as if it were some kind of foldable stage set.

At Julie Heller East, there’s a wall titled “Master Works,” which features items such as a 1935 Milton Avery print depicting a droll Louis Weisenberg, an artist colleague of Avery’s, with slightly pursed lips, as if he is assessing a painting, and a lush, undated monoprint by Oliver Chaffee, “Two Fish,” with two pale smears of fish crossing paths in a black sea deliciously blotted and dabbed into watery blossoms.

On another wall hangs Karl Knaths’s “Vista Del Mar,” a shimmering abstraction in which he drapes color in stuttering and slashing brushstrokes on a slender scaffolding of black lines, either delicately curved, or bold and vertical. His evocation of space, contracting and expanding, is terrific.

Drop in at either gallery - you don’t know what you might find.

[Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe]

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