Portland’s changing art scene: Aucocisco Galleries to close, Constellation Gallery seeks new home

The Portland Art Gallery opened last week on Middle Street.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
The Portland Art Gallery opened last week on Middle Street.
Posted July 31, 2014, at 2:50 p.m.

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Jack Leonardi is managing partner of the new Portland Art Gallery on Middle Street. Portraits by Maine artists, including David Edward Allen (shown here), fill the space.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Jack Leonardi is managing partner of the new Portland Art Gallery on Middle Street. Portraits by Maine artists, including David Edward Allen (shown here), fill the space.
Aucocisco Gallery, owned by Andy Verzosa, will close next month after 15 years in Portland.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Aucocisco Gallery, owned by Andy Verzosa, will close next month after 15 years in Portland.

PORTLAND, Maine — Change is brewing in the Portland art scene.

After 15 years, Aucocisco Galleries, a seminal presence on the Maine art scene, will shutter operations next month. The move isn’t reflective of the art business, though, owner Andy Verzosa said.

The closure is about the urgencies of life and love.

“I am not closing because business is bad. I got married and want to do something different,” said Verzosa.

The Exchange Street gallery will close on Sept. 12 when Verzosa moves to Connecticut to be with his husband.

“You need to let go of some things so other things will manifest,” he said in his templelike gallery on Wednesday.

Verzosa has curated and mounted shows from Bernard Langlais to rising Portland artist Aaron Stephan.

Art, like love, is a fickle business. But Verzosa, a Maine College of Art graduate and Portland native, stuck it out through the Great Recession, long Maine winters and the city’s galloping gentrification. He is leaving a labor of love for a greater love: his husband, David Whaples, who works at the Yale University Art Gallery. They are settling in Newington, Connecticut.

“It’s emotional when you are saying goodbye to a lot of people,” said Verzosa, who teared up when a friend stopped in to wish him well. “The community in this city … it’s such a great place.”

As news spread across the peninsula, Verzosa’s reputation as a leader of the state’s creative economy crystallized.

“Andy was so embedded in the Portland arts community, he worked with so many artists from established to emerging as well as commercial,” said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland. “He has a keen eye for artistic quality that is really appreciated and will be be missed.”

At the same time, two new galleries recently have opened downtown. Portland Art Gallery and Roux & Cyr International Fine Art Gallery have recently hung their shingles.

The striking Portland Art Gallery on Middle Street, with soaring ceilings, is featuring a dozen Maine artists.

“This is contemporary, decorative art that has broad appeal,” said Jack Leonardi, managing partner of Art Collector Maine, a marketing model for artists which also runs Gallery at the Grand in Kennebunk. “We don’t look at ourselves as a museum, we are in the business of promoting art to buyers.”

Meanwhile, in the arts district, Constellation Gallery is seeking a new home.

“It is a time of change in the arts district,” said City Councilor David Marshall, who is treasurer of the Maine Artist Collective, which owns Constellation. “We opened when the economy was completely depressed. The opportunity that we had five years ago is not the same today. It is an evolving district.”

Indeed, much has changed since Aucocisco opened in the State Theatre Building on Congress Street in 2000. Back then “people met for coffee to talk and read the paper,” said Verzosa.

Now he competes with iPhones and Facebook, making it harder “to get people to stand in front of artwork and buy it.” Gentrification and competition for key storefronts is also having an effect on places like Constellation, which was wooed into a vacant space in 2009 and has enjoyed below-market rent ever since. Now that the building at 511 Congress St. has changed hands, an increase in rent is inevitable.

“We are exploring our options,” said Marshall.

Verzosa opens his last show, featuring abstract and figurative work by Maine artists Bernard Langlais and charcoal drawings by Dozier Bell, on Friday. It may be the gallery’s final First Friday Art Walk, a concept Verzosa dreamed up in October 2000.

The monthly celebration of art downtown, where galleries, stores and restaurants synchronize events, draws up to 5,000 people monthly, said Hutchins.

“Portland really owes a debt to Andy for being a founder of the art walk; he managed it for years, maintained the listing, he was a central organizer and set out a vision that it remain for fun and for free,” said Hutchins. “He can be proud leaving Portland with a tremendous legacy.”

The art scene, like the city itself, is in flux.

“The city has a thriving restaurant scene and nightlife, retail spaces are full. It’s a great symbol for where the city has been and has come from,” said Marshall. “Now that we are coming out of the recession, we are preparing for an actual phase beyond this.”

 

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