New England

Like a Local: Seven Must-See Art Galleries in Rhode Island

by Alexander Castro  |  Published June 12, 2017

Though the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island holds an influential space in the nation’s art scene. Providence eagerly bills itself as the Creative Capital — a fair assessment, given the prominence of its world-renowned Rhode Island School of Design. However, The Ocean State’s artistic offerings extend far beyond any one city or college campus. Here are seven art galleries worth checking out on your next visit to Lil’ Rhody.

GRIN Contemporary Gallery

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A cosmic happening in Leah Piepgras’s exhibit “Parallel Universe” at GRIN (Photo: GRIN)

Craftsmanship and intellect are always on display at GRIN. Rarely do artists show here without having done their homework. Exhibits tend toward the smaller side with fewer works carefully curated to present cohesive statements. Their erudition isn’t always immediately accessible, but the work is unfailingly enjoyable and intriguing to observe. The exhibits are studiously arranged, never appearing as if slapped together, filled with fodder to keep you thinking long after you leave the gallery. Along with Yellow Peril, GRIN is at the artistic epicenter of Olneyville, a neighborhood that has held on to enough grit and character to support the energies needed for exciting art.

60 Valley Street, Unit 3, Providence

Yellow Peril Gallery

Jennifer Avery’s exhibit "Beast Boutique" (Photo: Yellow Peril Gallery)

Jennifer Avery’s exhibit “Beast Boutique” (Photo: Yellow Peril Gallery)

A popular fixture in the state’s gallery scene since opening in 2011, GRIN’s neighbor Yellow Peril is an ally in elevating Providence to rival Boston and New York City as a destination for stimulating contemporary art. In this regard the two are similar, but Yellow Peril’s programming is quite different. Their offerings tend toward the provocative, punchy and slightly acerbic. Some examples include Jennifer Avery’s grotesquerie of chopped-up dolls and Beanie Babies and Hao Ni’s tableaus of hickeys, broken glass and a chain-smoking wraith. Those with less delirious tastes may prefer the formal sophistication of artists like Joan Backes and Rodrigo Nava. Artists from diverse backgrounds are represented here, another plus given the sometimes homogenous demographics of the state’s arts scene.

60 Valley Street, Unit 5, Providence

Providence College — Galleries

Will Hutnick’s abstract takeover of PC-G (Photo: Erik Gould)

Will Hutnick’s abstract takeover of PC-G (Photo: Erik Gould)

Chicago transplant Jamilee Lacy imported some of the Windy City’s magic when she stepped onboard as director and curator for Providence College’s two exhibition spaces, the Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery and the Reilly Gallery. Close to the nucleus of the Providence arts scene, the exhibits here are consistently top-notch, such as Deb Sokolow’s conspiratorial diagrams, Will Hutnick’s adhesive abstractions and the stunning show of signage in contemporary art. The venue also offers a much comfier viewing experience than the generally ostentatious vibe of other university galleries in Providence.

63 Eaton Street, Providence

Top Drawer Art at the Brass

A rope doll on display at Top Drawer (Photo: Alexander Castro)

A rope doll on display at Top Drawer (Photo: Alexander Castro)

While it’s not the only Rhode Island gallery to showcase the art of people with developmental disabilities, Top Drawer is a welcoming, lively space a few paces from Warren’s downtown district. Beaded canvases, Transformers quilts, cardboard paintings and highly abstracted felines have all been on view. Purchases here (which are notably inexpensive for original artwork) support these bold and inventive artists, who receive commissions on their work. Smaller items and crafts are also available. Given the individuality and verve of Top Drawer’s selections, you’ll likely want to walk away with something.

16 Cutler Street (behind Tom’s Market), Warren

Bristol Art Museum

A sculpture by Leigh Craven at Bristol Art Museum (Photo: Alexander Castro) 

A sculpture by Leigh Craven at Bristol Art Museum (Photo: Alexander Castro)

Despite its name, the Bristol Art Museum is not a massive, collecting institution, but a nearly hidden gem in downtown Bristol. The curatorial selections almost always have an element of unpredictability, with unexpected artists presenting surprises and delights, such as a homecoming exhibit by the Bristol-reared abstract painter Willy Heeks. Past exhibits have featured regional women artists and the arts faculty at a college that is not RISD (the nearby Roger Williams University). The Bristol Art Museum proves that Rhode Island’s sprawling and expansive creative community manifests in even the sleepiest of towns.

10 Wardwell Street, Bristol

Jamestown Arts Center

Ample evidence of JAC’s clean, stripped-down aesthetic (Photo: Jamestown Arts Center)

Ample evidence of JAC’s clean, stripped-down aesthetic (Photo: Jamestown Arts Center)

It’s a hike from Providence, but Jamestown Arts Center is one of the state’s most dedicated and well-run arts spaces. Exhibitions tend toward tasteful abstraction and mid-career Rhody artists who’ve spent considerable time honing their aesthetic lexicons. Group shows and pop-up installations are common, offering audiences variety. Openings are usually well-attended, a strong indicator of the Arts Center’s vitality and importance in the island community of Jamestown.

18 Valley Street, Jamestown

OneWay Gallery

Inside OneWay’s cozy gallery space (Photo: OneWay Gallery)

Inside OneWay’s cozy gallery space (Photo: OneWay Gallery)

Located near the Narragansett Town Beach, OneWay has shuffled around the state, having previously held locations in Providence and Pawtucket. Regardless of locale, gallerist Stephen Cook has carved out a space for the state’s younger and emerging artists. Graffiti, cartoons, pop cultural influence along with a tone of distinct irreverence are often present, as are abstractions both frenzied and fluid. Open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, OneWay is perfect for a date night or an ideal chaser to a beach day.

140 Boon Street, Narragansett

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