Behnke-Doherty, the Vineyard’s newest art gallery, brings a bit of a cosmopolitan touch to the Island’s art scene. “There are a lot of very good galleries on the Island that already represent local artists,” co-owner David Behnke said. “For our first season, we’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done here before. Virtually all of the art in the gallery is abstract in various degrees.”
Although they are new to the Island, the co-owners of Behnke-Doherty Gallery, located at 53 Main Street in Vineyard Haven, are hardly newcomers to the art world. Mr. Behnke, who describes himself as a “lifelong collector,” and his spouse, former actor Paul Doherty, previously owned a gallery in the tiny rural enclave of Washington, Conn., a locale of business and cultural elites with strong ties to New York City.
“Northwest Connecticut has a large number of top-drawer artists,” Mr. Behnke said. “We represented a couple dozen of them.” The gallery owners have brought many of those artists to the Vineyard, giving the gallery a very contemporary and sophisticated feel, although there’s nothing intimidating about the space. Both the gallery and the owners are very welcoming.
The collection is eclectic. Modernist glass, ceramic, and metal sculptures and artisan baskets are artfully placed among works in many media, including drawings, wood blocks, monotypes, and oils. Along with the contemporary artists, the gallery also features a handful of works by mid-20th century American and European painters.
The back room holds Mr. Doherty’s photographs, and one section of the main gallery is dedicated exclusively to Asian art, featuring both classic and contemporary styles. “Asian art is a passion of mine,” Mr. Behnke said. “It was a cornerstone of our gallery in Connecticut.” Among other works, the gallery will feature Japanese block prints from the 1920s and museum-quality Japanese ceramic pieces.
Although the modern American and Asian art may seem like two disparate collections,
there is a thematic connection. As with the Japanese block prints, many of the contemporary artists have focused on nature in a dreamy, color- and form-sensitive fashion. Soubi Boski creates highly textural semirepresentational oil paintings depicting moody stylized views from windows and rooms drenched in light. Liz Dexheimer’s monotypes and oils, especially her koi pond series, are softly soothing experiments in color with barely distinguishable fish and waterlilies floating on or below the surface. Deborah Weiss makes artful use of wood grain to represent reflections and flow in her very meditative water series. Susan Monserud represents beach stones and grasses in an abstract, colorful manner. Even Charles Cajori’s very simple yet surprisingly effective line drawings of nudes demonstrate a beauty in brevity that mirrors much of Asian art.
Many of the modern sculptural pieces focus on flow, simplicity, and purity of form. The Japanese ceramics also benefit from gentle curves and soothing blue and white glazes.
In the back room, one will find another testament to tranquility in the photos of Mr. Doherty, who has clearly discovered the benefits of communing with the ocean since moving to the Vineyard. The actor-turned-photographer has produced two stylized series. One features collage-like collections of sea-smoothed beach pebbles, and the other focuses on striking abstract images created by reflections on the ocean.
In 2013, Mr. Behnke and Mr. Doherty bought a house near Owen Park and relocated to the Vineyard. At that time Mr. Doherty, whose extensive résumé includes numerous theater and television roles, as well as more than 500 TV commercials and 150 voiceovers, was recovering from life-threatening hydrocephalus, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The diagnosis proved to be false, and although the couple had made the move in response to Mr. Doherty’s seemingly terminal condition, they have clearly settled very nicely into their new home.
“I’ve been coming to the Vineyard since the late ’70s,” Mr. Behnke said. “First with my mother and eventually with Paul. This place has always been home for us.” Of Mr. Doherty’s false alarm, Mr. Behnke says, “It certainly sped up our decision to move here. It’s one of life’s wake-up calls when you realize, What are you waiting for?”
Mr. Behnke, a semiretired investment manager, has also found the move to be a means of returning to an artistic pursuit. The former opera singer has joined two local choirs, and in March he performed an evening of Broadway songs along with Jenny Friedman at the Unitarian Church. The duo will be featured at the church again in an opera evening. Mr. Behnke will also be lending his rich baritone to the male lead in Island Theater Workshop’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” this summer.
The gallery is giving both men the opportunity to further explore their passion for art. “Much of the work in the gallery reflects our personal taste,” Mr. Behnke said. “We decided early on that we wanted to show work that we really loved.”
Prior to opening the Connecticut gallery, Mr. Behnke and Mr. Doherty ran an art advisory business in New York City. Through that job and other connections with art dealers in New York, the couple were introduced to many of the artists the gallery now represents. The Asian art was primarily accumulated through Mr. Behnke’s extensive business travel to Japan.
“In general, we really need to like the art if we’re going to show it,” Mr. Behnke said. “Our tastes are quite similar. With our first effort at a brick-and-mortar space in Connecticut, we got inveigled into showing artists that people wanted to see. You quickly discover that if you don’t love an artist, love a piece, you don’t have the same belief in what the artist is doing.”
“I’ve been a collector for pretty much the past 30 years,” Mr. Behnke said. “With what we have collected, we have managed to fill every wall and square inch of every house we have ever owned.”
Luckily, the couple have decided to share their passion for art with the community they now call home.
For more information, visit behnkedoherty.com.