A holiday-priced art show with a contemporary vibe

The holiday show has been a standard at several local galleries like the Swan Coach House Gallery, whose annual “Little Things Mean a Lot” is an opportunity to give the gift of art at an affordable price.

But it’s not necessarily the approach you’d expect at the contemporary art space Poem 88, a combination gallery, social space and bookshop with a spare aesthetic in the bustling commercial hub of the westside.

The first holiday show in this gallery’s four-year history, “B&W: Selections for the Holidays From the Poem 88 Community” features 21 gallery artists whose work will be on view until someone buys them.

“B&W” is a holiday event organized less like a shopping opportunity and more like a contemporary gallery show, which means labels for the work are absent, though visitors can ask for a list of works and someone is on hand to put a name and a price to each work.

“It’s almost like a little matching game,” gallery owner Robin Bernat said of the challenge of matching the artist to their work, although that exercise works best for people who already have a great deal of familiarity with these artists. Bernat is of the mind that visitors to the gallery will enjoy learning a bit about the artists and a more personal approach in selecting a work.

The prices at Poem 88 run from $250 for Phillip Buntin’s 8x8 abstractions on panel to $3,600 for a large Sharon Shapiro watercolor. Though this holiday show is entitled “B&W,” there are smatterings of color that subtly work themselves into the spare palette of In Kyoung Chun’s delicate drawings or shout from the rooftops in the colorful work of Shapiro and Carol John.

In terms of style, work ranges from the scrupulously pared down, like Christina Price Washington’s charmingly low-fi pencil on paper line drawing of “Toast,” to the extravagant, in Zuzka Vaclavik’s glitter-decorated and lavishly embellished mixed media works on paper.

If Santa was in a generous mood, I’d ask for one of artist David D’Agostino’s dreamy mountainscapes, which have an enchanted feel to them, like a landscape conjured up in the mind’s eye rather than painted from life.

For photography fans, there are Guy Mendes’ sultry black and white images of swimmers and fruit, which put a sensuous spin on divergent subject matter. Fans of documentary-style photography may appreciate the good-looking me-generation hipsters featured in David Sinrich’s images, especially the amusing photograph “Ted and Ted,” in which a ’70s hunk in bushy mustache and a luxurious mane of hair confronts an equally macho plastic action figure.

Always memorable, Shapiro’s work reminds me of sexy drug store paperbacks featuring fierce female protagonists. Her work embraces a splendidly retro vibe and seems tailor-made for the divas in your life. Her large work in watercolor on paper, “Heavy Breather,” features a playfully lurid image of a babe in a miniskirt and Incredible Hulk green hair cradling a Barbie-pink telephone. In Shapiro’s women-on-top world, it looks like this green-haired vixen, rather than some anonymous pervert, might be the prank caller in question.

Those of a more poetic, cerebral bent would undoubtedly appreciate the cleanly graphic prints made by Julia Kjelgaard.

There may not be something for every taste in “B&W,” but there is enough variety to keep the eye and the mind engaged.

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