The Best Carmel, California Art Galleries | Observer Arts

An overhead shot of a coastal town
California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea has more than 100 art galleries. Chris Leipelt

With a Hollywood actor as past mayor (Clint Eastwood) and an adorable downtown just steps from the beach and lined with luxury fashion boutiques, adorable fairytale houses and delightful wineries, it’s no wonder that Carmel, California (more properly, Carmel-by-the-Sea, pop. 3,300, but also known as the “Storybook Square Mile” ) has a host of spectacular art galleries. In fact, there are 100 galleries within Carmel-by-the-Sea’s miniscule boundaries—not something you’d necessarily find in a California beach town hugging the Pacific Ocean.

While Carmel-by-the-Sea has always been a posh seaside getaway and is just an hour south of Silicon Valley, it’s only in recent years that celebs have begun to hang their hat here, too. Brad Pitt bought a $40 million Carmel house in 2022, and the Malbon founders moved their young family up from Los Angeles. Four new boutique hotels alone opened last year, including Carmel Beach Hotel with interiors evoking a coastal-cool vibe (think modern farmhouse with beachy blues and greens). As of last summer, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts two Michelin-star restaurants: Chez Noir (pairing Monterey-area seafood with wines by lesser-known local producers) and Aubergine (a tasting menu concept tucked into L’Auberge Carmel). Golfers and classic car enthusiasts alike flock here for nearby Pebble Beach and its storied 17-Mile Drive.

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This small-town feel manages to pack in a lot of hustle and bustle—and why, amid this renaissance, some of the newer galleries represent edgier artists and more global art. These works expand beyond the Monterey Bay region and also early-California landscape paintings. At the same time, you can still find local artist representation and clear nods to the nearby beaches.

Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Best Art Galleries

Scott Jacobs Gallery

Scott Jacobs Gallery DBAA5534 746B 4053 835C B1B9E5635E6CScott Jacobs Gallery DBAA5534 746B 4053 835C B1B9E5635E6C
A painting by Jacobs. Courtesy Scott Jacobs Gallery

The gallery’s eponymous owner rose to fame with his portrait of former President Barack Obama (Someday Has Come), completed just before Obama was elected in 2008. A nephew of Daniel Chester French, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, the Connecticut native found his way to California after graduating from the Hartford College of Art and serving in the Navy. Jacobs uses the gallery, open since 2010, as his painting studio and represents his own work—a collection of oil, pastel and watercolor paintings that are mostly portraits—along with other artists. This includes Sidney Edwards, an abstract watercolorist for more than 50 years and an Arts School League of New York alum like Jacobs. “We’ve recently had a stage built for the gallery studio so that I can have models pose live,” Jacobs tells Observer. “We’re hoping to start a life drawing, and possibly a life painting class, weekly or biweekly in the studio … so that we can have a group setting in which students can learn from each other, as well as my own instruction.”

Monica Graham Fine Art

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Monica Graham Fine Art. Courtesy Monica Graham Fine Art

Former tech executive (of Microsoft and Oracle) Monica Graham opened her gallery in 2021. “When I first started selling art, I was heavily focused on supporting women but quickly realized I was missing out on some incredible artists,” Graham tells Observer. “Michael Snodgrass (works with acrylic and collage panel) was my first male representation and to this day remains my biggest seller and also my best mentor.” Graham also represents and exhibits works by Kristina Grace (a Southern California artist whose sculptural works are inspired by the coastline), Rebecca Jack (abstract and figurative painting) and Karen Folgner (abstract-expressionist paintings). Halim Flowers’ current solo show that debuted March 28 features the artist’s wildly colorful paintings. Wrongfully convicted and handed two life sentences at age sixteen, Flowers was featured in “The Thug Life in D.C.,” an Emmy-award-winning HBO documentary. “Now he is living the life that he always deserved. This life is larger than the beautiful art he is creating,” says Graham.

Gallery MAR Carmel

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Gallery MAR Carmel Courtesy Gallery MAR

Open since 2019 in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, this California outpost of the Park City, Utah art gallery launched a second location in February dubbed Gallery MAR Carmel North just two blocks away. Both galleries spotlight contemporary fine art. Among the artists represented are Beau Bernier Frank (a Big Sur painter with a solo show opening April 26, 2024); Anne Hooker (contemporary-western painter in North Carolina); and America Martin (a Los Angeles-based painter and sculptor). “We love working with collectors to help them curate a personal and unique collection,” gallery owner Thomas Cushman tells Observer. “Our gallery watchwords are quality, elegance and approachability. We are less concerned about highlighting a specific media or genre and more concerned with the artists’ individual vision and quality of work.” This month, the gallery celebrates its five-year anniversary with a show where each artist represented will exhibit a painting inspired by Carmel-by-the-Sea.

William A. Karges Fine Art

WIlliam A Karges Fine Art Dennis Doheny Earth and Sky 24x30 8951 Frameless LargeWIlliam A Karges Fine Art Dennis Doheny Earth and Sky 24x30 8951 Frameless Large
A Dennis Doheny work at William A. Karges Fine Art. Courtesy William A. Karges Fine Art

Internationally known for the early-California (1870-1950) landscape artists this gallery represents, there’s a specialization in California Impressionism and California Plein-Air Painting. Some of these artists are contemporary—such as Dennis Doheny and Cindy Baron—while the careers of other painters were more than a century ago (Franz Bischoff, Maurice Braun and Alice Chittenden are three examples). Not all of the artists were California natives: some came to the state later in their careers, drawn to the natural landscape as inspiration for their canvases. Early-Philippine art is another focus at this gallery that’s been open since 1987. (Soon it will move to a new space across the street.) One of those artists is the late Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972), celebrated for the usage of chiaroscuro (backlighting techniques) in his paintings.

Westbrook Modern

Westbrook 206537.jpeg Photo Credit Visit CarmelWestbrook 206537.jpeg Photo Credit Visit Carmel
Westbrook Modern. Manny Espinoza, courtesy Visit Carmel

Among the Modern, abstract and Expressionism artists this gallery—open since 2004—represents is abstract painter Johnny Apodaca (who also lives and paints in Umbria, Italy. A true champion for California artists along the Central Coast, a trip to visit siblings in the Monterey Bay area years ago convinced him to make a home here. Apodaca also teaches art classes at California State University Monterey Bay and the Carmel Art Institute. Artist Shepard Fairey, known for his portrait of Obama, used for the then-candidate’s 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign’s Hope poster, is another artist represented here. Furnishings, decorative arts, glass and sculptures can also be found in the gallery.

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