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Camilo Alvarez Gallerist: Beer and Burgers

The Director of Samson Projects

By: Charles Giuliano - 09/17/2013

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Camilo Alvarez of Boston’s Samson Projects.
Camilo Alvarez of Boston’s Samson Projects.

This piece launches  “Beer and Burgers With…” For several years I have enjoyed a mid week break after a day of teaching getting together with friends. Taking that idea of an informal meeting I have decided to ask a range of artists, gallerists, and curators to get together for happy hour. This allows for an in depth conversation/ interview. It extends the mandate of Maverick by exploring and reporting on a wider ranges of ideas. There is no research or agenda prior to these encounters so what follows may be viewed as notes or minutes of a meeting. Over a period of time it is hoped that this may add up to a series of interesting issues and individuals.

The secret of the strength of the Biblical Samson lay in his uncut hair. An imposing mass of matted, fused, piled up, twirled and twisted rasta dreds is an eye catching feature of a gigantically tall, warm and charming, stunningly bright, and awesomely handsome, soaring comet in the Boston art world, Camilo Alvarez, the twentysomething director of Samson Projects, at 450 Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End.

March it will celebrate the first anniversary of the gallery, which functions more as an alternative space. It was founded by a gallerist of Dominican heritage, the subject of his group show of nine artists selected through long term observation, as well as studio visits a couple of months back. The exhibition “iDominicanzo- The New Dominican Wave in Art,” through February 27, has been greeted by strong media coverage including a page one story in the Boston Globe that chose the exhibition as the focus of an article on the surge of Latino culture in Boston.

Latino art is a strong interest of the emerging gallery but hardly its primary focus. Alvarez is just as excited by an upcoming exhibition “Opish” which will bring together original artists of the Op Art movement of the late 1960s, mid career Neo Geo artists who reacted to that first generation of eye dazzlers, as well as emerging or third generation artists who may be influenced by all of the above.

While Alvarez is awesomely groovy you would be surprised to learn that in one of his exhibitions “An Accumulation of Convention: En Masse” he included work by James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Frank Stella, Jack Levine, Janet Fish, Nancy Graves, Kahil Gibran, as well as a mix of local and emerging artists.

Unlike a lot of scenemakers, he knows his art history. Thoroughly. He majored in art history, with a focus on the Renaissance, at Skidmore College and after an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was offered an entry level position in the Department of European Painting. Similarly, he worked his way up from intern to Gallery Director at the esteemed non profit, Exit Art: The First World, in New York. He was studying under Arthur Danto at Columbia when he made the decision not to pursue an academic career.

This led to opening a space in Boston, abandoning his native New York City, for a variety of reasons. They included being with his partner, Alexandra Cherubini, an equestrian, with whom he is in business manufacturing special riding gear in Dedham, Mass. At the time of our meeting she was on the circuit in West Palm Beach, Florida. Also, surveying the mix of galleries, and the strong emergence of the South End scene, he saw a better and more affordable opportunity to start a gallery here rather than the more competitive New York. Although, he is quick to add that he would sell more work in New York, and that most of his sales currently come largely from outside of Boston.

Part of his strategy is to participate in at least two art fairs each year and to establish a national and international presence. His first venture will be the upcoming Scope fair in New York, in March, which features a mix of edgy galleries. Taking a long pull on a brew he paused, took a breath and added that, “It is very expensive to pay for the space and get the work down there. But, you have to do it.”

Don’t assume that I have been knocked out and blown away by the work that I have seen in the gallery so far. It is mostly young, raw and experimental. Elements that do not always work. Particularly to and older and tougher eye. But I was astonished about how open he is to a discussion of these issues. He is sharply aware of his peer group, its strength and limitations, as well as willing to engage in critical dialogue by seeking out older artists with different views. It made me more eager to absorb the insights of his generations. Although, clearly, I am not as hip as I used to be. I prefer to describe myself as formerly hip. Semi retired bopper. So I told him a couple of stories of when I used to hang out with Hendrix and Miles. Thought he would be impressed. Buy me a bit of grooviness points. But, truth is, it’s hard to keep up with the kids. And Alvarez is fast track to the max.

Swoosh.

But amazingly thoughtful. Wise beyond his years. It was fascinating to learn that he curated the Max Wasserman Forum last year for the MIT List Visual Arts Center which brought together a panel of Frank Gehry, Robert Venturi, James Ackerman, Kimberly Alexander and Kyong Park. He is currently working on a catalogue for a List show being curated by Caroline Jones. Who, he adds, he greatly admires. She was formerly at BU teaching art history and now is with MIT. Her stuff is pretty deep.

With such apparent talent and contacts, just why would Alvarez come to sleepy old stuffy Boston? He smiled and said, “I was sick of New York.” But it is safe to speculate that when he has established his business there are plans to open a New York gallery. Boston, to which he is deeply committed, for now, may be viewed as buying some time.

So far, he has been widely covered by the media. “I’m just the new guy in town,” he says. “That will wear off.” But, privately, he is concerned about the kind of coverage he has been getting. His exhibitions and projects, about which he is ambitious and serious, have not encouraged a real critical dialogue. He described spending two hours each over two days with a writer/critic who, after all that contact time, published a photo and paragraph. He wonders is that is worth it and if there ever will be more focus on the work and less on the social scene.

The youth/ Latino angle is getting played out and here I am following into it as well. Yes, it’s nice to get ink, everyone likes that, but it is more important to get respect. That takes time. Particularly in a tough and skeptical town. He is aware that Boston is “a very white town.” But also one that is changing. Yes, there is a growing European and Latino population, but he does not see that as an immediate resource for sales. In Miami, NY, and certainly at the art fairs, this is a growing and very rich new market. He kept emphasizing the need to make sales to stay in business.

“It’s nice to get on the front page of the Boston Globe,” he says. “But does that bring in the people? Or the right clients?”

He is coming to feel the demands of the fast pace of monthly shows. For the Dominican show, for example, he made about 25 studio visits. But he does not plan to represent these artists or build a stable. He is concentrating more on the thematic shows that one encounters in a non profit space.

Although he is a high profile person, indeed his presence can command a room or gathering, he states that he prefers to stay in the background and spotlight the artists. That he doesn’t mind getting publicity if it helps to promote and sell the work. He decided early on that he wanted to study and promote artists. There is a sense of both the scholar and showman.

To reach his goal he pursues a busy agenda of looking at, studying and unearthing art, traveling the circuit of art fairs and international exhibitions, as well as planning a program for the gallery. Right now he is pleased that he is fully booked for the next year. And looking beyond that. Just hope I can keep up with and report on that whirlwind of activity. Camilo is a trip.

Samson Projects
450 Harrison Avenue, Boston

Reposted from Maverick Arts 2005

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