Final Update: Chain Letter Delivered

Drop-off day for Chain Letter here
Update from Samson Gallery here
BOSTON--The Chain Letter show at Samson Gallery is a big, messy, vibrant, crazy-salad of an installation with some surprise-guest artwork and some is-it-art vignettes. Well, here, let gallery owner Camilo Alvarez,  describe it:  "It's awesome, yes?" Yes, indeed. The intrepid dealer installed for two days straight, ultimately placing some 1100 paintings, sculptures and works on paper in two spaces--ground floor and basement. The ground floor contained Todd Pavlisko's solo show, which was just about camouflaged by the art around it.
I arrived at 5:00 p.m.expecting an around-the-block line, like at the Sideshow art-a-palooza in Brooklyn this past winter. But no. People came and went freely. While the gallery was always full, there was no queue to get in, and it was never so crowded you couldn't move. Let's take a look.

This wrapped package and the mail on the floor provide the perfect visual metaphor for the Chain Letter show. But wait. Is it an installation or actually, you know, mail? I don't know

The view from the Thayer Street walkway. The weather was sunny and a balmy 78 degrees. Lots of people were out

The doorway in is just to my left. We're going to start here and work our way down the long wall in a space that is about twice as long as it is wide

Larger paintings were just propped against the wall. The big drawback for me is that there were no names. I don't know many Boston artists, so I can't identify the work. But I suspect that even the artists who know one another couldn't identify the makers of most of these works

More . . .

And more. The big installation in the center is Todd Pavlisko's solo show--or at least the show that was a solo until a few days ago

Working our way down the long wall . . .

And taking a quick pivot to look at the opposite wall

In the back room

More back room. Several artists mentioned that the piece on the weight bench, detail below, was sent in by Richard Serra--could be; it looks like a Serra--and that Kiki Smith had a piece downstairs. I never did identify which might have been hers

The Serra, on the bench. Maybe

Best look in the show: Erica Aubin, emerging artist

Heading down the stairs. I walked these same stairs on Wednesday when the walls were almost empty

Overheard as I was standing by this wall: "All of these artists are looking for gallery representation. Think about it."

More . . .

. . .With the installation spillling onto the floor, below

I like that one artist put up a Post-It with his name: Corey Artis (I think that's what it said). Corey: Next time, print it

One more look downstairs . . .

. . . before we climb back up. The light at the far end of the gallery is where we came in

Another view of the crowd, with a closeup of a small sculpture--about a handspan wide--below

Visitors spilling back out onto the walkway . . .

and from there onto pedestrian Thayer Street

If you visit Boston, the South End galleries are concentrated at 450 and 460 Harrison Avenue--right and left here--which actually open onto Thayer Street, with Harrison Avenue in the distance. There's free parking for visitors in several adjacent lots as well as on the street, though there's a two-hour limit for street parking.

Since I'm in Massachusetts for the summer, I'll take you to a few more galleries over the next few weeks.


lucy mink said...

You are Awesome! thanks for the photos

Julian Jackson said...

Thanks for the post. But the meanings of this show are hard to fathom. Was it a talent search? Momentary madness by a masochistic gallerist? A quixotic execise in democracy? Why on earth make this kind of effort for a show that only runs a very few hours? Something of this scale would have made a buzzworthy contribution had it run for the rest of the summer. As is it merely seems a chaotic mountain of uncredited work seen by (judging from your post) a very relative few viewers. I hope that some of the participants get shows out of this at least. Otherwise the only real beneficiary would seem to be FedEx, UPS, and the post office. I hat e to be a crank but artists generally deserve better than this.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Lucy.

Julian, I think the answer to your question is "All of the above," "None of the above" and "I don't know." As the original chain letter stated, the concept was for each invited artist to invite 10 artists they admire. Great concept, but very little practical information: how long the show would run, how it would be registered and installed, how it would be rerieved and when. I still don't know, and there's nothing on the gallery website (which was a mistake, IMHO). So I opted not to participate with artwork but rather via these blog posts about it.

To be honest, I would have ignored it entirely except that the dealer is well respected in Boston and has a program that regularly pushes the conceptual evelope. I wanted to see what would take place. (It helped that I was in Boston during drop off day to jury a show across the way. Very convenient for me.)

Looking at the event from before, during and after, I'd say that more than anything else, it speaks to artists' desire to be part of something larger--the same reason so many artists wish to participate in Richard Timperio's Sideshow extravaganza.

Yes, I think artists wanted the opportunity to show in this respected Boaton gallery, but it was the chance to be part of something larger that seems to have been the appeal. At least that's what I heard as I chatted niformally with artists.

Julian Jackson said...

It could indeed prove be something larger if the gallerist would move beyond his own conceptual envelope and make this show about the work and the artists who participated. Keep the work on the walls and let every friend of a friend of a friend see the work for themselves. Give the bloggers a chance to selectively feature good work. Give the rest of the world a chance to take a peek for Pete's sake.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your photos! As someone who participated in this exhibit, I would say for me and a lot of the other artists I know who participated, it was about community. Camilo worked extremely hard to put this on, hanging the show himself and then basically throwing us a party. My experience was that both the upstairs and downstairs galleries were pretty full all evening, as was the area outside of the gallery. (If it wasn't as packed as the Sideshow exhibit, maybe that was because it was held in summer when a lot of artists are away, and the Boston area is a little(!) smaller than the metro NY area?) The show encompassed a broad range of artists from the Boston area and beyond — students, young artists, veteran artists, artists with gallery representation (Boston, NY, international), artists without. It was a chance for us to come together, see old friends, meet new ones, and celebrate ourselves as a community. Also, those dropping off work were told that they could either take the work the evening of the reception or pick it up during regular gallery hours this week; the show will remain up this week.

Joanne Mattera said...


Thanks for the information about the show being up all week. That's good to know. One of the reasons I did these posts about the Chain Letter show was to share information, because there was not much info posted, either on the Samson site or the Chain Letter site.

(Thanks to everyne who chipped in with info. Much appreciated.)

I agree that Camilo did a wonderful job of installing all that work, and that it was a very generous thing he did. It was a lot of work to install, and there are no sales as far as I know, since I'm guessing he wouldn't even know how to get in touch with 90% of the artists.

I mention Sideshow only because I'm accustomed to a certain degree of crowding--not to compare one show agains the other. With some 1100 artists participating, it seemed reasonable to expect that those artists (and their friends) would show up.

It was a lovely evening, and I hung around for two hours. I saw former students and colleagues from Mass Art, and those from another school where I taught briefly; some Boston artist friends; and a number of dealers who popped by. It was quite the scene. I saw the editor in chief of Art New England taking it all in, too. The weather was perfect.

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

I sent a piece in and just found it on your blog, what fun! Sorry I missed it (I live in DC) but thanks for covering the experience. said...

I participated just because it sounded fun and whacky . I wasn't disappointed because it WAS fun and whacky. (I have to say that putting this show down on my resume never crossed my mind ) . It was a "happening" and did I say fun?

Susan Bainbridge said...

Thanks, Joanne, for all the photos and info! I jammed a painting into an envelope knowing I couldn't be there, but hoping to be a part of something unique and random. Too bad it wasn't better publicized. Your blog is the best I could find about it. Thanks so much!

Alicia Eggert said...

I hate to be a Debbie Downer after seeing that so many people enjoyed the show, but I was left with a really bad taste in my mouth from my experience of trying to participate in it. And I guess somebody needs to play the devil's advocate....

I was invited to participate by my mentor, a professor I had in college who inspired me to pursue a career in art. I was really honored when I got an email from him, because his inviting me meant that I am an artist he admires, and that we would be able to show work together for the first time. But when I tried to find out more about how/where to drop off work, I emailed some questions. The response I received from Christian Cummings (is he the organizer of the whole thing?) basically said it doesn't matter, because "You are one drop in an ocean of art".

Instead of being discouraged or offended by that statement (and, in retrospect, I realize that should have been a warning sign for me to let this opportunity pass), I rushed to finish a new neon sculpture, and drove down to Boston from Portland, ME, to drop it off early because I was going to be away for the opening. When I got to the gallery last Saturday, the attendant said that hundreds of boxes had been coming in, and he instructed me to put my sculpture on top of a pile of them. He then gave me a slip of paper with his name on it that I guess was supposed to be my receipt. I wrote my installation instructions on another slip of paper that I was told would be put with my work when it was taken downstairs, and I left hoping I had not just made the biggest mistake of my life. I have not seen my work in any of the images people have posted online of the opening, though, and I'm beginning to get really worried that it's sitting broken in a corner somewhere. Did anyone see any neon at the show?

I'm getting a little angry that people like me, who are probably a little too naive for their own good, may have been taken advantage of. Is this whole show really about admiration and community, or is it just about demonstrating how desperate artists are for any kind of opportunity to exhibit their work? If none of the work was going to be insured or returned, why weren't the organizers more forthcoming about that? Why is information still not available on either the Chain Letter or Samson Projects' websites about how or when artists can get their work back? I'm starting to wonder if part of their plan from the beginning was to keep most of it. And if Kiki Smiths and Richard Serras are in the mix, then they will make out pretty well from all of this.

I hate that I feel this way when part of me knows that the organizers of this event probably have everyone's best interests at heart. If I had been more aware of what I was getting myself into, I think I would still have participated, but I would have submitted work that wasn't fragile and that I didn't need returned to me. But I feel sort of conned. Like I got duped into being in a show similar to the one that took all the slides artists had sent in to be considered and made into a huge pile on the gallery floor. It feels demeaning. Am I overreacting, or are these feelings legitimate? Help!

Phillip J. Mellen said...

Nice to come across some dialogue about this one night happening! Thanks for the post and so many photos. I was in the show and am glad to have been a part of it (small wall hung sculpture among your photos). Cheers.

Joanne Mattera said...

I think you approached this project with a bit too much naivete.

You ask: "Is this whole show really about admiration and community, or is it just about demonstrating how desperate artists are for any kind of opportunity to exhibit their work?"

I think the answer is yes and yes.

You say: "I'm starting to wonder if part of their plan from the beginning was to keep most of it."

Look at the pictures: where would someone put all that art if they wanted to keep it?

And you say: " . . .if Kiki Smiths and Richard Serras are in the mix, then they will make out pretty well from all of this."

How will they make out? They've had museum shows. Being included in a big, messy free for all does nothing for them. I believe they sent work in support of their friend Camilo.

Camilo is an honest and upright guy who gave a lot of time and effort to this project. I do agree, however, that more information would have gone a long way toward making folks like you feel more comfortable.

Yes, your work was one drop in the ocean of art. Yes, I do think the organizers of this project were arrogant. But I do think that at the local level, there was a sense of comnmunbity and fun. Credit for that goes to Camilo and his gallery and to all the participating artists.

Alicia Eggert said...

To clarify, I wasn't meaning to say that Richard Serra and Kiki Smith benefited from this show. I may be naive, but I'm not an idiot. Do you think that all the work that wasn't dropped off by local artists will just get thrown away?

I think that the lack of information provided to the artists was irresponsible on behalf of the organizers. I'm glad that locals had a good experience, it's just too bad for those of us who made the extra effort to participate from afar. I have definitely learned my lesson.

Alicia Eggert said...

Here is an example of a similar kind of show whose organizers have made it very clear how artists can participate and what they should expect:

I am going to let this go now, but I wanted to post this link just to show how it's possible (and easy!) for everyone to have a positive, uplifting experience from this kind of event. All it takes is complete disclosure of the organizer's intentions.

berrilynn said...

I am relieved as Hell to see my painting in one of these photos! It was shipped from NY. As for the comment about all these artists looking for representation, my end of the "chain letter" was quite the opposite: I was invited by a highly successful artist who has representation in NYC and London, and I myself am also represented and invited only artists I admired that are actually pretty well-known. But, again, that's all part of the experiment, isn't it? To me, the real concept behind these shows (remember it was simultaneous world-wide) is illustrated on the map at the Chain Letter website, which looks a bit like an airline flight pattern map. The crossing over, and the re-crossing over, of the artists, and the six-degrees of separation that will inevitably happen when you ask artists to recommend other artists... Definitely interesting and fun. Hopefully, my piece will be returned safely!

Anna Stump said...

Thanks for the photos from Boston!

Carmageddon in LA was a non-event, the real gridlock will be at Shoshana Wayne next weekend for their Chain Letter show. All works have to be hand delivered on Friday, sit on the floor, and there are NO other rules. Will someone put a huge tarp over everything at the last moment, or wall off the gallery entrance? It promises to be a scene. Opening is Saturday night. Take the 405 there!

(I am putting something in, but don't expect to get it back undamaged. Still worth it.)

carrie said...

Good art includes risk. This event was a little risky, for the artists and the gallerist. My hats off to all who participated, I thought it was great!

hannah said...

Thanks for the post, Joanne! I couldn't make it to the show, but was thrilled to find your coverage. Happy to discover your wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...

I think each artist's reaction to these shows reveal much more about each artist's own fears and insecurities...or lack thereof.

Thanks for the post, Joanne. Looks like fun!

Elena J said...

Thanks for the great photos.
I participated in Chain Letter in Santa Monica and it was fantastic! It caused a sig alert on the 10 freeway during install. And the lines (there were a few) during the opening took more than an hour just to get in the gallery to see the work.
How refreshing, people actually interested in seeing art during an opening!

I know both the curators, Christian Cummings and Doug Harvey, and I can say without hesitation that they are both the nicest people, far from arrogant.
I think most artists have no idea how hard it is to curate a show, let alone one of this magnitude.
I'm surprised Christian Cummings even emailed someone back, I heard he received over 2,000 emails with questions and confirmations.

Alicia, if you were offended that he said you were a "drop in an ocean of art," try being proud. For once it wasn't about a single artist, it was about all artists sharing a space equally, albeit small. Jim Shaw, Marnie Weber, Jeffrey Vallance, Elliot Hundley, and Yoko Ono (rumored) were some of the bigger names in the Santa Monica Show. Richard Prince was in the Zurich Chain Letter show.
Could you spot these artists' work in the show?
And the great thing is, I'm sure you could point out better pieces by totally unknown artist a few feet away.