Pedro Alonzo #2





Most contemporary art is made for a very specific elite. It isn't directed towards the general public, so why should the general public give a shit about it? Street art is the opposite.



Interview by Heidi Legg

Pedro Alonzo is one of the leading curators of street art in America. He has brought us Shepard Fairey, Dr. Lakra, SWOON, JR and Os Gemeos, twin brothers from San Paolo, Brazil, currently at the ICA in Boston.

Mexican-American Adjunct Curator at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Alonzo is someone who observes what artists are doing, acknowledges it, studies it and then starts to explain it to the rest of us.

Contemporary art is sometimes dismissed as an obscure, indulgent pastime for the elite. How should we think about it? 

Most contemporary art is made for a very specific elite. It isn't directed towards the general public, so why should the general public give a shit about it? Street art is the opposite.

How do you convince street artists to come inside?

Street artists have basically circumvented the art world and established a direct relationship with the public. It is unmediated. That presents a real challenge for a curator as they don’t really need me, or the museums, to carry on their practice.

So how do you sell an artist like JR?

This guy has covered the Ile St. Louis with several kilometers of paper, won the TED prize, done interventions in Shanghai, LA, and Cartagena. This guy is unstoppable. He's done major projects all over the world in Israel and Palestine, Rio. What can the museum offer him besides limitations? We can articulate his story and help to legitimize his practice and offer it to another audience.

Do they ever turn you down?

The first time I invited SWOON to be in an exhibition she said she couldn't because she was working on this “crazy project,” and I was convinced she had a show at a bigger museum. In reality she was building boats with salvaged material to float down the Mississippi River. It turned out to be one of her most celebrated projects, and it had nothing to do with a museum.

What defines a street artist?

Most of these artists, if not all of them, went to art school. They all had the same opportunities that other art graduates have. SWOON went to Pratt. Shepard went to RISD. These are important art schools. They are artists who made a conscious choice not to break into the traditional art world but to put work out in the public space.

Is the movement evolving?

We are already seeing a lot of abstraction. Some artists are less interested in sending a clear message to the audience. Take MOMO, who wrote his name across Manhattan with a trail of paint. That's very much an inside joke, mimicking the art world.

Why is the general public so into street art?

It’s addressing them directly. There is no mediation. There is a whole series of popular and common references. You look at a Rabi and Priest and an Imam with silly faces on a wall and it makes you laugh and you wonder what is going on, especially on a wall in Israel or Palestine. These are very provocative works and there is this intention to address the public directly. 

What are you working on now?

Os Gemeos, a group of twin brothers from San Paolo, Brazil are currently at the ICA in Boston. They are awesome, and it is monumental work. They are some of the most important street artists in the world. They have been huge advocates of public art, and really helped to change the face of San Paulo.

I am also really excited to bring French street artist JR, who is just killing it around the world on a massive scale with his campaign and I will curate his show at the Contemporary Art center Cincinnati and the Dallas Contemporary Museum in Fall 2013. When I watched his film “Women are Heroes,” JR at 29 makes me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing with my life. And this month, I curated "Nailed" on Sunset Boulevard in LA, with Subliminal Projects, inspired by the 2011 publication titled "Nailed: The History of Nail Culture and Dzine." Photographers from around the world were commissioned to document nail artists, clientele, and salon owners in their respective cities.

Was there some one along the way who opened doors for you?

There were many. Victor Zamudio-Taylor convinced me to apply for the internship at MOMA in NYC. He is a bit of everything, an independent curator and advisor to Eugenio Lopez (Jumex Collection, Mexico City). Walter Hobbs inspired me and wrote my letter of recommendation for MOMA and looked out for me while I was there. Walter is simply one of the greatest curators of the twentieth century. And Peter Doroshenko, the Director of the Dallas Contemporary, forced me to curate my first show Paulo Santiago. He made me an adjunct curator. I did not feel worthy and I hadn't studied art history, so I had all sorts of excuses. Once I got started, I did it, but it took a lot of convincing. I was the accidental curator.


Where do you get good Mexican food in Boston?

At my house… My wife makes amazing Mexican food but with my mother's recipes. And Ole in Inman Square has a great pozole.

Do you have a secret source?

JFK Breakfast Burrito at Darwin’s

Favorite place to have a cocktail with your art world friends?

If Shepard’s in town I’d take him to Neptune Oyster but we always go to The Paramount in Beacon Hill for breakfast. If it’s Dr. Lakra, it’s definitely Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square.