During the winter of Adam Adelson’s senior year at BU, he was wondering what he was going to do after graduation. The history of art and architecture major knew he wanted to work in the art business, but didn’t know in what capacity. “I thought maybe I’d work for Christie’s or Sotheby’s,” Adelson (CGS’10, CAS’12) says. But then he had a chance to curate an exhibition at the Orchard Skateshop in Allston (the Harvard Avenue shop also operates a gallery above its storefront). The show, called Nature’s Helmet: The Human Skull, featured 10 artists of all ages, some of them BU students, who each created their take on a skull.
“To my surprise, all these people showed up—from skater punks to lawyers wearing suits. The skate shop got the show sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon and some wine company. So it was a little punk rock and a little bougie,” recalls Adelson. “And then I sold some of the pieces and just seeing that connection between the artist and the collector—and knowing that I somehow facilitated this connection—was just so inspiring to me. It gave me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.”
That was when he knew he wanted to open his own gallery.
For some, that decision might seem daunting, but for Adelson, the gallery business is in his blood. His father, Warren Adelson (CAS’63, GRS’64), owns and runs the world-famous Adelson Galleries in New York, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century American art. Adam Adelson’s brother and sister also work in the family galleries. “Halfway through college, I thought I’d just go work in my dad’s gallery,” he says. But a contemporary art class with Greg Williams, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of contemporary art, convinced him to open a gallery in Boston dedicated to contemporary art. In October 2012, he added a contemporary gallery to the family portfolio with Adelson Galleries Boston in the South End. “Certainly I had some guidance from my dad, but I really had no idea what I was getting into,” Adelson says. “I mean, it’s a completely different business model representing contemporary artists,” many continuously producing new work.
Adelson’s father’s first gallery was also in Boston, on Newbury Street, noted for its exhibitions of Impressionist art. It ran for seven years (coincidentally, Adelson is closing his own Boston gallery after seven years). He will open a new gallery in Palm Beach, Fla.
Adelson decided an exhibition featuring new and upcoming artists would be an appropriate closing show, so he and artist friend Fiona Hilton (CFA’14) came up with the idea of mounting Boston Friends. The work of Hilton and three other 2014 CFA alums is shown in the exhibition, which runs through July 7.
“I thought a really nice way to say thank you to Boston was to get together this group of young artists, many of whom have not had a show in a mature gallery yet,” Adelson says.
The Los Angeles–based Hilton, who met Adelson in a BU art history class, paints distinctly California landscapes and cityscapes, rendering them in visible, brushy strokes and hauntingly muted colors. One of her pieces in the show, On Holiday in Holloway, is a moody depiction of a Hollywood motel set against a dusky blue-gray sky. Hilton dramatically captures the glow from a sign reading “Holloway Motel” and the light emanating through the building’s front windows streaking on the asphalt and cars outside.
“I started off painting portraiture,” Hilton says, “but I turned to landscape and then cityscapes because I found the impressive structures and imperfections of the city to be like a portrait of society rather than one person. Being in the Los Angeles area, I currently get a lot of inspiration from the unique architectural character of old and new Hollywood.”
The other BU alums in the show are Mia Cross (CFA’14), Lena McCarthy (CFA’14), and Madeline Bohrer (CFA’14).
Hilton recruited Cross, who works out of studios in Framingham, Mass., and Boston’s SoWa district, for the show. Cross’ color-rich paintings are influenced by several subjects. “Little ditties in my head become titles, a vintage fabric from a thrift store becomes a backdrop to a portrait, or a bird singing in the backyard becomes the star of my next piece,” she says.
Her large painting Homebody, on view in Boston Friends, is a quirky self-portrait: she paints herself holding an orange cat in a stylized way that seems a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Renaissance paintings depicting the Madonna and Christ Child. An arch of colorful flowers frames her body and her dark dress dissolves into a house-like structure. Cross has overlaid crisp white lines forming boxy, angular shapes reminiscent of an architectural drawing. She creates an exciting contrast between the linear quality of the dress and the thickly built-up blocks of colorful paint used on her face and hair and on the cat.
“I want to go beyond something that could be deemed just a portrait, so I add moments that can guide the viewer on a little journey. At the end of the day my goal and hope is to make a person keep looking, to make their eyes dance around the piece, jumping from moment to moment,” Cross says.
Local artist McCarthy frequently travels nationally and internationally and spent part of this year at an artist’s residency in India, which influenced her painting in the show, Duality, drawn on the Hindu and Buddhist art she saw during her travels around India. “The ornate aesthetic of ordinary life there has also crept into my work,” she says. “I’m really interested in how our visual environments affect us—maybe one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with street art.”
The painting depicts two women, one painted in flesh tones, the other in a deep indigo, facing each other while grasping a shared piece of paper. A snake is coiled between them, spewing fire that burns the paper. McCarthy has given the painting a tapestry-like quality through her use of dark contours, touches of bold jewel tones, and by painting ornate filigrees framing the women.
Bohrer, who lives and works in New York City, says her painting influences run the gamut—“embroideries, wallpaper, technology, and David Hockney.” Victoria, her contribution to the Adelson show, is her take on Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, seen “through a Victorian lens.”
The boldly colored painting depicts Venus as a Victorian woman, painted as a flat silhouette in light pink. “Fully clothed and flat, her sexuality is removed,” Bohrer says. Instead of standing on a shell as Venus does in the Botticelli painting, she stands on an open laptop. Every aspect of the Botticelli work is transformed in Bohrer’s painting—cattails in the original painting’s bottom left are replaced by thick, neon green squiggles; the other figures in the Botticelli original retain the same stances in Bohrer’s piece, but are painted flatly in electric colors and bold patterns. “In this setting, Venus is continually searching for her place in the world,” says Bohrer.
When the show closes, Adelson will turn his focus to the new Palm Beach gallery, opened in partnership with New York–based Cavalier Galleries. “I am grateful for this opportunity that I’ve had here in Boston—the success that I’ve had, the ability to keep the doors open,” he says. “And really, I feel like I’m ending on a high note, having this great show with all these friends of mine and then heading on to the next adventure.”
Boston Friends runs at Adelson Galleries Boston, 520 Harrison Ave., Boston, through July 7, 2019. Find more info here.