MAKING IT HAPPEN: Half a decade in, Campos-Pons and Leonard's gallery stands out as a rare "alternative space" in a Boston art scene that is dominated by commercial and institutional venues.
At the end of August, the seven-month-old Massachusetts Creative Economy Council released its first report on the state of culture here. “Is MA sexy?” one of its subcommittees asked about the Bay State. “People see us as conservative. This needs to be ‘the’ hot place to be.”
“I think that this is not a true portrait of Boston,” says renowned artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. “I think that intelligence is sexy. Knowledge is sexy. Curiosity is sexy. Research is sexy. And that is Boston. I don’t find frivolity sexy. I don’t. So it depends what you look at.”
Note that, though her words fit the city’s intellectual life in general, they don’t necessarily describe the Boston art scene. “I made GASP because of that reason,” says Campos-Pons. “I wanted a little more juice.”
GASP is the Gallery Artists Studio Projects, a Boston workspace/gallery she founded with her musician husband Neil Leonard in summer 2004.
“Whatever we don’t have [in Boston] we make,” says Leonard. “And GASP is one of the ways we do that.”
After the pair moved to Brookline from Jamaica Plain in 2002, she went looking for a studio. She found a two-story building on busy, nearby Boylston Street and hatched a plan to put her workspace on the second floor and launch a gallery on the first.
“My first thought is, ‘This is absolutely crazy,’ ” recalls Leonard. “We have no time in our lives to administer a gallery, much less what I think she was really thinking about, which was an art center.”
Campos-Pons and Leonard met in 1988 when she was studying at Mass Art on an exchange program from her native Cuba and was told that the Boston musician might be able to help her create a soundtrack for a planned film. Today, they’re both busy artists whose work frequently has them on the road. Leonard just returned from performing in Italy. Campos-Pons has shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian, and in the Venice Biennale. He teaches at Berklee College of Music. She teaches at Boston’s Museum School. They have a teenage son.
“I could see that Magda really wanted to do this,” adds Leonard, “and it was going to go forward regardless of any caution I might suggest.” So together they launched the endeavor, which gave them a forum to reach their respective artistic communities.
On October 23, this lark of a venture will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a benefit gala and “Bag It,” an auction of artist-decorated shopping bags. Half a decade in, the gallery stands out — with Axiom, Proof, and a few others — as a rare “alternative space” in a Boston art scene that is dominated by commercial galleries and institutional venues.
“It’s not really a nonprofit, but she’s not acting like [it’s] a commercial gallery, either — it’s a labor of love,” says Matt Nash, a local artist who has shown at GASP and publishes the online art journal Big Red & Shiny (bigredandshiny.com). “We need alternative spaces, because that’s where young artists get their start and where established artists can experiment.”