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Samson offers its final gallery show

“Between 5 (Crandon Park [Playita del Triton])” by Gabriel Martinez is one of the works on display at Samson.
“Between 5 (Crandon Park [Playita del Triton])” by Gabriel Martinez is one of the works on display at Samson.

After nearly 14 years, Samson ends its brick-and-mortar run with “Immigrancy,” a raucous, prickly show about what it means to be unmoored. Owner Camilo Alvarez says the gallery will continue as an art-advisory agency, at art fairs, and in pop-up shows and other satellite projects locally and internationally. 

Samson has championed unflinching, nuanced, and occasionally hilarious art contending with society’s perversities. “Immigrancy” defines immigration widely, encompassing those cut loose, adrift, and seeking home. The installation bustles with energy as busy as a city street. Works appear on the walls, in the rafters, along the floor, and on plywood boards. 

Glenn Ligon’s untitled archival pigment print of a torn page from James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village,” about his visit to a Swiss village, is piercing. The black American, Baldwin writes, is “as American as the Americans who despise him, the Americans who fear him, the Americans who love him.” The scribbles, underscores, and stains on the page show an essay thumbed and worried over like prayer beads, a totem in text.

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Then there’s Ashley Bickerton’s cheeky, giddily framed photo, “Extradition With Palette.” Bickerton, a Brit born in Barbados, became a US citizen and ultimately settled in Bali. Here he poses outdoors, poised before an easel, with his wife and young kids wearing leis. It’s a broad wink at the paternalistic and romantic Western belief systems that sent Gauguin to Tahiti and fueled colonialism.

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Gabriel Martinez took a photo of a beachy Cuban hot spot in Miami. “Between 5 (Crandon Park [Playita del Triton])” depicts the banner-size negative of the Miami image upside down, held by two men on a Cuban beach. This, too, is an inverted negative, so the Miami scene looks positive, and we see it right side up. This rabbit hole of inversions conveys Cuban-Americans’ fraught relationship with their homeland.

Alvarez has always distinguished between fine art and contemporary art, which mirrors and makes meaning of this moment’s confusions. We badly need contemporary art now. I am sorry to see Samson go.

IMMIGRANCY

At Samson, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 11. 617-357-7177, www.samsonprojects.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.