Interview with CAMP Creative Andres J. Mora
Welcome to CAMP Conversations, an editorial space brought to you by The Contemporary Art Modern! I’m Maria Gabriela Di Giammarco, a creative and resident CAMP media director. My biggest hope for these pieces is that they promote thoughtful dialogue exploring the art industry embedded with our sophisticated brand of snark, involving artists, gallery employees, and our beloved audience.
I’m thrilled to be writing The CAMP’s inaugural “editorial” feature. At The CAMP, we’re firm believers in the power of the intimate relationship between art and those who love art, and we’re happy to champion it in our approach to a nearly-inaccessible industry.
I have to admit, before y’all continue reading, that I’m not an unbiased interviewer, at least not in this interview (though I absolutely tried). The first editorial interview for The CAMP features a conversation with Andres J. Mora, “The CAMP’s self-proclaimed premier art installer and LGBT icon,” and a close friend of mine.
At just 22 years old, the recent Nova Southeastern University graduate has already curated 4 exhibitions and 2 fair booths, including this year’s Spring/Break Art Show in New York and the upcoming online edition of PhotoLA. Andres’ perspective is tinged with tenacity and intelligence, putting together full exhibitions with a covetable ease. His approach is simple, thoroughly researched, and possesses a signature confidence that is uniquely his own. Full disclosure, it’s on the edge of frightening to witness a person construct exhibitions featuring six or seven different artists (read: perspectives) and make them make sense while still having the time to pick up a frozen coffee, in pre-pandemic days, of course.
So, I decided to pick his brain.
Hi! Let’s start with a short blurb of who you are, what you do, and what you’re currently working on.
My name is Andres J. Mora and I work for the Contemporary Art Modern Project.
Although officially speaking I am a creative and an art dealer, I consider myself more of a jack of all trades. My line of work involves an extensive variety of tasks including curation, art handling, installation, client relations, research, and management. This same variety is what makes my work enjoyable for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Currently, my focus is on the area of curation. I’ve been working closely with the gallery director, Melanie Prapopoulos, on our new efforts to take CAMP to the next level, which is the online fair market. This is something we hadn’t tapped into before, but due to the pandemic that is affecting the way we do life, it’s a more relevant resource than ever.
What exactly is the CAMP, for those who don’t fully know?
CAMP or “The CAMP” is the acronym we use to refer to The Contemporary Art Modern Project. We are a (currently) Miami-based fine art gallery working with a variety of artists from all over the globe, something we take a lot of pride in. We are a very eclectic brand, so we go for a lot of different aesthetics when it comes to the creators we work with, and no media is ever off the question! We like keeping things fresh for our audience, as we find that an important aspect to keeping the engagement levels up, it’s all about reinvention. As such, we often focus our efforts on doing outside-the-box projects and collaborations that go further than your typical art event. A good example is the work of Stefano Ogliari Badessi, an Italian artist who’s been part of our family for years. Stefano is known for creating bigger than life installations, which fully transform the environments he creates them in, while always being respectful to said environment.
We love working with artists such as Stefano who allow us to go beyond what is expected from an art gallery. That is the kind of company we are, and I think our name shows that very well.
You’re only 22, which is pretty young to be managing and curating exhibitions and art fair booths, and I imagine it to feel a bit surreal. Can you elaborate on that? How do you feel about the opportunity? Where do you see your career heading in this industry?
I know, right! It’s definitely very surreal for me. I started working with Melanie as an inexperienced 21 year old who needed an internship to get his Bachelor’s and someone to believe in him, and she did that for me. I always try my hardest to not let my age be a detriment in what I do, despite not having the same extensive background as other people in the business, I try making up for it through hard work and an eagerness to learn. I am really grateful to Melanie and the company for having given me the opportunity to go through so much growth both professionally and personally in such a short amount of time. It’s definitely been a life changer for me.
In terms of the future of my career, I have found the curatorial experience to be more fulfilling than I would’ve ever imagined, so that’s definitely a direction I want to keep exploring. In the short term, I want to keep investing my efforts in helping Melanie and The CAMP to be the most successful gallery it can be. We have a lot of exciting projects planned for the future, so that’s always an exciting prospect. I am also on my way to pursuing a graduate degree, which is a personal goal I am looking forward to tackling.
Before you ever curated, what was your perception of it? Has it changed? Did you have any “misconceptions”?
I must admit that I was unaware of all the extensive work the curation process involves! From an outside perspective it might seem like randomly adding frames on a wall, but there really is so much more to it. Proper curation requires careful planning, observation, research, and most important of all, an idea/concept/vision, however you prefer to call it. What I love about being a curator is the prospect of creating this whole new experience for others to discover. It’s all about making a narrative that flows in a way that your audience can understand, no matter how knowledgeable they are on the subject of the show, or art itself. Furthermore, the initial brainstorming and subsequent polishing of the idea might just be my favorite part about it, it’s all very exciting, and a lot of fun! So I must say that before experiencing being a curator myself, I had a rather shortsighted appreciation for it. It is definitely harder than it seems, but if you are passionate about it it can also be the most fulfilling aspect of your job as gallery staff.
Pictured above: photography by Drew Doggett in “Behind the Lens of a Captured Ideal”, January 2020. Curation by Melanie Prapopoulos and Andres J. Mora. (Photo credit: Maria Gabriela Di Giammarco)
What is your process when it comes to curation? What are your goals when you’re putting an exhibition or booth together?
It all depends on the project itself. Sometimes we are faced with the challenge of having a full blank slate and having to decide what exactly is the best direction to take. This happens often with art fairs, you only have one chance to get it “right”, so you need to consider who among your roster of artists is most appropriate to be featured in the fair in question, taking into consideration location, the fair’s aesthetic/vibe, the demographic that frequents it, and the current state of the art world—what’s “in” right now. This can sometimes be daunting, but it’s almost like piecing a puzzle together. There are other instances such as when we do openings at our gallery space where we have a schedule of artists who will be getting shows for the year, in such cases we already have a starting point. The challenge then becomes deciding which pieces among their work would resonate better with our audience (if a solo show), or which pieces from a group of artists will create a cohesive experience for our audience, while also resonating well with them (if a group show). Ultimately, my goal as a curator is for the artists to be satisfied with what I’m presenting on their behalf, as they are putting their trust on the assumption that I will do a proper job for them, for the audience to enjoy what they are experiencing while also feeling like it’s not something they’ve seen 20 times before already, and for myself as the curator to be satisfied with the work I put out there. That’s very important to me.
Tell me a little about the differences in curating a live exhibition versus creating a virtual exhibition. Does the move to virtual exhibitions impact your process in any way (for better or worse)?
Curating for live exhibitions and online exhibitions is a very similar process, with online shows being a lot more straightforward in nature. The curation process is essentially the same, there is the planning, there is the research, there is the decision making; however, you need to consider that when it comes to online exhibitions, you will not have the chance to explain your work to the audience, you are then faced with the realization that the show you put up either makes sense or it doesn’t, and that’s a scary thought. We of course always write a well-researched statement that explains the ins and outs of the exhibition, but there is no guarantee that the person at the other side of the screen will take the time to go over it. As such it is more important than ever to understand your audience and what they want, because you have fewer chances to sell them on yours and the artists’ vision. I personally enjoy the engagement aspect of a live show better than I do working online, but I understand that as things are now the focus on the online aspects of our brand is a number one priority, more than it’s ever been.
Pictured above: work by Rania Rangou in “Survival of the Fittest”, May 2020. Curation by Andres J. Mora
The CAMP is participating in the first-ever online edition of PhotoLA, a California-based, international photography art fair that’s been running for around thirty years, streaming live on June 27 and 28, 2020. What can you tell me about the booth you’ve curated for PhotoLA?
PhotoLA has been an interesting one, as it is the first time the company is partaking in a project based in Los Angeles, as well as it being a photography-only fair, another first for us. When we initially began brainstorming for it, Melanie and I were playing with an initial idea that ultimately did not come to fruition, the reason being that we had not fully assessed the essence of the fair and were thinking more “Miami-like.” We then did some extra research and realized that the Los Angeles art scene was very similar to that of NYC, something that personally caught me by surprise. This led us to change our approach to something more conceptual and dark. The photography work of Italian artist Stefano Ogliari Badessi, a series titled “Mexican Dream,” is very whimsical and tribal-inspired, it speaks of freedom, absurdity, and sensuality. The work of British artist Natalie Lennard is part of a series titled “Birth Undisturbed”; it showcases the idiosyncrasies of childbirth in a way that is raw, unexpected, culturally-sound, and almost taboo in nature. Lastly, the work of Argentinian artist Rosana Machado Rodríguez, a series titled “El Encierro,” speaks of the struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal world that actively tries to suppress your existence, taking away your sense of self. All three artists complement each other to create a narrative that turns darker the deeper you step into the show, a narrative of freedom, creation, and retention. I am very excited for our audience and the PhotoLA audience to experience this show. I think it is a very strong project and my personal favorite I’ve been involved in so far.
Okay, time for a baby lightning round! What are your favorite curatorial challenges?
My favorite curatorial challenge is figuring out how two or more seemingly very different artists make sense with one another within the context of the show we are working on. It’s one of those stressful yet rewarding moments, once you have figured it all out.
What types of exhibitions are most interesting to you, in terms of both curating and experiencing as part of the audience?
My favorite exhibitions to work on are those where I have the freedom to make something out of nothing, where I am free to create from scratch. Being able to “curate” every little detail without having to appease to an already established standard or direction is always very exciting. My favorite exhibitions to experience as a viewer are those that make me feel like I’ve been transported to the artist’s own mind, those where the artists and curators provide an experience beyond an art show.
Has there ever been a big mistake or flub that’s ended up working out beautifully in your favor?
Actually yes, before I started working with Melanie I was supposed to intern at an art museum. However, I ended up submitting my paperwork too late and that caused me to have to find a different alternative at the very last minute, this search lead me to Melanie and her gallery and it’s one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.
Do you think more galleries should be giving their employees the space to realize their creative visions in more concrete ways than just the odd opinion here and there?
I think so, yes. I believe young eager employees are an often untapped resource of both passion and potential that is often overlooked. Giving opportunities to those who are hungry for it should be a common practice among creative spaces/venues, as you never know what you could discover. I’ve been fortunate that my work environment is very encouraging of my self-growth as well as the company’s own growth, but I know that makes me one of the fortunate ones.
Pictured above: photography by Stefano Ogliari Badessi in “Starring: Woman”, for PhotoLA’s Virtual Collect + Connect 2020. Curation by Melanie Prapopoulos and Andres J. Mora.