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The Contompasis brothers

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Back in Business

The reopened, rechristened Marketplace Gallery is a Contompasis family labor of love

By Ann Morrow

The hulking industrial building on a desolate stretch of Broadway was so dark that the block-print title on a lone fluorescent poster could barely be seen. Yet on this freezing and deserted evening in early February, the former lye factory was host to a surprisingly lively event: Once inside, visitors were welcomed by a dramatic hallway garden of red flowers, sculptural driftwood, and Japanese lanterns. Through the frond festooned doorway, a grand opening was in full swing as a constant flow of people gathered in front of walls covered with bold paintings and alcoves filled with ingenious installations. Under reconstruction since last summer, the Marketplace Gallery was back in business.

“It’s incredibly amazing,” enthuses mixed-media artist and Marketplace co-owner Samson Contompasis of the venue’s opening-weekend success. The show was representative of the gallery’s eclecticism: Offerings ranged from the regional debut of Kingston-based painter Michael Scott Ackerman, who wowed the crowd with his antic, witty paintings in the style of Jean-Michael Basquiat, to an installation called the Confessional (with a mechanized priest inside recording confessions) by acclaimed Albany craftsman Peter Leue. Monthly shows will exhibit a variety of local and downstate artists, regular contributors and featured guests, and photography and installation art of all types.

It’s the second go-round for the family-owned business: The first incarnation, the Contompasis Gallery, was destroyed by a fire in August that killed the family bulldog, Xena, consumed most of the gallery’s inventory, and gutted the living spaces of Samson, 30, and his younger brothers, Maximilian, a photographer-archivist, and Alexander, a painter. But months of intensive labor and several fundraisers later, the gallery space looks better than ever. Now that it’s open, the brothers are looking at the gallery’s devastation more positively: The fire demolished walls that would have cost thousands of dollars to remove, opening up eight-foot-high windows with river views and allowing for plywood replacement walls that make hanging artworks much easier.

“We’re trying to provide an authentic, 1960s to 1980s New York City experience with that Warhol, Soho-loft feel where people are swept into an entire universe of texture, color, and emotion,” says Samson. “All our monthly shows are titled, and I tell the artists the titles can serve as themes for new work for the gallery if they want. We have a nucleus of six or seven artists who are constantly producing new work, and we only show work that hasn’t been shown before.”

In addition to recruiting from the family’s artistic connections—Leue, for example, is a longtime friend of the brothers’ father, Peter, a large-scale pop artist—Samson also travels regularly to exhibit and talent-scout in New York City. “Getting artists to come up from the city isn’t that easy, even though it’s only two or three hours away,” he reports. “There’s a reputation that Albany is 10 years behind the times, and we’re trying to push it into the forefront.”

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

The gallery’s name change is a tribute to Contompasis family history—their grandparents met at, and later purchased the property of, an open-air marketplace on nearby South Pearl Street—and even more a recognition of the gallery’s coterie of contributors, including artists Gregory Dunn, Radical!, and Jason Schultz, floral designer Martin Dodge, and especially, says Samson, the artist duo Dwell OneUnit. The opening reception was appropriately titled For the Love Of . . ., a nod to the gallery being a labor of love for all the friends and businesses who contributed to its restoration.

Samson’s former employment in construction certainly helped in the rebuilding. And even earlier, he began his artistic trajectory as a sculptor, and says his experience with using tools helped him to be innovative at stone carving. His most significant series was created out of brownstone cast off during the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “I’ll work with anything I have access to,” he says. “Like if I have canvas, I’ll paint, if I have stone, I’ll sculpt. Right now I’m really enjoying painting.”

Recently he’s been working with Golden Age-era Hollywood photos of Sophia Loren, from the archives of legendary celebrity photographer Zinn Arthur. The studio stills were loaned to him by Frank Whitney, a contributing Marketplace photographer who owns Arthur’s archive. A Loren canvas was on display at the opening, and more are in the works. Samson says he creates the pointillism-style portraits in the same method as silk screening, except they’re painted by hand. “The photos are intricate and need to be perfect; one dot goes wrong and it’s ruined.”

He also has an ongoing series centered on colorful gorillas in unusual urban settings. “I just like the boisterous nature of them,” he says. “There’s no heavy contextualism.” He’s similarly primal about having “floral architecture” as part of the shows. “Flowers make people happy,” he says, adding, “I love installation art—it broadens people’s perspective on what art is.” That enthusiasm encompasses the cavernous Greenbush Tape & Label building (the former lye factory), and its long and storied history as an artists’ enclave. The Marketplace studio is on the third floor.

In keeping with the gallery’s populist attitude, prints of exhibited artworks will be available. “To have a diversity of prices is a huge thing,” Samson says. “That’s why it’s a marketplace, so anyone can afford to take home a piece of art.” And because the gallery charges a lower-than-usual commission, he adds, artists can price their originals lower.

Opening March 5, Convergence includes guest artists Travis W. Simmons from Brooklyn (“he does these beautiful, nautical-theme dreamscapes”) and CAKE from New York City (“she does unique, line-drawing portraits”). “I have these new artists who are enormous in scope and dimension, and not just physically,” he enthuses. “Substantiality is what creates fine art.”

Convergence will be held March 5-7, 5 to 11 pm. The Marketplace Gallery is located at 40 Broadway, Albany, Suite No. 3. For gallery hours or to make an appointment, call (971) 207-8937.

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