San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Galería Amón Hopes to Fill Void in San José

Costa Rica’s landscape has drastically changed and continues to do so; from the western San José suburb of Escazú to Playa Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast, it seems that ground is broken on a new development project every day. More than a decade of serious development has produced at least one benefit – the influx of people, money, ideas and cultures has created the perfect environment for a burgeoning art scene.

The international world of art largely passes over San José, though “everyone wants San José to be a center for art,” says Wilson McCray, artistic director of the new Galería Amón and a painter who has lived in San José for eight years.

“The art scene in San José is growing at an exponential rate,” McCray notes. “There are so many young artists – and they’re good – but without venues for young artists to show, like in other big cities.”

Robert Griffith, who opened Galería Amón to fill this void in northern San José’s historic Barrio Amón district, says, “If we promote and build the art community, then we are doing our job.”

Griffith, a U.S. emergency room doctor who practices in Cleveland, Ohio, never had much to do with the art scene until several years ago, on his first trip to Costa Rica. After landing in San José, Griffith went directly to Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica, where he stayed across the way from Stella’s Bakery. Inspired by artist Stella Wallace’s painting, he began to paint as well, returning to Monteverde four times in 2005 alone to study with Wallace.

Five years after his first foray into Costa Rica and painting, Griffith acknowledges that his place in the art world isn’t about his work, but rather what he can do for artists.

After several years of going between Cleveland and Monteverde, Griffith learned about more than just painting. He saw how much it means to an artist to sell a piece, and decided to foster the country’s growing art scene by providing a place for artists and the public to connect.

“I am an ordinary artist, but being able to have a place for artists … for me, it is about showing artists, creating a place where it would be easy for people to see the art,” he says.

McCray and Griffith have an easy relationship; McCray is rarely serious while Griffith is earnest, but both are open and share the same goals for Galería Amón’s place in the capital. The duo aims to establish Galería Amón as part of the growing art scene, while encouraging it along by providing a space where a wide variety of international artists can show their work.

Both men love San José, and never intended to open a gallery anywhere other than in the capital. They opened Galería Amón in the midst of several galleries, wanting to “cooperate and feed off one another; it is interesting how this is gradually coming to pass,” Griffith says.

With hot dog stencils floating across its green walls, the gallery is hard to miss, even on a casual walk around the barrio. What might be considered a surprising decoration in the middle of Barrio Amón is less so, as the gallery’s walls abut those of TEOR/éTica, an established gallery whose walls are painted dark blue with bright white snowflakes.

The hot dogs were McCray’s idea – another one of his endless jokes, this one “about two Gringos in Barrio Amón … Also, I was trying to say that we would like not to take ourselves too seriously.”

The gallery is presently showcasing a series of paintings (asphalt, metal dye and polyurethane on aluminum) by Costa Rican artist Alejandro “Tarzaán” Villalobos. In his “Paisaje” series, he paints impressionistic images of the rain forest. His painting is messy, the dye seeming to be almost splashed on, but in its urgent application onto the aluminum Villalobos captures the humid denseness of the forest. The dull sheen of the aluminum background lends the feel of thick fog and the sensation of the rain forest at once receding and closing in on you.

Now that they have the gallery up and running, Griffith and McCray are turning their attention to fostering a community among the other galleries and contributing to the arts world of San José. Only a few months into their debut, there is talk of organizing a citywide art exhibition.

For now, Villalobos’ work will be up through April. Beginning in May, the gallery will welcome Claudia Mandel as curator of an exhibit of Costa Rican photographers on the female figure.

Galería Amón is located 250 meters north of the MorazánPark kiosk. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. close on Friday). For information, call 223-9725, e-mail or visit


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