Carolina Alvarez-Mathies will, in May, celebrate her first anniversary as executive director at the Dallas Contemporary. This month, her Design District museum will open two shows that share a strong tie to a celebrated ceramic studio in Guadalajara, Mexico. The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your favorite artwork in your house? I just acquired a new ceramic sculpture titled It Hurts to Love. It’s a little bit dark in subject matter, but I’m really into it. Do you know La Descarnada? It’s by an artist named Alejandro García Contreras. It’s a vagina giving birth to a Latin American skinless demon.
I hope it’s not on a precarious plinth like that Jeff Koons balloon dog that got knocked over in Miami. Believe it or not, I’m rethinking its placement because it is in a slightly precarious place. But I don’t have a lot of people coming through my house just yet.
What does an executive director of a noncollecting museum actually do? A little bit of everything on a good day. I can be the equivalent of a high-end concierge to a lot of different people. The other day, it actually involved a water main valve. What I never realized when I became a museum director was that I was essentially inheriting ownership of a 42,000-square-foot home. When you’re in the middle of a freeze and nobody’s available to come help, when a pipe is busted, you shut off the water main. It was outside, so thankfully nothing inside was in danger.
Dallas is a fairly conservative town. Does that make your job harder, trying not to disturb people? Oh, that’s no fun. I think the purpose is to disturb. And excite. That’s what made it really exciting for me to move down here. You know, I lived in New York for nine years, and I love Texas, but there’s always been this curiosity of working in an institution that is irreverent, creating a space where people can come in and we have permission to be inquisitive and fun and, yeah, be disturbed.
Neil Peart [the deceased drummer for Rush] or Phil Collins [the artist who shares a name with the drummer for Genesis]?
I know Phil Collins very well. I helped him mount a project at Creative Time. That was one of my most favorite projects I’ve ever worked on. Funny enough, when we were working on that project, Billboard did this huge announcement. They thought that the drummer for Genesis had staged this art show at the intersection of social justice and public art.
I’m told that you’ve been described as the Paris Hilton of El Salvador. Can you unpack that for me? I knew this was going to come up. My family’s also in the hotel industry. And I was born and raised in El Salvador. My whole family is from there. And I moved to Connecticut when I was 15.
How long has your family operated hotels and been in that business? Since my grandparents got into it, but the original family business was actually brewing. My great-great-great-grandmother immigrated to Santa Ana, El Salvador, in 1888. She started importing beer; once she realized it was a hit, she started brewing it in her own kitchen. She had learned how to make it several years before. Along with her son, they founded El Salvador’s first brewery in 1896. It became part of a beverage company that my family sold on its 100-year anniversary. It’s called La Constancia.
“When I became a museum director, I was essentially inheriting ownership of a 42,000-square-foot home.”
You have to eat every meal for the rest of your life at only one Dallas restaurant. Which restaurant is it? That’s the hardest question you’ve asked me. Food is a huge thing for me. You know what? I’m going to go with Beverley’s. It’s half for the food and half for the company. Greg Katz is just such a great human. If I had to sit there every day, I’d want to be with friends.
I’m going to say two numbers. I want to know how they make you feel. Those two numbers are 65 and 7. You know what? I am so proud of TCU and the team [which lost the national championship game to Georgia by that score]. I’m a proud Horned Frog. The game was heartbreaking, but it was a great run.
This story originally appeared in the April issue of D Magazine with the headline, “The Beholder.” Write to [email protected].