Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jersey City and Mana Contemporary: The Next Big Thing?

Tuesday, traveling to New Jersey, specifically Jersey City to visit Mana Contemporary
at the invitation of my friend Dominick Lombardi... a posh bus with spectacular upholstery - sorry no picture; must save the iphone battery for the art!  You  might well ask:  how I could leave Brooklyn without a full battery?  
Blame it on my son Andrew (Yonda), visiting from Madison, WI (that liberal enclave in the center of Gov. Scott Walker hell) who took me on a whirlwind tour of the museums and marketplaces of NYC.

Suffice it to say that the bus to Jersey City is somewhere between this:
(internet photo)

and this:
(internet photo)

Here we are at Mana Contemporary, a fabulously renovated former tobacco factory, speaking with
 (l-to-r) Yigal Ozeri, Eugene Lemay and Joshua Kirsch. 
Ozeri and Lemay, both artists, are major forces behind this project.  Eugene Lemay is also the president and chief executive of Moishe’s Moving and Storage from whence comes the funding for
Mana Contemporary in all its various manifestations.  Ozeri is an Israeli artist who is one of the most fashionable people I've met, mixing and matching his eras and oeuvres with unerring finesse: 
cat-eye pointy 50's era glasses; 60's-style bell-bottoms; pointy boots, striped jacket and tie.  

Move over, Robert Plant!

Joshua Kirsch is a recent graduate of SVA.  His sculpture Oculus hangs on the wall (above)
and below is his large interactive musical sculpture/installation,
Sympathetic Resonance, which "uses the keys of a marimba to create an engaging and personal musical experience. [Red cables] connect the solenoid on each module to a touch-sensitive aluminum keyboard that viewers...are encouraged to play." (
He and I spoke for a time about the pros and cons of having a tangle of electrical cords massed 
on the floor.  He was thinking of shortening them, less messy, but I think there's something intriguing about the wild red path the electricity must go through to reach the yellow-headed marimba mallets.
This piece has also been at Princeton, in Grand Rapids, MI, at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn and at 
the Wired Magazine store in NoHo.  Kirsch's work seems to dip into a time-well of both past and future, synthesizing elements from technology and design with results that are elegant, whimsical and charismatic. 

Below is Shen Wei who walks amongst his squares of abstract imagery that become part of interactive dances where dancers paint with their bodies.  Performances are coming up on Sunday.

Shen Wei is also a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, and "lead choreographer for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics...[He] has been widely celebrated for his sophisticated choreography, lighting designs and minimalist costumes, recognized for his abstract paintings and, most recently, for his work in film."  (from
Wow.  I was in AWE of the Beijing opening ceremonies, 
which were unbelievably beautiful, complex, profound. 
Along with being supremely skilled, Shen Wei is also a very charming man, 
as is his assistant, Stephen Xue.

This man at the desk above is the work of Carole A. Feuerman
who has a studio on the sunny fourth floor.
She is considered to be an artist in the "emerging" category, 
although her career has been four decades in the making.  
Such is the story of many artists, submerged in the emerging.  
Feuerman, however, seems to be verging on putting the gerund-ic foreverness of the "ing"
to rest, morphing into the more emphatic "ed" past tense now.  
She has emerged into Mana.

Above is the work of Doug Argue 
who has a huge and sunny space 
where he is painting super-sized canvases, getting ready for a show at Haunch of Venison, a very hip gallery in Chelsea, opening June 21st.   (No, I won't make any silly puns on his name, although I am sorely tempted.)  The marks look Pollock-esque from a distance, but closer in they turn into letters.  
He and I discuss his need to paint on a hard surface to get the right amount of tension when he scrapes paint across the surface, thus he mounts his canvases on stretchers after finishing them, to avoid the annoying bounce effect, which I also hated when I used to paint--that annoying give of unbacked canvas...  

I love to talk about this kind of stuff.  
Don't get me going about pixel size and tif vs. psd.

This is a sadly bad photo of the very beautiful work of Eugene Lemay, who will be opening soon at the Mike Weiss Gallery in Chelsea.  
(Many Weiss Gallery artists have spaces in Mana.)  
This piece is being shown in the large gallery space that is now exhibiting 
the impressive collection of the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation.  
Ms. Kominsky keeps her collection at Mana Contemporary and 
is showing many recent acquisitions in the sixth floor gallery.

Lemay's work incorporates script also, Hebrew script that is embedded layer upon layer in 
this computer-generated imagery.  
Working with the computer myself, I have great respect for the medium and what it can do, 
and Lemay is using Photoshop in a very painterly way. 
In his vast studio space at Mana, the imagery is mostly dark,
springing from his experience as a pilot who flew at night.  
Looking into the soft, unsettling darkness, the viewer experiences a vertiginous void, an ambiguous atmosphere that seems to be subtly shifting and changing, both seductive and dangerous.
The script seems both etched on the surface and dissolving into the darkness, 

(photo from the website)
paradoxically portraying depth and at the same time snapping us back to the surface.

Micha Lang shows me the storage facilities at Mana, 
which are most definitely "state-of-the-art."  Some areas are temperature-controlled, some aren't, depending on your needs, and, no doubt, budget.

This former tobacco factory has been totally remodeled...well, "remodeled" doesn't really describe what's going on here, that word perhaps bringing up visions of artists slapping up a few walls 
and exposing a few gorgeous old brick walls for our esthetic pleasure.  
No, this place has out-Chelsea-d Chelsea, it's out Gagosian-ed Gagosian.
The walls and floors are whiter than white, the ceilings taller than the whole place has been sprayed with some kind of Steve Wheeler "Infinity"juice.

(Members of my Pratt class at Wheeler's show at Zwirner recently.)

One of my luncheon companions (by the way, they put on a great spread for us which included wine, always a special treat before noon) says the place seems cold.  Well, yes.  
How can expansive, shiny white spaces not seem cold?  
But he goes further:  he sees ominous implications in the whole thing...
Then again, he seems to sense ominous implications in my sitting down at his lunch table
and engaging him in conversation.
He looks around furtively, picking at his lunch--obviously the high ceilings,
the clean, perfectly plumb white walls aren't for everyone.

Personally, I find things like too-warm winters, ever larger hurricanes and tornadoes to be more worrisome than a new art space in New Jersey.  (Indeed, I call today's unseasonably balmy temperatures "Ted Bundy" weather, after the handsome serial killer
who was notoriously charming before he lowered the boom.)

(Internet photo of Ted Bundy)

In a way, I've given up being judgmental about art and artists.  Which is kind of why
(along with the issue of no money) I stopped writing about art.  Pretty much stopped.
 I'm more interested in considering art on its own terms, seeking motivations, inner searches,
thinking about how formal ideas filter through the artist's mind and
come out the other side.  Sides.  Pores.  Fingers, feet, mouths, hands, veins,
vessels, glands, tracts, canals...
I try to leave my "value" judgments in the political realm, saving any stray vitriol
for people who support Rick Santorum and the rest of the clowns out there trying to
destroy the world as we know it.

(Internet photo of Rick Santorum)

Art will not destroy the world.
Whether it can or can't, should or shouldn't save the world is another matter.
(Actually, it's not the world that needs saving, it's us humans.
Who, as we savor the balmy Ted Bundy weather, ignoring the dire implications of melting ice caps
and acidifying oceans, are probably beyond saving.)

However, one of Yigal Ozeri's ideas is to bring Israeli and Palestinian artists to Mana and
have them work together, apart from political structures and limitations.
This seems like a good plan to me.
Ozeri's own work involves photography and immaculate photorealistic paintings of mostly young women, work that seems
to have no particularly political overtones in our post-feminist world except for the 
occasional Israeli Army uniform, which is pretty political, but kind of a mixed message...

 ...which would take me a whole other blog to address, where I would maybe throw in some of the stuff from the Croatian feminist artist Sanja Iveković... her "Sweet Violence" exhibition at MoMA right now, 

which I saw with my son Andrew, to take everything full circle.

Anyway, the buzz reports that Mana Contemporary would like to out-PS1 PS1.
To become a new improved version, an art community supported by business, a place where collectors can come and feel comfortable, and artists can work.  But nearly every working artist's studio I've ever seen has been a clutter of art materials and the detritus of the artist's various obsessions.
Does one have to be a neat artist to work here?  Will funkiness be allowed to set in, in its own time?

Well, we shall see.
 And of course the elephant in the room is, yes, the New Jersey factor,
 that funny thing the New York art world has about going further west than 11th Avenue,
over/under the Hudson River,
that concern about crossing some great divide that transcends convenience or distance
(or lack thereof).  Ironically, as opposed to say, Bushwick, or areas of Greenpoint and Williamsburg which are as easy to get to as Nebraska,
Jersey City is very accessible via the Path Train. 
Plus the Path Train looks out on the kind of "back-yard" scenes that I love:

and as everyone knows, you get the best views of New York from the Jersey side.

I was in a show a while back in the nearby Canco Loft building before it was turned into luxury condos,
and while it was a bit of a walk from the Journal Square stop, 
it was do-able, and through a pleasant Indian neighborhood.
So we shall see.  
My thoughts are, the more art the better.  The more art spaces, the better.
The condo-market is totally saturated, and artists make great tenants.
Indeed, let art take over the world, with artists like Shen Wei leading the way.

My visit over, I return to New York in the posh bus, and my walk to the A-train reveals this spectacle:  
the David on a flat-bed truck, traveling leisurely down 9th Avenue,
strutting his stuff, albeit in a prone position.
Back in Manhattan, art is taking over the world, one David at a time.  
Fortunately my Iphone, down to a thin red line, comes through.


  1. Epic blog! I hope you have backup copies of these writings for your descendants!

    1. Who needs backup when it's on the web, which will last forever?