Check out my article about several amazing exhibits opening at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City today. This article originally appeared on the Jersey City Independent, where you can see the full gallery of shots I took from a tour of the facility.
Today’s going to be a big day at Mana Contemporary, the mega art complex in Journal Square near the Marion section. Four new art exhibits featuring big names and dazzling sights open this weekend. Here’s your first glimpse at the attractions:
Ray Smith: Here/Now
Artist Ray Smith (seen above with his painting “Guernimex III (La Olympiada)” in the sixth floor gallery), is one of Mana’s newest tenants. After Hurricane Sandy flooded the internationally recognized artist’s Gowanus studio, Mana Contemporary offered him refuge with studio space as well as the safe-keeping of his water-logged work and restoration of over 40 recent works, a move Smith called “the most mensch thing anyone’s done.” Smith told JCI that his studio was filled with five to six feet of water, destroying a good portion of the electrical system, electrical tools and equipment and about 25 to 30 pieces (paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings) of his and of various artist friends.
“The hurricane was shocking in the fact that the studio had in it, at the time, the sum total of two years of recent work and storage of work dating back 30 years. Most of the early work was hung or stored at higher level than the flood and was not affected with the exception of having been exposed to mold,” says Smith.
One of his latest projects, “Cadavre Exquis,” created with the help of assistants Keegan Monaghan, Eamon Monaghan and Nick Gelormino at his old studio, was done shortly before the storm. The nearly 30 exquisite corpse pieces were totally flooded by Sandy.
“They went underwater, or afloat. They went floating like little boats through that room…but now I’m delighted. I see the storm in every one of them. These are not peaceful paintings. They were already shipwrecks,” says Smith of the project’s many monsters.
In the stunning exhibit, guests can see three decades of Smith’s work in sometimes radically different styles, but often highlighting some of the same key themes like Mexican-American culture, Mexican muralism, Modernist traditions, mystery within familiarity and subversive propagandism.
Smith’s work can be seen on Mana’s first, fourth and sixth floors, ranging from politically inspired pieces and experimental works to large-scale sculptures and portraits of his loved ones from his personal collection.
“Many of these portraits are of my family and friends,” says Smith, walking into the sixth floor gallery. “It’s an intimate thing for me. I’ve seen them in chunks before but this is the first time seeing them all together, both new and old.”
Highlights include Smith’s “Guernimex III,” a 1989-90 painting inspired by a Mexican election and meant to symbolize Mexico’s political past, present and (then) future. (The head inside the horse’s mouth is a portrait of one of the candidates which Smith correctly pegged as an election winner.) Other favorites include gigantic renderings of small, intimate moments like “La Tina de Bruno” from 1993, showing his son’s reflection in a bird bath, and “Maricruz y Mariana,” also from 1993, a sweet portrait of his wife holding one of his daughters. On the fourth floor, his work can be seen in Mana’s in-house cafe, including the erotic but jolting “Berlin (Kiss),” below.
Now, Smith is starting to work again from his new second-floor digs at Mana, perhaps with some artistic input from Sandy. “I’m sure the hurricane will inform and influence my work but somehow I think now that the hurricane was always in it,” he said.
During the exhibition, Smith will collaborate with both Monaghans and Gelormino, the assistants who helped create the exquisite corpse piece on display on the first floor, as well as artist Sam Linder, to create new work.
Smith has exhibited internationally in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, France, Japan and Mexico. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City as well as the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey in Mexico, among others. He currently divides his time between New York, Mexico and Texas. For more information, visit his website.
Middle East Center for the Arts and Leila Heller Gallery: The Space Between
Nine contemporary artists — five from Iran, two from Egypt and two from Iraq — share pieces that show how the Middle East and its people, traditions and culture are often stereotyped to fit assumed binaries like modern versus traditional and religious versus secular as well as how its artists are expected to create works that fit within a perceived oriental aesthetic.
Walking into the space, visitors are greeted by a light installation by Leila Pazooki that pulls comparisons from various art reviews like “Iranian Jeff Koons,” “Dali of Bali” and “Goya of Cambodia,” illustrating the perception that non-Western art cannot stand on its own, but can only be understood if compared to a Western convention.
Other highlights include Hadieh Shafie’s intricate sculptures made from printed and handwritten Farsi scrolls, Khosrow Hassanzadeh’s mixed media mural of Middle Eastern icons made of 728 painted ceramic tiles (right) and several films about the impact of war in Iraq and Iran as well as modern-day exile from Egypt.
Michael Zansky: Giants and Dwarfs
One of the most overwhelming exhibits this Sunday is Michael Zansky’s mega-installation which includes over 200 four-by-eight-foot plywood panels which line the walls of Mana’s beer garden.
Zansky’s sprawling project is both a journey into the Nyack artist’s subconscious and an archeological dig into the various subjects that inspire him including everything from Assyrian, Paleolithic, Egyptian and Greek art to science and psychology. (Also, there are literally panels resembling digging sites with fossils and skeletons being unearthed.) “They’re abstract representations of these constructs,” explains Zansky, who has spent the past 12 years on the project in between hours working on films and TV shows like “The Sopranos” and “Law and Order.”
“It’s a cyclical body of work that expresses my experiences with relationships,” he says. “It’s never finished.”
Each of the several hundred-pound panels, which stack up on the beer garden’s 5,000-square-feet of wall space and reach between 16 to 24 feet high, is made of layers of plywood which Zansky burns and paints with organic shapes and almost alien forms. Highlights include a panel that appears to peer into the inside of an abstract body structure containing, among other things, an eyeball (acquired from Van Dyke’s Taxidermy, he says); a towering tornado-like structure which as Zansky reveals, is nothing more than a sea shell; and various renderings that seem one part scientific diagram and one part a surreal dream.
Zansky says that for years, the pieces stayed separate in his mind until one day when he saw about 20 of the panels together. “I then saw a sequence unfolding, not unlike film stills,” he says. Now, the project flows together, united by browns and blues, with occasional spots of white and grey, with no distinct beginning or end. As one continuous piece, it’s clear that this beautiful monster is something Zansky’s mind had to unleash.
Zansky says the piece may be on display for up to two years at Mana. For now, he is focusing on a new project with optic lights and Fresnel lenses as well as painting, sculpting and shooting photos from his fourth-floor studio at Mana.
For more information, visit Zansky’s website.
Sante D’Orazio: Scratched
“Oh, that’s Cindy Crawford!” is probably the worst thing you can say to famed photographer Sante D’Orazio about his work because, well, it’s not actually a comment on his work.
Frustrated that people weren’t really looking at his photos as photos, D’Orazio began scratching away at his film to eliminate the identities of his subjects. “It became abstract and people had to look at the composition and feel things,” he says.
One day, when D’Orazio was asked to do a pornographic film, he came up with the idea of applying his scratch method to porn, which he calls the “new pop,” noting that mainstream celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton got their fame through erotic exploits. “Porn is part of our culture,” he says plainly.
With nothing more than a needle taped to the end of a pencil and miles of 16mm and 32mm film from reels of vintage 70′s porn, D’Orazio began scratching away faces and genitals, creating abstractions and actually amplifying the sensuality of each piece. With identities wiped away, the viewers find themselves wanting to see exactly what they can’t see and what’s more, seeing a bit of themselves in the blacked-out faces.
“Once it speaks to you, you recognize yourself in the work,” says D’Orazio, who has a fourth-floor studio at Mana.
He has since worked on three films, with each taking about two years to complete (after all, each second is 24 frames). Lately, he’s been applying acrylic-based color to each frame, making each image at the same time more dream-like and more vivid.
For more information, visit D’Orazio’s website.
The openings for the shows runs today, March 3 from 1 pm to 5 pm and will feature live music, interactive installations, open studio tours and more. Mana Contemporary is located at 888 Newark Ave. For more information, visit their website.