On Tuesday September 24th the founders of Mana Contemporary invited the press for a tour of its massive space, and the fine art contained within former factory walls. Manafest opens on sunday the 29th with six exhibitions. (http://www.manafinearts.com/)
First off, you might think to utilize your phones GPS application when navigating this cavernous maze of creative aspiration. Yes, it is that big. 500,000 square feet are in use, with plans to utilize one million square feet of exhibition, storage, and studio space. Is there such a thing as too much, or too big under one roof when it comes to art? As a tourist you’re kind of obligated to see it all, because who knows if you will ever return. As a New Yorker, that obligation wains, along with your intake capacity. Art, a lot of it, can stimulate and overstimulate the senses. So you travel to the Brooklyn Museum for the major exhibition, and maybe one other section on that floor, and maybe one additional floor, and then you promise to return in the next month to see the rest. Mana Contemporary is such a place. Is the advantage a disadvantage? Mana Contemporary is located in Jersey City. You can’t get space like that in the Manhattan, or even Brooklyn (it’s all being converted to high-rise condos). For art sake, it a wise move by the founders Eugene Lemay, and Yigal Azeri.
The challenge remains. How to get New Yorkers to Jersey City, and kind of as tourists, remain an entire day with a tasty lunch break at Mana Bistro (great sandwiches by the way), and then continue to tour the art and space located on six floors? And if they can’t do a whole day, will they return before the exhibition ends?
From what I hear, the Path train trip to Journal Square is over before you’ve had time to check all of your social media streams. We had the fortune of being whisked away from Milk Studios in one of those party buses, but much more subdued, and without any neon lights glowing through darkly tinted windows.
It is truly worth the trip. Mana Contemporary is a remarkable re-purposing of brick and mortar, the all too true cliche, Americana remnant of a more industrious era. By the way, Jersey City must be absolutely thrilled that such a huge, what must have been a growing sore, is coming to life with a determined vibrancy. The space is an architectural delight. Like with every re-envisioning of space, there must be some pros and cons, but I’m not versed enough in architecture to discern. With its wide passages, and ceilings so high—I don’t recall feeling a pull to look up at them—it felt like art had always been produced, and viewed within those walls. Yet, I’ll gladly contradict myself by saying that one con might be that it felt a little factory-ish. But hey, it was a factory of some sort. We might not like to associate art with a controlled environment, where everything has its place. Looking into the eyes of the artists, none of them looked like a character out of the underworld of Metropolis. The truth of it is art must find a strong foothold in such turbulent cultural times. Not just the drama of the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Areas, and rising real estate prices, but also for crumbling (hopefully) regimes murderously imposing rule over the people, and hence the art of the Middle East, and the displaced artist who must find a way to make, and show art. Art organizations within Metropoles of the free world must fortify themselves, not just for the sake of the metropole but for cultures around the globe who struggle towards freedom. Perhaps sixty years later for Syria this time around of their revolutionary spirit, the difference might be this time around their voices are being heard globally. In this sense, a space like Mana Contemporary allows for the role of art in culture to play out, instead of getting lost; enervated of use.
The wide passages give way to creativity-in-motion. I’m not surprised to see an institution like Mana come into being. The word is out, the conversation is heavy on the subject of process. That process is transparent at Mana. With studios located near public spaces within, a professional dance rehearsal space visible through all glass twenty feet high walls, not only are we in a gallery space where the finished object can be seen, but we are in the studio where the object is being made. If you are as sensitive as I am to creativity, you will feel the buzz of the making. Jersey City is under-construction, Mana is ever-evolving in a build-out process, art is being made… it must be the dawn of a new era. I am an optimist.
The Fine Art
Sunday’s opening of MANAFEST is comprised of Six Exhibitions.
Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation
Shoja Azari and Shahram Karimi: Magic of Light
Carole Feuerman: The Golden Mean
Voices from the Interior
Syria: A Silenced Scream
Ilana Goor: A Preview of Artist Furniture and Bronze Sculpture
[The tour focused on the volumes of art in Pop Culture (2 Floors), Magic of Light, Syria: A Silenced Scream and The Golden Mean.]
Billie Milam Weisman, curator of the Pop Culture exhibit, gave us a very personable guide to the many selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. It felt as if we were looking through a family photo album. It is a private collection, however, the foundations make public viewing of the works a priority. Giant typewriter erasers, gooey looking things, shiny objects… lots of color—the objects of practical and impractical desires. Features works by Warhol, Oldenburg, Haring, Rushe, and many more the exhibition is a blockbuster of pop phenom caliber.
I was taken by the tour of Magic of Light presented by Shoja Azari. Magic of Light includes three collaborative video-painting series by Azari and Karimi, as well as a video installation by Azari. Just as white is bright with enlightenment, the darkness is quiet and disarming—the exhibition takes the two for a focused experience. Azari and Karimi have teamed up bringing film to stillness, as moving images are projected on canvases. The effect is chilling, a dream state; multi-layered like states of consciousness. In totally black box rooms, that you maze deep into, you find canvases lighted with projections. The darkness is disorienting, yet you find your way because you’ve stepped into someone else’s consciousness, that you have no other choice but to trust.
White light is noise, and when you take it all away, to your visual awareness comes the glimmerings; birth, beginning, unnoticed happenings–the visual composition of four pieces happening simultaneously you must stay with the work to piece together the birth of a story told–a man a boy a woman; the disillusion of a family. A 4-panel video-painting series, entitled Forsaken, “depicts meta-narratives based on a story of a family in the midst of deteriorationThe unobtrusive seating, is a request to embrace the stillness.”
In stillness the mind begins to focus, in this context the focus is art that becomes experiential, not merely on an object level though, the focus enters into an open space of transcendence where the level of consciousness begins to shift and the viewer as if by magic, will potentially glean some deeper/higher meaning. The coincidentia oppositorum of the works of Magic of Light are found in its uses of darkness and light, and the alignment of still lines and animated. Your perception may inform you what’s happening here, but the projections will conflict with any initial ideas. If there are any qualities of transcendence contained within the work it would surely be the way in which perception is twisted by the convergence of two mediums. Work that appears to be still, moves, a story unfolds, and so the viewer’s perception is immediately challenged.
Syria: A Silenced Scream
The exhibition is comprised of political posters created digitally by the collective The Syrian People Know Their Way and other artists who operate anonymously within Syria and beyond its borders, avoiding imprisonment and torture. The occasion marks the first time these works will be seen in the United States. Again a presentation in a totally blacked out room, save for sparse light illuminating a large table of bound collections of posters seen throughout Syria. We were told that for the actual show a selection of the posters will be on view. Over 250 of the posters have been translated from Arabic to English for the first time. Making this work accessible to a Western audience. The mephistophelian al-Assad regime has been at work for some time, and only recently gaining global attention. Yet the challenge remains for the rest of us to get a bigger perspective on what is going on. “Linguistic barriers and the relentless imagery of violence coming out of Syria has prevented this material from reaching a Western audience,” said Tyler Waywell, Director, MECA. “Our mission was to collect the work, make it accessible, and ultimately present a relatively unmediated perspective of the conflict.” The exhibition Syria: A Silenced Scream is organized by MECA and the Master’s Degree Program of Interdisciplinary Design at the Holon Institute of Technology.
The Golden Mean
The internationally recognized hyper-realistic sculptor Carole Feuerman’s career has spanned over 40 years. The Golden Mean is one of her newest work. You will recall this mathematically genius, beautiful work shown at Jim Kempner Fine Art. Here he is, in all his diving glory! Carole describes the piece as “an icon for achieving the impossible, for the struggle of survival and strength, and the resilience of the human spirit.” Feuerman’s own determination (along with a team) successfully engineered a two-ton sculpture to stand upside down on 6-inch wrists
Both life-size and monumental, among the bronze sculptures to be shown, is the revealing of her latest work of Olympic gold medalist swimmer Lauren Perdue. Seen floating in a pool, in a backstroke pose is a tribute to Perdue, a living symbol of the struggle and survival, and the determined human spirit. Two months before Olympic trials in London, she underwent back surgery. The Olympian will be in attendance at the opening on sunday.
Voices from the Interior: Palestinian Women Artists is an ambitious and unprecedented showcase of video art by six Palestinian women living and working in Israel. I’ll have to make the trip back to Jersey City, as we did not get to see this exhibition. Originally opening in May 2013, they have extended the show due to tremendous response. Cultural narrative speaks beyond borders, and foremost is intrinsic for the proliferation of human dignity. In a male-dominated culture, the voices of women are silenced, avenues to speak out are closed. The Middle East Center of Art (MECA) is a non-profit exhibition space at Mana Contemporary that “provides an equal opportunity platform for artists, curators, scholars, and institutions—based in the Middle East and its Diasporas—to showcase new and influential works of art.” Featuring videos by Nasrin Abu Baker, Fatima Abu Romi, Raida Adon, Anisa Ashkar, and Manai Mahamid. The show exposes the everyday life challenges of female Palestinians.
Mana Contemporary will unveil its new Department of Decorative Art and Design with preview new artistic furniture and bronze sculpture by Ilana Goor in its new second floor gallery. The show is a preview of her artistic furniture and bronze sculpture. Ilana Goor: New Limited Edition of Artistic Furniture and Bronze Sculpture will open as a complete exhibition on January 12, 2014.
Mana Contemporary was founded by Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri.