June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Art and Artists on View at Mana Contemporary

Jersey City—Two years ago, artists Doryne Davis and Sheryl Urman of Englewood were hosting fellow artists from Nahariya who were part of the Federation’s Partnership2Together initiative. They looked long and hard to find places to take their guests that would be meaningful artistically and culturally, and discovered Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. Founded by Israelis in May 2011, Mana has become a center for cutting edge contemporary art from all over the world. “We have artists here from all backgrounds such as Korea, Barcelona, the Caribbean, and from across the Tri-State Area,” President Eugene Lemay wrote in an email interview.

Last month, I visited Mana with a group led by Urman, who gives presentations on artists and leads tours of art museums for organizations and private groups. The sprawling brick complex looks like the factory it once was from the outside. But on the inside of Mana’s two buildings, there are several floors of light, airy space: studios for working artists, climate controlled storage for art, galleries for rotating exhibits and grand space for art expositions. Residencies bring emerging visual and performing artists to Mana to develop their talents. Visitors are always welcome Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with guided tours at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Peeking into the world—and minds—of artists at work is one of the main attractions at Mana. When an artist rents space there, he knows that people will be wandering in to see what he’s doing. The rule for visitors at Mana is that if you see an open door, you can walk in. The Mana Contemporary website has biographies of all the artists in residence at the complex. Selena Ricks, Public Relations Director, suggests that anyone planning a visit to Mana can research the artists and contact them directly to see when they will be in their studios. There are currently 120 artists; the goal is 200 by the end of the year. For our private tour, Urman did the advance research and made personal contacts, selecting several artists for us to meet.

The studio of artist Stanley Casselman is a true working space with art supplies on tables, paint spattered floors and walls decorated with dozens of his small to very large paintings. We watched wide-eyed as Casselman picked up a contraption that looked like a long, rectangular sheet of metal on wheels, and described how he uses the tool to painstakingly put paint on canvas in different designs and layers, until he is satisfied a piece is finished. When is that? He imagines himself taking it to the art world’s most famous dealer and asking himself, ‘Would I show this to Larry Gagosian?’ If the answer is yes, the painting is ready. In another studio, artist Douglas Argue showed us stencils he makes to create colorful canvases. And Jennifer Krause talked about the paintings of beautiful landscapes she made from her travels through the Shenandoah Valley, the Southwest, Canada and fields in France.

We visited a selection of Mana’s rotating exhibits, spread out over several floors in two buildings. Many of the current exhibits are on view until August 1. You can check the website for details on current and future exhibits before you visit.

The Glass Gallery opened May 10, 2014 with its first exposition, curated by artist Ray Smith, titled “All the Best Artists are My Friends.” The column-free, 50,000 square foot space is constructed to host for-profit exhibits, meaning the works can be purchased. Walking through the vast space, you can’t ignore the towering figure of The Pied Piper by artist Z. Behl. Created at the behest of Lemay, who encouraged artists to create larger work for the space, The Pied Piper playing a flute is made out of all found materials and has a cut out space where children playing recorders performed at the opening of the exposition. The famous Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei has an installation of small colored vases. Other artists represented in the gallery include Rita Ackermann, Francisco Clemente, Alex Katz, Max Snow and Andy Warhol. A new exposition will open in October.

Pablo Picasso: La Tauromaquia, an exhibit of illustrations made by Pablo Picasso for a book on bullfighting, is on loan from the Sala Gaspar collection in Barcelona. The book was written in the eighteenth century and published in 1957 by a Barcelona based publishing house that commissioned Picasso to do the illustrations. The collection of all 26 etchings from the book shows Picasso’s illustrative style and his familiarity with bullfights gained from attending many in his childhood.

An exhibit by Judy Chicago of paintings, plates with butterfly designs, and stained glass is on loan from the My House Gallery. A centerpiece of the exhibit is “The Rainbow Shabbat: A Vision for the Future.” Chicago created the large, stained glass installation as the concluding image in “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light,” a traveling exhibition she made in collaboration with her husband, photographer Donald Woodman.

The Middle Eastern Center for the Arts (MECA) is showing the art of Steven Naifeh, the son of American diplomats, who was born in Tehran and lived throughout the Middle East and in the United States. He holds several advanced degrees in art history and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1991 for his book Jackson Pollack: An American Saga. Naifeh’s art combines western abstract techniques with Islamic influenced geometric shapes. Lemay said the mission of MECA is to “show artists from all Middle East backgrounds, to encourage conversation and collaboration in a neutral environment. Past shows have included Israelis and Palestinians, as well as artists from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt.”

The Richard Meier model museum houses the architectural designs and sculpture of the noted architect, who designed Mana Cotemporary. You can see his models for The Getty Center in Los Angeles, and his entries for the competition to design the new World Trade Center.

Milton Resnick, once an art storage client of Mana, died in 2004 but his work is now attracting a wider audience thanks to his wife Pat Passlof, who passed away in 2011, and left instructions in her will for a Foundation dedicated to preserving and promoting his art. A large exhibit of his work is currently on view at Mana, and will be housed in its own museum which is expected to open in 2016.

The story of Mana Contemporary begins in Israel and winds through New York into Jersey City. In the 1980s, Moishe’s Moving trucks were a familiar sight in New York City. They belonged to Moishe Mana, a Tel Aviv law school drop-out who came to New York, got a van and started a business. Mana met Eugene Lemay, an artist and photographer, whom he hired as a driver. Lemay was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to a Lebanese Christian family that converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. Lemay spent his teen and young adult years there, serving in the Israeli army and then moving to New York. He became Mana’s close business associate, helping him expand the company.

Lemay met another Israeli artist, Yigal Ozeri, who initially had the idea of creating a graffiti museum. Instead they realized that Moishe’s Moving had a substantial clientele of art collectors who kept their work crated in storage, and persuaded them to show instead of store the works. Together, Lemay and Ozeri founded Mana Contemporary and Lemay serves as its president. Both are accomplished artists. Lemay was named to Art & Auction Magazine’s 2013 Power 100 list of art world standouts and Ozeri has shown extensively around the world.

Mana is growing exponentially. A museum of Urban Art will open in another Jersey City location on September 14, 2014. There are now Mana Galleries in Chicago and Miami as well. Ambitious future plans include a hotel so visitors can make Mana Contemporary in Jersey City a multi-day destination.

Visitor Information:

Mana Contemporary

888 Newark Avenue

Jersey City, NJ 07306


Phone: 1-800-842-4945

Email: [email protected]

Hours: Monday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Tours: 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m.

To arrange a private group tour, contact Sheryl Urman, [email protected]

By Bracha Schwartz

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