From these elements, Lay has conjured something subtly familiar and maybe even deeply human. Lay calls many of these images “digital mandalas,” and many of them do display the symmetry and the near-tessellated quality associated with traditional Indian art. Modern mandalas are often used as relaxation tools, but for centuries they were associated with devotional practice. Here, the Buddha is gone missing, replaced by a microchip.
Describing her passion for the exhibition, Kosdan said: “I felt it was important to highlight this tragic event and loss of lives. This is my home, and it really affected me. I have this space. Why not utilize it to make a statement, and let artists make a statement, too, by evoking peace and love.”
What we found was a grand, generous exhibition that, despite its size, was surprisingly coherent. Themes emerged: the beauty of the post-industrial environment and the repurposing of found objects, whimsy and good humor, depictions of streetscapes, roadways, bridges and girders, and, naturally, a copious amount of Jersey love.
Technically, all of these painters are experimenting. They’re pushing at the boundaries of their styles, exploring the power of shape and color, taking chances, doing the sorts of things that an artist does when he or she is subject to the interstellar currents of deep space. Yet there’s so little sweat visible in “Circle the Square” that you may not even notice. All they ask of you is the same thing that all deep space cadets do: Have a little faith, detach from the mothership, and float.
Glass painting in West Africa has roots in a lower-tech era. Yet its modern resonances are undeniable. When done properly, a glass painting is seen through a thin, shiny transparent layer. It’s not unlike the way we modern viewers apprehend most of the images we encounter: through the backlit flat-panel screens of laptops and phones.
Longtime residents will recognize that argument. It’s the same one that was used by arts advocates during the debate over the institution of the Powerhouse Arts District. The PAD was meant to anchor arts activity in the Warehouse District, and create a Downtown haven for creative people and a magnet for visitors. The ordinance passed, and the PAD was instituted, but the neighborhood never developed in the manner in which its advocates hoped it would.
An existential crisis requires an aesthetic response more forceful than the creeping unease present in many modern gallery shows. In a moment as fraught as the one we inhabit, we shouldn’t be put off by a firm guiding hand or even a wagging finger.
“The buzzard up there is the real estate developers,” Olsen explains. “And the skeletons, they died from neglect and the quality (of life). The cemetery is full of all the things we’ve lost, like the buses, the supermarket. We’re in a desert, and the flames are … the neighborhood is burning.”
A really good local show ought to be a match between the pieces on display, the gallery space, and the neighborhood in which the gallery is located. When you exit the art space and return to the street, the show shouldn’t stop. It should keep right on speaking to you about everything you see.
Hudson County is a place defined by spectacular views. Nothing impedes our apprehension of Midtown Manhattan—there it is, right across the river, monumental and breathtaking. Seen from the top of the Palisade, our own tall buildings and tidy downtown neighborhoods are pretty impressive, too.