Just as realism is frequently touched by the fantastic, abstraction is rarely total. Even non-figurative art is made from materials, and those materials often have strong connotations. Art House Productions is calling its new abstract show Mindshapes, which suggests a private, insular experience, something quiet, untethered to the rhythms of the practical world. Yet this exhibition, which runs through December 1 at the Art House’s small but handsome gallery, is anything but.
The two artists in Mindshapes make work that gestures emphatically toward the audience—work that, while abstract, feels deeply engaged with external forces. This is art that takes the viewer by the arm; it has things to show you, and once it grabs you, it doesn’t let go easily. Should you feel the need for a dash of hot pink to liven up the cold November days, direct yourself to 262 17th Street between Jersey and Coles. (The opening reception for Mindshapes is on Saturday, November 2, from 7-9 p.m.)
While their pieces would never be confused with each other’s, Méïr Srebriansky and Geraldine Neuwirth do share certain crowd-pleasing proclivities: bold use of color, impressive scale, swirling lines, layering of materials, and a driving determination to break the flat, two-dimensional plane. If these are mindshapes, the minds that birthed them are fevered indeed. The work constantly threatens to leave the frame behind—and sometimes does achieve that weightless quality of wall art that defies rectangularity and insists on its own boundaries.
Neuwirth achieves this effect by stacking layers of cut-out paper, some of it painted, some of it scribbled upon, and creates distance between the sheets with the help of tiny glued supports that you won’t notice until you’ve stared at her pieces for a minute or two. Srebriansky uses resin, that shiny, plasticky, Koons-y favorite of modern sculptors, as if it were paint, slathering it on in thick washes. Sometimes the blobs of resin seem to have been extruded from the pieces themselves, or perhaps from a resin-pumping machine hidden behind their flattish surfaces. Neuwirth’s art feels humble and home-spun, even when it’s huge; Srebriansky’s feels industrial, tailored, and precise, even when he’s trying to make a mess. These works want to leap from the walls and meet, and shake hands, or dance together, in the middle of the gallery.
Both artists identify as New Yorkers, but Neuwirth maintains studio space in the huge MANA Contemporary complex at the western end of Newark Avenue. Unlike Srebriansky, whose paintings often have the skyscraper-glass shimmer of the Big Apple, Neuwirth works in a style that I associate deeply with Jersey City: busy, bold-colored collages, artfully imbalanced, tactile, daring the mischievous viewer to paw the art. Neuwirth, in the crammed Jersey City tradition, leaves very little blank space—her collages push hard against the corners of their frames. The top layer of paper hovers above the others as if it’s suspended there by sheer belief, and if it’s not exactly accurate to call these works sculptures, it is right to say that they’re built rather than painted. Abstract they may be, but their assembly suggests many things: threaded underpasses and overpasses, the sun high above a chaotic landscape, an architect’s most provocative model. Like many other artists who have worked in Hudson County, Neuwirth seems to be responding to the never-ending network of roads, the adaptive reuse of buildings, the overwritten neighborhoods, the constant, hungry, on-the-fly reconstruction that dominates public life. These are mind-scapes for sure, but ones that resonate strongly with the post-industrial zone that the Art House, and MANA, are currently located in.
Neuwirth’s work doesn’t advertise its constructed quality; Srebriansky’s work leads with it. In one of his most arresting contributions to the show, a roughly-shaped six pointed star outlined in bright red resin crouches over a part of the rectangular artwork that appears to have been ripped away. The rest of the painting (and this is, indeed, painting) consists of bright, overlapping splashes of resin that cover each other and ripple over contours like melted wax. Like Neuwirth, he’s attracted to arresting, near-dayglo colors: the pinks, magentas, and chartreuses of finger-paints or Play-Doh cylinders. He drafts figures on the chilly skin of his pieces: cartoon characters, greenery, a benign-looking pink pattern that, upon closer examination, resembles bomb detonations. The handling of resin here borders on the virtuosic, but he’s made room in his works for ordinary spray paint and acrylic, too; combined with the metallic, near-reflective quality of the resin, this strongly suggests the fronts of buildings on Downtown streets, impassive, yet decorated enthusiastically by graffiti artists. This is art that could only have been created in an urban context—in particular, in a city experiencing the kinetic forces of upheaval and rapid redevelopment.
The big pieces in Mindshapes are the ones most likely to get attention, but some of this show’s deepest rewards come from their modest-sized cousins. On an overhanging wall next to Neuwirth’s biggest contributions, six interrelated images are stacked vertically, from the floor to the ceiling. In their lighter wooden frames, these breathe a little easier, and feel a little more survivable, than Neuwirth’s more explosive pieces. Srebriansky’s style, too, scales well to a smaller size. My favorite work in this entire show was a simple study in blue resin, with a wave of dripping white threatening to swamp it from beneath. Its immediate neighbor is a flattish rectangle sporting layer after layer of resin in different colors. We know this because Srebriansky has pockmarked the piece, revealing a rainbow of gobstopper colors beneath the white surface. It has some of the quality of a dented car door, and it has an emotional intensity that many of Srebriansky’s larger, more imposing paintings lack.
These smaller Srebriansky pieces hang near the large gallery windows that overlook 17th Street. Across the street is a vacant lot on which a new building is sure to sprout soon; across the lot, a banner welcomes prospective buyers to the Cast Iron Lofts. There’s no great discontinuity in feel between the work of Srebriansky and Neuwirth and the scene on the other side of the glass, and this can’t entirely be attributed to this show’s occasional resemblance to street art. It’s also because, abstract as these artists’ works are, they’re also responding to volcanic forces that are remaking urban space on both sides of the Hudson. Transformation on this scale is liable to seep into your dreams, mold your mindshapes, and find expression in big, anxious, lurid pieces that speak volumes.