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Like my brownhouse:
   even people who claim to get conceptual art
Sunday, May 3 2015
Because she had to work yesterday, Gretchen and I had our weekly coffee today out in the yard while Celeste frolicked like the kitten she recently was. In the late morning, Gretchen and I left the dogs and drove down to the park & ride in New Paltz, where we caught a ride with Susan and David. They were en route to an opening of a show that Susan was participating in at the Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. After a long converation about candy (mostly between Gretchen and David, and that Susan tried to derail), Susan had to field a crisis about some paintings due to another gallery in the Hamptons that suddenly needed to be delivered by Wednesday morning so they could be photographed, which was fucking up something we needed Susan to do. Somehow she managed to work it out so that she won't have to be driving to the Hamptons and back (that takes about seven hours) on Wednesday, and could instead FedEx not-quite dry paintings on Thursday. That conversation seemed to eat up nearly all of the drive down NJ Route 17, which is, for passengers, a nonstop parade of major American retail brands.
In Jersey City, we lucked into some parking and went immediately to lunch, selecting a vegetarian Indian place called Sapthagiri. Most of the customers in there were Indian or at least South Asian (as mostl of the pedestrians on the bustling streets Jersey City had been). Sapthagiri runs their restaurant like a well-oiled machine (there's plenty of oil in the dishes too), and the food came out rapidly after we'd placed our orders. The most interesting thing on the menu was the aloo bonda appetizer, a potato, onion & cashew thing dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried. The curries weren't all that special, but everyone at our table was going ape shit over the dosas. Interestingly, most of the dishware at Sapthagiri was stainless steel. During our meal, there was an amusing episode that happened after one of our number had been in the bathroom "dropping off some kids at the pool." All was well until the toilet refused to flush. How do you tactfully tell a line of South Indians that has been patiently waiting for you to finish up in the one unisex bathroom that they probably don't want to go in there? In the end, the matter was expertly handled by one of the staff, who is no doubt as handy with a spatula as he is with a plunger.
Mana Contemporary is on the site of an enormous old tobacco warehouse and factory. There are many buildings, including a vast space whose elaborately truss-supported roof requires no columns. It was in this space that today's exhibition was being held. Soon after entering, we saw an enormous wooden sculpture that looked like a form to cast the leg of a massive concrete (and thus unburnable) Burning Man. Beyond that was a large piece of copper pipe hinged to the floor and counter-balanced by numerous bolts and screws attached to strings running up and over pulleys to the end of the pipe. So well-balanced was the pipe that it took about ten minutes to fall from the floor from a standing position.
Susan's work came up right away, and it was probably the only work in the exhibition that could have been considered "fine art." Her thing is animal heads on humanoid bodies wearing clothing from the 16th Century, all of it set in lush outdoor landscapes. Her part of the show was a popular one, which was hardly a surprise; I'm pretty sure that even people who claim to "get" conceptual art are secretly tired of it and would much rather look at genuinely beautiful paintings.
After a few glasses of wine and some walks around the gallery, Gretchen, David, and I had seen enough of the art and decided to go check out some of the other buildings on the factory campus. Our first stop was a foundry, where we found a couple kids playing almost unsupervised with some motorized winches. After checking out some cast doors and statues, we found the blast furnace, which turned out to be a homemade model which took advantage of the overhead crane. The guy who ran the place told us all about it, and said that one of his ongoing projects was to cast everything in his late grandmother's house (using aluminum, I think).
We continued through a ho-hum exhibit featuring huge depictions (ranging from sculpture to hyperreal paintings) of a woman in a late-17th-century gown. While we were there, the costume model arrived in full regalia. We retreated to the back of that space, climbed an ancient spiral staircase, and found a vast boiler room looking like something from gritty first-person-shooter video game.
We came upon a peculiar performance art piece happening in a smallish room. About a dozen naked millennials stood about in a dimly-lit room writhing to doomy ethereal music. Meanwhile, a couple more naked millennials hung in furry hammocks from the ceiling. I saw it as a statement about haves and have-nots and dealing with the luck we get in this world, and perhaps that's what it did mean, but the artists' statement (see below) on this piece was even more impenetrable than the art. I actually thought it was pretty good, but Gretchen thought it resembled the kind of goofy stunt common on the Oberlin College campus when we were students there 25 years ago.
Past several hyperrealistic sculptures of women in bathing suits, Susan caught up with us, and we spent awhile checking out the Richard Meier Model Museum, with its scale models of the Getty in Santa Monica (among other things). David did a simulated drone flyover of one of the models by shooting video with his slowly-flying iPhone (his lips were even pursed like a five-year-old making engine noises, though he didn't actually make those noises).

When we were done with the gallery, David drove the four of us to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel and then we had a snack of bread, fruit, and coffee at a Bon Au Pain somewhere in SoHo. The service and (according to Gretchen) the decaf were terrible, but my soy cappuccino was rather good.
From there, we went our separate ways. David & Susan met up with others for dinner, and Gretchen and I walked north into the West Village and caught a subway to Port Authority. On the way to our bus in Port Authority, we came upon a man who was so drunk he couldn't stand. He'd just smashed several full beer bottles on the tile floor and a crowd had gathered. We kept going, eventually getting into a bus. We were a little late to ours, so, we ended up in the back of an Adirondacks Trailways headed to the New Paltz park & ride. We were in an older bus, and the latch on the bathroom door was broken. So every time someone went into the bathroom, eventually they realized they were stuck, began frantically knocking on the door or turning the handle, and one of us in the back (much like Rosa Parks) would have to open the door from the outside for them.
For part of the ride, before becoming hypnotized by the parade of retail brands on NJ Route 17, I had an issue of Harpers Magazine I'd bought in Port Authority open in my lap. I read part of an article about the unfortunate ethnic Haitians rendered stateless by the government of the Dominican Republic.

Susan's art. (Click to enlarge.)

A huge boiler room looking untouched since the 19th Century. (Click to enlarge.)

Me above that boiler room. (Click to enlarge.)

A creepy performance piece involving a dozen or so naked millennials writhing to spooky atmospheric music (the men tended to have shaved pubic hair but not the women). (Click to enlarge.)

The obligingly-obtuse artists' statement about the above work.

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