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Rocio Aranda Alvarado, the former curator of the Jersey City Museum, went to great lengths to introduce contemporary art to Jersey City. From 2000 to 2009, she organized exhibitions that featured the work of Jane Dickson, Xenobia Bailey, Amy Wilson, Jen Mazza, Dahlia Elsayed, Michelle Vitale Loughlin, Caroline Burton, Tom McGlynn, and Wanda Raimundi-Ortíz, among many others. As an artist living in Jersey City at the time, I considered the museum a great local venue to see art. After the museum shuddered its doors, the contemporary art scene suffered a massive blow.
Thanks to artist Kara Rooney, the curator of Panepinto Galleries, Jersey City is once again featuring dynamic artists working in the field today. The gallery’s current show, A≠A, is smart, fun, and engaging. This three-person exhibition features painting, sculpture, and something that occupies the space between the two mediums. What unites the artists on view is their wholehearted embrace of abstraction. That said, each artist leaves modernist dogma at their studio doors. One of the suggestions in 12-step recovery programs is for the newcomer to take what he needs and leave the rest. The same can be said of these artists. They use what works for them.
The gallery is a giant white cube that borders on antiseptic. In this case, it is the ideal servant for the colorful work, which packs an almighty wallop to the senses. As soon as I walked into the gallery, I noticed a large green object that resembled a glossy swirl of soft serve ice cream. Created by artist Doreen McCarthy, the inflatable vinyl sculpture is an exuberant exercise in form and color. If I lacked impulse control, I would have sunk my teeth into its shiny skin. McCarthy is represented by another inflatable sculpture, smaller in scale, which hangs from the ceiling like an infant’s mobile. To the eye, it resembled a soft pretzel, albeit a purple one. What I loved about her work is how soft it appears, like a golden retriever. I just want to touch it, to run my fingertips along its outer surfaces.
Like McCarthy’s sculpture, Glenn Garver’s large abstract paintings exude sensuality. Like Kline and de Kooning, he’s an action painter, and his directional brushwork invigorates his canvases. At times, his paintings roar muscle car bravado. But it’s not all heavy metal testosterone. He subdues his own banzai charges by soft effervescent passages of paint. The shifts are exquisite. His sense of color is engaging too. In one painting, he scribbles an aqua blue, the color of Miami skies, on top of the dirtiest patch of mustard yellow. The pairing is electric. He is also not afraid to deviate from modernist notions of purity. Each canvas features oil, enamel, and aerosol paint, as well as studio debris. The fact that the transitions among the various paints are seamless is a testament to his competency with the medium.
Whereas Garver’s paintings are billboard large, Salas’s work is modest in scale, unassuming. The colors are subtle. At first glance, the abstract compositions read as nonobjective paintings. On closer inspection, the compact pieces are actually handcrafted sculpture reliefs. She combines colored pigment with cement and plaster. They have a depth and weight most paintings cannot physically possess. Like her colleagues, she is interested in texture, which ranges from arid moonscape to plain geriatric flesh. One of the strongest aspects of her work is the subtle to abrupt shifts in color. Pale blues melt into egg yolk yellow fields. What I find compelling about her work is how it commands just as much attention as work five times it size. There is also a makeshift quality to her work that I find appealing. It’s causal, easy to approach, accessible. It’s the opposite of tight-ass formalism.
In A≠A, the three artists embrace the past without sacrificing originality. I encourage you to cross the river to see it.
A≠A continues at Panepinto Galleries (371 Warren Street in Jersey City, New Jersey) until November 24, 2013.