In his latest group show, curator Efrem Zelony-Mindell asks how photography, painting, and sculpture can interact within – and push against – the walls of an exhibition space.
When Efrem Zelony-Mindell announced the open call for his exhibition This Is Not Here: RE 21, he positioned it as a "disillusionment between the space and the art" – between the building's architecture and the work that might hang, sit or stand within its walls. Within any corporate, institutional, or white-walled gallery setting, where does the art begin and end? How does it organically work within a space, or push against its structure of metal and concrete?
Hosted almost monthly within the now-defunct floors of the former Pfizer Pharmaceutical factory in Brooklyn, the RE:Art exhibitions have consistently brought together a range of artists in a strange, non-traditional environment. So how could Zelony-Mindell, as a curator, build on their momentum and continue to challenge viewers to experience art more immersively than they might expect?
The results are a swarm of works from 57 artists: painters, photographers, and sculptors who confront notions of culture, technology, gender, and culture. In advance of the exhibition, which opens Saturday, May 26th at the Pfizer Building in Brooklyn, NY, I got in touch with Zelony-Mindell to learn more about this massive show.
Gallery hours: Saturday through Monday 11AM - 6PM. The show closes on June 17th.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Efrem Zelony-Mindell
Jon Feinstein: How'd you come up with the idea for the exhibition? What's your thinking behind it?
Efrem Zelony-Mindell: There's two things that led to the idea for This Is Not Here: RE 21. I've been to many RE: Art Shows, ten plus at this point, and the shows that have always really grabbed me are the ones where, as a viewer, I lose track of where the Pfizer building ends and the art begins. Or maybe the other way around. I start noticing all the details of this building that is very much in a transitional state. The experience becomes incredibly immersive and deeply personal. Everything feels like it's part of a larger organism. I find myself asking a lot of questions about how we as people form ideas around reality, the space we occupy, the things we keep, and how that reflects back onto us as individuals. So the first inspiration really came directly from the building and previous shows.
The second part I would say is the curatorial statement which isn't a conventional written piece for an art show. It's a creative short that I've been working on for a few years now. It seems to me that it upholds certain ideals and ideas that I wanted to incorporate into this show. It's a deeply personal piece of writing and I honestly thought what better time than now to challenge concepts of gender, modern culture, reality, sexuality, and technology?
Feinstein: This is a massive list of artists, and I imagine the entries was even more overwhelming. Tell me about your curatorial process.
Zelony-Mindell: There was a huge response to the open call for this show. I'm incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to review all 132 submissions received, along with having reached out to 40 artists. I try to leave things pretty open when it comes to selecting works for an open call, however, I do think I was focused on works that would push the limits and interactions between the space of the Pfizer building and viewers. I wanted works that would help stimulate the overlap between what is the building and what is the art. The artists in the show make works in all different mediums yet they all have a fascination with the everyday, or the industrial, or maybe even just the plain odd.
Feinstein: Your statement is an effective, smattering of short prose bursts. Almost a piece on its own...
Zelony-Mindell: A smattering. Oh my. HA! Why take this approach? I dunno man, madness. Once the artists were selected and the show took on a more definitive shape I realized the next step was to take a more serious look at formulating what I wanted to say about the show, and what I wanted the show to say. The application guidelines seemed like a great start, but didn't really take things far enough and seemed a little two dimensional. As I mentioned the curatorial statement is actually a piece of writing that I've been working on a while now, and I'm glad to hear that you pick up on the fact that in some ways it acts as a piece unto itself. That's fine by me.
As someone who's interested in the role of language and writing about art, I realize there are two main functions, explanation and opinion. But there is a somewhat undefined third place for writing about art that introduces creative language and kinds of storytelling that run more parallel to the kinds of making that happens in visual art. This way of thinking about writing is what motivates me as curator and as a writer. I'd much rather show someone something then tell them what they should think.
Feinstein: "The flesh" comes up multiple times in your statement, and has been a recurring word and metaphor across many of your other projects over the past few years.
Zelony-Mindell: I am very preoccupied with the flesh and the rejection of its presumptions. It's undoubtedly a personal vendetta, I'm absolutely willing to admit that. The flesh feeds, but it so easily disappoints. What composes the flesh and makes it more than just meat is what interests me. I'm always simultaneously trying to get past the expectations of the body, while still acknowledging and accepting its existence as this thing that seems to wildly complicate so much in the world and individual lives.
I wouldn't say that it's literally the flesh that interests me but what the flesh, the body, a person, can represent. That can look like nearly anything, it changes from person to person and I would say it is the nature of nearly all art. It's a peek into a parallel universe, a secret that resides inside each person. That's where I think art comes from. The secret is us, the maker, the individual, the viewer, it comes in all sizes and shapes. I don't believe in God but I do believe in the god inside each of us.
Feinstein: What was the biggest discovery for you when reviewing submissions? What new work did you come across that made your head spin?
Zelony-Mindell: The biggest surprise was realizing I was going to include a photograph by Daniel Rampulla that depicts a figure. It's actually become the image on the announcement graphic for the show. I wasn't expecting any work in the show to be figurative. But upon seeing Daniel's image I was incredibly struck by the terror and impossibility of the figure—looking over its shoulder at its own shadow, fingers ridged and locked ready to grip—it looks as if the figure is about to choke its own shadow coming from around the corner of a nearby doorway. It's exactly the kind of impossibility I wanted to see.
In regards to works that made my head spin, there was definitely that as well! I'd have to say head spinners for me were definitely Sarah E. Brook, Luba Drozd, and Raul De Lara. I'm incredibly excited to see how all these works will interact together in the Pfizer building. I'm hoping for a fistfight.