Mana for the people
With new multi-genre culture center, Jersey City’s art scene comes of age
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Oct 02, 2011 | 11038 views | 2 2 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mana Contemporary is the brainchild of visual artists Yigal Ozeri (left) and Eugene Lemay, who are each pictured here with two of their recent works.
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Hudson County residents who want to see high-end work from noted painters, sculptors, photographers, and other artists no longer have to trek into Manhattan or pay $20 admission fees at pricey museums, thanks to Mana Contemporary. A new art complex at 888 Newark Ave. in the Journal Square neighborhood, Mana served as host of the opening party for the Artist Studio Tour.

The brainchild of modern artists Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri, Mana seeks to “demystify” the creative process by putting it on display for public view.
On a recent visit, several artists could be seen working in their studios, with the their doors open
“The public is always used to going to the theater, or going to a live performance, or going to a museum, and they see the end result,” said Lemay. “The process is much more interesting, and you learn much more. So, the process is the key for everything here at Mana. We want the community to see the process of [visual] artists, dancers, everything that happens here.”

To give an example of how the men envision Mana’s interaction with the community, Lemay noted that Shen Wei Dance Arts has an upcoming performance and is currently renting studio space at Mana. Beginning this month, members of the public can actually see the company’s upcoming performance come together, from the early conceptual phase to dress rehearsals.

“All their rehearsals, set designs, conceptualizations they’re going to be doing here. But it’s going to be open to the public,” commented Lemay. “People can walk in while they’re practicing and building the performance. That was the agreement we made with them. People had to be able to see the process if they were going to come in here. That was important.”

After a soft opening for the space in May, and the opening of a photorealism exhibit last month, Artist Studio Tour weekend (Oct. 1 and 2) marks Mana Contemporary’s biggest coming out party to date and is the first time many members of the local art community have visited the center. This introduction, Lemay and Ozeri hope, will be the start of a long, ongoing nurturing relationship between the arts community based at Mana and the larger Jersey City and Hudson county communities.
“Our idea is for people to come here and go from studio to studio without an invitation.” – Yigal Ozeri.
“Our idea is for people to come here and go from studio to studio [within Mana] without an invitation,” said Ozeri. “This way, they can experience art and enjoy it in a natural way. This is a center for art. And an artist could be a musician, dancer, painter, photographer.”

Multi-dimensional art center

With a total of 1 million square feet, Mana Contemporary is a multi-dimensional art center that will ultimately serve several functions for artists, art patrons, collectors, and the community at large. Already Mana has leased out several custom-designed art studios to a number of visual artists and Shen Wei. The center includes a vast climate controlled warehouse in which art collectors are already storing valuable paintings that are not currently on display in museums or galleries. And private viewing rooms are available in which art collectors can meet privately to negotiate sales.

Mana’s staff includes art professionals skilled in the areas of repair, restoration, and appraisal.

Lemay and Ozeri are also in the process of leasing out space to gallery owners who wish to exhibit the collections of art collectors.

‘Revolutionary artists’

Last month, for example, the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation debuted at Mana the exhibit “Our Own Directions,” a sample of photorealism pieces from the collection of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel. (Louis Meisel, an art dealer who first coined the term “photorealism” back in the late ’60s, owns two well-known galleries in New York.) The exhibit includes photorealist paintings, photographs, and sculpture from Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Charles Bell, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, Robert Bechtle, and Bertrand Meniel, among other artists.

“There are a lot of revolutionary artists who people never get to see, or art collections people never see. One of our next shows will be Norman Bloom. He was very famous before he died and he was revolutionary in his abstraction. His widow is keeping some of his stuff here and we’re going to show it,” Ozeri said, adding that Mana hopes to open a new exhibit about once every three months.

“Our Own Directions” is free to the public open through January 2012.

Another upcoming exhibit in the first half of 2012 will be of Israeli and Arab artists from the Middle East.

In addition to the formal viewing galleries, Mana also includes artist studio spaces that are often to the public so members of the community can interact with the artists and see the creative process up-close.

On a recent Reporter visit to Mana Contemporary, several artists could be seen working in their studios, with their doors open, and welcomed questions.

“I’ve been working here the whole summer,” said abstract painter Trudy Benson. “I just finished all these paintings for a show that’s opening in three weeks….I’ve seen other spaces and I was working in 300-square foot studio with no windows and no ventilation. So, it was time for me to get a bigger studio, or at least a healthier studio. I toured this place and I loved it.”

Why New Jersey?

Lemay and Ozeri admit that when most people think about New Jersey, high end isn’t the first image that comes to mind. (Most people think of the Mafia,” Ozeri joked.) But finding a space large enough to encompass their vision for Mana was “impossible” in New York, Lemay noted.

“The advantage of New Jersey is that you still have big warehouse buildings. You can’t find that in New York.”

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October 03, 2011
Interesting bit of history on 888 Newark Ave.: in 1911, the Lorillard Company opened that building as its new facility, supplementing its old location in downtown Jersey City. That location - also a triple-same-digit address - will likely be know to art lovers in Jersey City: 111 First Street.
October 03, 2011
I attended the opening party for the Artists Studio Tour this past Friday and I was really impressed. The art was beautiful and the beer was free!