Artist As Subject at KuBe Art Space

Featured Project: with curator Ysabel Pinyol Blasi and artist Jac Lahav

A couple of paintings on a wall

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(From Left) Yigal Ozeri, Yayoi Kusama – Image courtesy Monira Foundation and Eileen S. Kaminsky Foundation; Yayoi Kusama, Shoes, Image courtesy Eileen S. Kaminsky Foundation

An epic show of portraiture opened in Beacon NY on October 24th. The artists roster reads as a “who’s who” in contemporary art with works from Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Ai Wei Wei, Yayoi Kusama, Yigal Ozeri, and Jac Lahav. Curated by Ethan Cohen and Ysabel Pinyol Blasi this epic show of over 50 artists explores the nature of portraiture as a springboard for what art can achieve. We sat down with curator Ysabel Pinyol Blasi and artist Jac Lahav to discuss the exhibit.

What is the KuBe Art Space?

YPB: KuBe is a converted high school in Beacon, New York. It is one part PS1, one part Spring Break Art Fair, and one part Kunsthalle. The building was converted by gallerist Ethan Cohen to serve as a platform for artists to create and build a community. Additionally, the space is the upstate home to Cohen’s gallery and exhibition space. KuBe is both experimental and traditional- simultaneously boasting white wallspace rivaling the best Chelsea galleries, and hosting off-kilter gallery spaces prompting innovation and playfulness.

As we enter this main gallery we are greeted by a large portrait of George Condo. Can you tell me a little more about this work?

YPB: Israeli-born artist Yigal Ozeri has painted portraits of the Eileen S. Kaminsky collection artists, which are presented alongside figurative works by the subjects themselves. One vignette pairs two works highlighting George Condo; Ozeri’s painting of George Condo is juxtaposed against a drawing of a woman’s head by Condo. The works come full circle, linking Condo’s drawing to its stylistic antecedent- ceramic plate with a line drawing of a girl on the verso by Pablo Picasso. Condo’s admiration for the late Spaniard is evident both in the Neo-Cubist paintings depicted in the background of Ozeri’s portrait and in the geometric similarities between the two drawings, from the rigid spindles of the figures’ eyelashes to their cuneiform noses. For good measure, an Ozeri portrait of Picasso is also included in the exhibition.

There is also a great video by Jonas Mekas in a vast high school auditorium. Where did this video portrait come from?

YPB: Jonas Mekas Self Portrait, 1980 is part of the permanent collection of Mana Contemporary. The Jonas Mekas studio at Mana presented by Monira Foundation is a celebration of the legendary filmmaker, artist, and poet Jonas Mekas (1922-2019): a re-creation of Mekas’s live/work loft in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where he spent the last 11 productive years of his life (from 2008 to 2019), making work and entertaining old and new friends. It is a five-year installation, comprising his personal archives and working materials as well as a dedicated room for public screenings, exhibitions, and events inspired by the artist’s life and work.

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(From Left) Yigal Ozeri, George Condo, Ray Smith – Image courtesy Monira Foundation and Eileen S. Kaminsky
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Jonas Mekas, Self Portrait, 1980, 20:00, Courtesy of Monira Foundation and Mana Collection.

On the second floor of KuBe we are greeted by a large portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This is one of Jac Lahav’s “Great American” paintings. Around the corner from this powerful portrait we see a monumental row of life sized paintings of famous americans. How many of these “Great Americans” are there?

JL: There are 30 of my paintings in this show though the series has closer to 40. With each painting standing just under 7ft tall (32” x 80”, Oil on Canvas), these works are about who we revere and the difference between achievement and celebrity. Each painting holds a story about an individual which speaks to the larger story about who we can be collectively, that’s why they are hanging together. From Jonas Salk who invented the Polio Vaccine and was then lambasted for taking credit, to Woodrow Wilson who helped create Mother’s Day, these works begin as discussions about cultural identity and quickly degrade back into paint.

What is it like exhibiting these paintings on a locker lined hallway in an old converted high school?

JL: The last few times these works were exhibited it was in white wall Museums spaces, so it’s really funky to take them into this new context. I think a lot about Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in relation to this series. My work, The Great Americans is more of a cocktail party, tweezing out group dynamics in American pop history. Hanging them on lockers evokes sending these players back to school. Perhaps it’s a setup for contemporary art meets WB teen drama.

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The Great Americans, Install – Jac Lahav, 2010-2021 (Photo Courtesy The Artist)

What does this show say about the contemporary state of portraiture?

JL: The works in this show encompass the best of contemporary art. From Cindy Sherman to Yayoi Kusama. These works were made by my art heroes’ and each says something unique about portraiture. There is no one way to look at identity. The complexity and development of style represented here exhibits the potential for art to drill down into lofty ideas, like what it means to be human.

YPB: Leon Battista Alberti famously linked the origins of painting to the myth of Narcissus; like the ill-fated youth, the artist is transfixed by–and transfixes us via–their own vision as it appears upon a flat surface. I invite the public to contemplate the notion of portraiture as a quasi-distorted reflection of reality- the canvas as a mirror, the subject as reified by the gaze of the artist.

Artist As Subject at KuBe Art Space October 24 – November 21 KuBe Art Center, Beacon NY

Jac Lahav was born in Jerusalem (Israel), raised in the United States and currently lives in Lyme, CT. He graduated with an MFA from Brooklyn College in 2008 where he studied with Vito Acconci and Keith Meyerson. In 2020 Lahav helped found the group Public Art For Racial Justice Education in Connecticut where he heads up educational programming and is currently creating community action artworks. Lahav’s work has been exhibited at the Jewish Museum (NY), Richmond Art Museum (IN), Longview MFA (TX), Saginaw Art Museum (MI), Florence Griswold Museum (CT), Dorsky Museum (NY), and can be found in multiple public collections including the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, WI; Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme CT; Longview Museum of Fine Art, Longview TX, and Saginaw Art Museum, Saginaw MI.

Ysabel Pinyol Blasi is the Executive Director and Curator of Monira Foundation. Pinyol Blasi previously served as curatorial director at Mana Contemporary (Miami, Jersey City, and Chicago) and co-founder of Mana Residencies. Originally from Barcelona, she earned a Master of Architecture from Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona in 2006. Blasi began collecting art more than twenty years ago and from 2007 to 2011 directed a gallery in Barcelona that represented international emerging artists. Her publications include The Bull and the Donkey (Barcelona, Spain: Galeria Ysabel Pinyol, 2008); Trivium, (Miami, FL: Mana Wynwood, 2016); and “Alt-Art Spaces and the Question of Identity Refusal,” Brooklyn Rail, 2017. Ysabel Pinyol Blasi continues to curate diverse and ground breaking exhibitions through the Monira Foundation as Chief Curator.