NJ MoCA: Contemporary Art Meets the Jersey Shore

"Esprit de Corps" by Rob PruittSpirits were high at the opening benefit of NJ MoCA’s inaugural show, “It’s All American,” on Saturday night in Asbury Park. The good humor was due, perhaps in part, to...


Spirits were high at the opening benefit of NJ MoCA’s inaugural show, “It’s All American,” on Saturday night in Asbury Park. The good humor was due, perhaps in part, to the bottles of white wine (thank you, Marlborough Gallery) that were passed around the bus, shuttling guests (Olivier Theyskens and Rita Ackermann among them) from Manhattan’s West Village to the Jersey Shore.

This was a decidedly artier Jersey Shore than the one we’ve all been seeing lately; guests included Arnold Lehman, Stacy Engman, Tim Barber, Donald Cumming, Kim Guadagno (the lieutenant governor of New Jersey) and several artists from the show. Most excited to toast the opening of New Jersey’s first contemporary art museum was it is founder, Robin Parness Lipson, who chose to host the first exhibition in Asbury Park’s historic Convention Hall, a massive space with sweeping ocean views built in 1927 by the same architects who constructed Grand Central Terminal. “There is no permanent building in the works yet,” said Lipson, explaining that her museum will instead have a nomadic, pop-up style programming with temporary exhibitions in various locations all over the Garden state. For the inaugural show, curators Alex Gartenfeld and Haley Mellin focused on an ever-evolving sense of Americana and ways in which contemporary perspective is shaped. “What does it mean to be an American artist at a point where American identity is supposed to have hit a peak and then declined?” asked Gartenfeld. “This is one of the core themes of the show.”

Artists Polly Apfelbaum, Robert Melee, and Ryan McGinley are among several of the more established artists represented in “It’s All American.” “About half of the works we selected are by well-known names and the other half are young, emerging artists,” explained Mellin. “Several of the artists included are just out of school and have only been in one or two shows.” One example is Grayson Revoir, a recent Cooper Union graduate with four pieces in the show. “I start with this public object- the picnic table- and the general experience that people have of this thing,” says Revoir. Revoir’s wooden tables have been variously altered, changing the public’s experience of them (hundreds of nails and screws into the surface of one, the other collapsed onto itself). “I’d be happy if someone saw these and then, when passing by a picnic table in the park, always saw it differently. Its sort of like a small surrealist gesture, having an effect on your organized perception of a thing.”

Before the electropop-dance-party-video-performance began in the theater and the real revelry commenced, the curators reflected on their project. “It’s pretty brave to start a new museum in 2010 and this notion of optimism, of do it yourself perseverance is really central to the show,” said Mellin. “It’s a very positive show that looks toward the future.” Adds her co-curator, “There are alternate ways to structure artistic behavior and that’s the lesson of this museum: you can do it in an original, really energetic, kind of low-key way all across the board- and in this case- all across the state.”

“It’s All American” at Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall, 1300 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ. Through November 15.

Photos by Annie Powers