By Tema Stauffer & D. Dominick Lombardi
Mana Contemporary, Jersey City’s largest art center, is the brainchild of artist and Executive Director Eugene Lemay, and artist and visionary Yigal Ozeri. They see their rapidly expanding corner of the art world as a self-sustaining entity that features the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation (ESKFF), the Middle East Center for the Arts (MECA), Shen Wei and Carole Armitage Dance Studio, a state-of-the-art storage facility, pristine exhibition spaces and a multitude of services for artists. MECA opened its inaugural exhibition SPRING, 2012 on April 1st exploring the work of major artists living in Israel with Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin backgrounds.
In speaking with Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri, a clearer view of Mana Contemporary’s intentions and goals moves into focus. Lemay states, “We are working with an international network of artists, collectors, curators and writers to build an exciting and innovative showcase for contemporary art that is far-reaching, enlightening, academic and fun. We can do many things without the limits implied by the structure of a museum. We want people to come to here and enjoy art on the highest level. The Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation provides us just the right basis to create a center where by living artists can thrive in the welcoming environment that is Mana Contemporary.”
Ozeri said, “Having different levels of artists’ studios from larger ones for established artists to smaller, more affordable studios for emerging artists in the same building – with everyone being exposed to the same kinds of things – is key. I personally have brought all of my connections to this project because I believe in it wholeheartedly. We will make a difference.”
The larger studios, some exceeding 2,000 square feet, are occupied by artists such as painters Doug Argue, Trudy Benson and Stanley Casselman; photographer Lili Almog; and hyper-realist sculptor Carole Feuerman. Most of these artists transitioned from previous studios in Manhattan or Brooklyn, and they comment on how the amount of space, the quality of light and the sense of community has positively impacted their ability to work. Eugene Lemay and Yigal Ozeri also produce their own artwork in studios on the fourth floor of Mana Contemporary. Ozeri’s photo-realist paintings focusing on feminine beauty and sensuality contrast Lemay’s minimalist, large-scale nightscapes on paper reflecting his concerns with Middle Eastern language and history. Both artists are represented by the Chelsea gallerist Mike Weiss, who has been another pivotal figure in shaping the community at the art center by facilitating relationships between artists and collectors.
This spring, a new wave of talent will move into Mana Contemporary. The art center is continuing to add more small studios for emerging artists at half of the cost of the larger spaces. Other future plans are the addition of a fashion center, a new media facility, a public sculpture garden, a cafe and beer garden, more galleries and studios – all of this just a short ride on the Path Train from Manhattan.
Business developers Micha Lang and Victor Kamara manage Mana Contemporary’s art-storage facilities currently serving nearly 600 clients whose paintings, photographs, sculptures and fashion collections are protected in a sleek, high-security, climate-controlled section of the sixth floor of the facility. Among Mana Contemporary’s clients are major collectors, galleries, museums and designers based in New York City and beyond. Additional components include in-house services such as artwork restoration and conservation, an art supply store, a frame shop, digital printing and more.
Through fostering an exchange between working artists, collectors and the greater public through exhibitions, events and studio visits, Lemay and Ozeri envision Mana Contemporary as a growing hub for creative enrichment.