The New York City curator Efrem Zelony-Mindell likes a little bit of chaos, at least in their art. “Introducing elements that may mean absolutely everything or nothing at all is a kind of anarchy that really interests me,” they tell me. “It leaves a lot of room for play, interpretation, and figuring out.” Their latest show, This Is Not Here: RE 21, opens today at Brooklyn’s former Pfizer Pharmaceutical building.
Directed by Erin Davis and Max C. Lee, the Re: Art Show, per their mission statement, “brings together an abnormally wide breadth of artists in an abnormal environment.” As a non-commercial enterprise, the Re: Art Show eschews the conventions and elitism of art institutions past and caters instead to a free-thinking, spontaneous community of art lovers. Zelony-Mindell was a natural choice for the position of guest curator.
In accordance with the democratic spirit of the show, Zelony-Mindell kept the concept (and the call for submissions) open. The building itself was their collaborator. “I wanted works that looked like they could have been made, or born, in the space or shared a kind of sentiment that the building inspires when navigating through it,” they explain. Their imagination kicked into gear as soon as the emails started rolling into their inbox. When asked to describe the process of putting the show together, the curator responds with a link to this scene from 1971’s Willy Wonka Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
“Having access to an exhibition space that has thousands of square feet has been an absolute dream come true,” Zelony-Mindell admits. They responded to each and every applicant, and in the end, they selected 57 artists. “I’ve had the unique opportunity to give 25 of the artists private tours of the Pfizer building,” Zelony-Mindell adds. “Seeing how the space inspires people and motivates them has been a wonderful growing and communal experience. It has made this show and its vision incredibly personal.”
They continue, “This Is Not Here: RE 21 has all shapes, sizes, and colors. The artists are from many backgrounds, cultures, ages, locations, and they are every kind of orientation. I’m not sure I believe that individuals are special, but I do think the work that we each make has the potential to be lasting, loud, and important.” Together, these artist reach, in one way or another, for the mysterious core of what it means to be alive. “Is anything worth knowing really knowable?” the curator asks. “It’s not my intention to lead people to specific answers. I’d like much more to hold hands and encourage viewers a chance to have their own thoughts and ideas. To quote Robert Frost, ‘We dance around in a ring and suppose, / But the secret sits in the middle and knows.'”
For that reason, the show might seem difficult to pin down, and that’s exactly what Zelony-Mindell intended. Upon leaving, two visitors might tell their friends and families two completely different stories about what they saw and heard while inside that old factory, and both of them would be right. As Willy Wonka once said, “Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.”
See This Is Not Here: RE 21 in Brooklyn through June 17th. Gallery hours are Saturday-Monday 11:00 AM -6:00 PM.
© Florencia Escudero