Jersey, Sure

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Left: Asbury Park Convention Hall. Right: “It’s All American” cocurators Alex Gartenfeld and Haley Mellin. (Except where noted, all photos: Kevin McGarry)

LAST SATURDAY, I caught a bus just south of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District bound for the Asbury Park convention center and the opening of the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art’s inaugural exhibition, “It’s All American.” NJ MoCA doesn’t yet have a permanent home, and the project came together rather quickly after the museum found a temporary venue this summer. Once on board, I filed past the mostly youthful passengers—Delusional Downtown Diva Joana Avillez, two friends watching Friends on an iPhone, the male members of the Misshapes—and was handed a glass of warm white wine from one of the trip’s organizers. I asked if they had water instead. “No,” she replied, then continued, “but it’s not like I don’t think it’s cool to drink water . . . I just didn’t buy any.” Moments later Manish Vora, yet another co-organizer of the evening’s festivities, welcomed everyone with the disclaimer, “I’ve never been to Asbury Park, but I’m told the driver knows how to get there.” I secretly hoped for a Real Housewives of New Jersey “drive-by” detour—so popular these days, according to TMZ. And with that, we were off.

We arrived seaside two hours later. The convention center’s marquee touted the thirty-seven-artist group show, curated by young Turks Alex Gartenfeld and Haley Mellin, beside an announcement for an upcoming Barenaked Ladies concert. Inside, I spotted neither Snooki nor Teresa Giudice, but to the credit of everyone involved with the museum the New York art scene turned out in healthy numbers. “Have you ever been to Asbury Park?” “How did you get to Asbury Park?” and “How do you like Asbury Park?” were popular questions throughout the night. Collector Susan Hort answered the first with an enthusiastic yes: “My husband Michael and I have a house in Monmouth and we love to bike up the shore.” Hubby Hort, meanwhile, was busy dashing about the space tagging, in marker, ad hoc wall texts on clean surfaces.

The show is mostly painting and sculpture. “I was worried people would think: ‘Alex Gartenfeld, Republican curator,’ ” Gartenfeld mused. Surely the choices were necessitated by the beautiful, awkward, fourteen-thousand-square-foot space: Four hallways with walls of windows directly overlooking the beach below. Participating artist Brendan Fowler and Andrea Longacre-White, both in town from Los Angeles, had, like many others, been there all day. “You should have seen the space this afternoon!” they told me, offering some digital images from their phones of how the cool postmeridian light had looked streaming at a 45-degree angle past Sterling Ruby’s fifteen-foot-tall stack of beanbag chairs. “It’s like Dia:Beacon,” gasped Printed Matter’s new director Catherine Krudy. Beacon, but with the option, as one black-eyed wayward guest pointed out, “to slum it up at the Wonder Bar across the street.” Sadly, it was the wrong day to take advantage of said dive’s “Yappy Hour,” but after 11 PM it proved to be the only place in town to get dinner: chicken fingers.

Left: Artists Robert Melee (middle) and Xavier Cha (right). Right: The Wonder Bar.

Mellin and I caught up as she escorted me on a tour of the facility. First stop was the cavernous concert hall, which the Boss commandeers every season as his private rehearsal space. Because of the immense vibrations from upcoming concerts (apparently, BNL can really bring it), the show will need to be entirely de- and reinstalled—twice—during the run of the exhibition. Rob Pruitt’s stolid crowd-pleaser—four thousand pounds of ladies’ boot-cut jeans filled with poured concrete and posed in a row of sequential, stop-action leg-lifts––will no doubt be among the more challenging works for the art handlers. Not to mention Peter Coffin’s comparably heavy rotating iron sculptures. “I wasn’t here for installation,” Coffin confessed contentedly.

Next stop on the Mellin tour was the theater, a majestic room a local congresswoman wagered had been completed sometime during the 1930s. “Nineteen thirty-one,” Mellin clarified, adding: “Interesting that the building itself coincides with the Great Depression . . . ” By the time the inaugural-night band began to play, Robert Melee had arrived from a small dinner at his own pad in Asbury Park, where he has shot many an arty home movie starring his mother, Rose. Melee is the de facto, dandified patron saint of local flair, à la John Waters in Baltimore. “Kiss me!” he commanded to no one in particular, as he puckered his lips and closed his eyes. Several people in the vicinity did, myself included, and, feeling sufficiently blessed for the long ride home, I returned to the parking lot to meet my seventy-two-seat chariot before head count.

Kevin McGarry

Left: The Swiss Institute's Piper Marshall. (Photo: Christos Katsiaouni) Right: Collectors Susan and Michael Hort.

Left: Rob Pruitt's piece. Right: Artists Andrea Longacre-White and Brendan Fowler.