Leonardo Benzant: Afrosupernatural

Organized by Visiting Curator Dexter Wimberly
April 2 – May 21, 2016
Reception: Saturday, April 2, 2016, 5-8pm
Artist Talk: April 23, 2016. 2-4pm
Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art is pleased to present Leonardo Benzant: Afrosupernatural organized by Visiting Curator, Dexter Wimberly. Recognizing both his ties and disjunction from an ancestral past, Leonardo Benzant’s practice is driven by his connection to the trans African-Atlantic diaspora.


Saturday, April 23, 2016, 2–4pm:
Leonardo Benzant in Conversation with Dexter Wimberly

Visiting Curator Dexter Wimberly will discuss Leonardo Benzant’s artistic practice and visual references in his work inspired by power-objects and his connection to the trans African-Atlantic diaspora.

“Volleying between the sacred and the secular, Leonardo Benzant mines a deep well of personal experiences and international artistic vocabularies. His tactile sculptural works are masterfully constructed and vibrate with sensual energy, while his paintings and drawings are fluid and intuitive with an indiscernible quality that begs the question of their origin. Is this African, South American, Caribbean, or Native American? – it is simultaneously none, yet influenced by all,” states Visiting Curator, Dexter Wimberly.


Considering the possibilities of genetic imprints, cultural identification, innate and intuitive beliefs and a conscious seeking of links that reveal continuities that are hidden or largely unsuspected by the mainstream, Benzant imagines himself as an Urban Shaman. His sculptures from the series Paraphernalia of the Urban Shaman M:5, are inspired by African power-objects, such as the minkisi and makutos of the Bakongo tribe, while also visually referencing the banding patterns of chromosomes, thus fusing the spiritual with the scientific.

Benzant’s recent work also includes Afrospanglish, a cycle of paintings that emerged from his series titled Signatures. According to Benzant, “Afrospanglish explores and develops many of the original, ideographic, visual strategies of the Signatures series but also incorporates the idea of conflating personal cosmology and abstract-figuration that generate compositions characterized by large heads which function as conduits or metaphors for cultural/personal memory, inner-worlds, ancestors, spirits or universes akin to the cosmology of Bakongo-derived ritual charms known as nkisi. An nkisi, is an object said to be a miniatured world; a central ritual object that partakes of oral traditions, natural forces, ancestral spirits, divination and the ritual complex of the Bakongo.”

Developed concurrently is a mixed-media body of work titled Kalunga Inbetween Worlds (K7) that explores themes, materials and colors related to Kalunga, an ocean deity associated with the Bakongo people of Central Africa who were brought into the New World in significant numbers.

Born in New York City to Dominican parents, Benzant is an emerging artist on the rise. His work includes painting, performance, sculpture, sound, and installation as he investigates deeply personal experiences of identity, ancestry, family, community and spirituality. Information is drawn from the uniquely shared history of code switching, double-consciousness and multiple narratives that people of African descent have inherited and are compelled to adopt as a survival strategy for daily life. Like this common experience his work straddles two worlds, embodying the dynamics of being both sacred and secular. Observing western art historical constructions, modalities of thought and contemporary discourse informs Benzant’s practice while centering his work in community practices and rituals, drawing personal inspiration from the spirit and the oral traditions of the African ancestors that came across the Atlantic Ocean during the middle passage slave trade.

Benzant attended Pratt Institute from 2007 – 2010. In addition to being in several important private collections, his work was recently acquired by The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina for their permanent art collection. He was also one of the artists included in the Gantt Center’s February 2015 exhibition, Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness. His work was recently exhibited at the N’Namdi Center in Detroit, Michigan and will be included in an upcoming exhibition, Koi No Yokan III, at 101/EXHIBIT gallery in Los Angeles, California opening in July 2016.

Photo caption (top right): Memoria Kongo: Bambula, 2013, 96 x 72 inches, medium: mixed-media, assemblage-painting on canvas.

Photo caption (center right): POTUS M:5 sculptures, (installation view of works created between 2012-2014) Clothes/textiles, cardboard tubes, leather, caucasian baby doll, chicken bone, brown barbie doll, horse hair, glitter, coins, powdered-charcoal, earth, cigar-ash, coffee-grinds, vija/ashiote, powdered-egg-shell, string, wire, monofilament, various plant-bundles, matte-medium, acrylic-ink, rabbit-skin-glue, rice glue, glass seed beads, rum, and miscellaneous.

Photo caption (bottom right): Mayombe Magik In The Urban Jungle, 2011, 85 x 60 inches, medium: mixed-media, assemblage-painting on canvas.



Bending the Grid: Pat Lay:
Myth, Memory and Android Dreams

January 21–March 19, 2016
Reception: January 28, 2016, 6–9pm

Guest Curator: Lilly Wei

Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art is pleased to present Bending the Grid: Pat Lay: Myth, Memory and Android Dreams.This major survey exhibition presents for the first time a broadened view of Lay’s expansive vocabulary, in two and three dimensions, in a range of various media and styles, influenced by her extensive travels and informed by her overlapping art and non-art interests.

Tracing the trajectory of her development from 1969 to the present, with the emphasis on more recent work, Lay’s commitment to the experimental, the multidisciplinary and the hybridized is highlighted in this show, along with her interest in working with a wide range of materials. The earliest works are abstract, at times brightly colored, three dimensional wall pieces made from glazed fired clay, when clay was still generally discounted as a craft medium in this country; it would become one of her signature mediums.

In the last decade Pat Lay’s artwork has focused on technological metaphors of the human experience. In Lay’s collage works digital images scanned from computer circuit boards are transformed into a new matrix– a place, created in response to our world of technological advancement and digital progress.

Aljira’s commitment to Lay is two-fold: first, to make the full range of this artist’s oeuvre more widely known; second, to acknowledge the generous contribution she has made to educating and promoting the work of young artists as a founder of the Master of Fine Arts program at Montclair State University.

“From the beginning, it seems, Pat Lay has been fascinated by the unfamiliar, by cultures other than her own, especially from distant regions of the world. She was never dismissive of art that was free from European and American formulations, but was intrigued, instead, by its rich, often curious imagery and venerable histories, by its differences,” notes guest curator Lilly Wei.

A graduate of Pratt Institute and Rochester Institute of Technology, Lay is a retired Professor of Art at Montclair State University. Lay has received two grants in sculpture from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation. She has been awarded three public art commissions including the installation of a large-scale site-specific sculpture in the sculpture park at the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in Oslo, Norway. She has had solo exhibitions at the Jersey City Museum; New Jersey State Museum; and Douglass College, Rutgers University. Her work has been included in group exhibitions in Japan, Austria, Korea, China, Norway, Wales and Slovakia and at the Jersey City Museum, Newark Museum, New Jersey State Museum, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Montclair Art Museum, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Everson Museum, and the 1975 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Lay’s work is featured in a number of books including Lives and Works, Talks With Women Artists, Volume II by J. Arbeiter, B. Smith, S. Swenson.

Inaugurated in 2003, Bending the Grid is a series which celebrates the successful careers of outstanding yet under-recognized national and international artists over the age of 65. Although the work of the featured artists often is grounded in formal concerns, the series focuses on the way each individual artist subverts or adapts these traditions to his or her own purpose. Artists included in the Bending the Grid series to date are Luis Cruz Azaceta, Frank Bowling, Judith K. Brodsky, Donald Locke, Miriam Beerman and Helen M. Stummer.

Bending the Grid: Pat Lay: Myth, Memory and Android Dreams is documented by an illustrated catalog, including an essay by the guest curator Lilly Wei and an interview with independent art curator, writer and chairman of the board of Independent Curators International, Patterson Sims. The exhibition will be on view at Aljira through March 19, 2016. A special series of limited edition prints by Lay will be available for purchase to benefit Aljira’s exhibitions and programs. On sale at shopAljira beginning January 21.

Supported by a generous grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation.




Michael Paul Britto: Something in the Way of Things

Organized by Visiting Curator: Dexter Wimberly

September 24–December 19, 2015
Opening Reception Thursday, September 24, 6–9pm

Aljira is pleased to present Something In The Way Of Things, a provocative and timely solo exhibition of work by artist Michael Paul Britto.

Consisting of collage, sculpture, and video, as well as a site-specific installation, the exhibition addresses political and cultural awareness, as well as the misconceptions and assumptions communicated by mass media in The United States. Britto’s practice challenges and encourages the viewer to think about socially nurtured assumptions of Blackness, poverty, youth, as well as the characteristics of acceptable behavior to create a perspective that is more responsive than reactionary. By reclaiming that which has been appropriated, Britto presents messages that reflect the global influence of American culture.

“The significant experiences of my life, both past and present, have served as material for these creative explorations, while enhancing my role as a youth educator, which I consider an important part of my artistic practice. I understand intimately how an environment of instability and confusion can devastate, but also how these personal histories can be inspirational and serve as a touchstone for thoughtful exchange,” Britto says.

“There is a perennial need for artists who create work that generates dialogue and inspires meaningful action around issues of equality and human rights. Britto has mined his personal experiences and channeled them into a body of work that is artistically sincere and socially powerful,” states visiting curator, Dexter Wimberly.

The exhibition’s title is an ode to African-American poet, activist and scholar, Amiri Baraka’s (1934 – 2014), “Something in the way of Things (In Town)”, a poem that underscores the quest for social justice and explores interrelated issues of race, national oppression, self-determination and national liberation for Black people.

About Michael Paul Britto
Michael Paul Britto graduated with a BA from the City College of New York. Michael’s works range from videos to digital photography, sculpture, collage, and performance. Britto has had residencies at the New Museum in New York as well as Smack Mellon, The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation and LMCC. Michael has been featured in shows at El Museo del Barrio, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Kitchen in New York, The Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in England. Britto’s work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Art in America and the Brooklyn Rail. www.brittofied.com

Photo captions:
Michael Paul Britto Control © 2015, Arches, cut magazine paper, 12×16 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Michael Paul Britto Pressure© 2015, Arches, cut magazine paper, 12×16 in. Courtesy of the artist.




Tom Nussbaum: New Constructions

Organized by Visiting Curator: Dexter Wimberly

September 24–December 19, 2015
Opening Reception Thursday, September 24, 6–9pm

Tom Nussbaum’s work originates from a life-long interest in making art that expresses his view of the world using form and color. Nussbaum’s standing and wall-mounted constructions reflect his exploration of architecture and the structural frameworks of buildings and towers, mixed with references to the human figure. These works emerge from the artist’s deep interest in the formal concerns of painting and sculpture, as well as the interactions of color and form and the associations they carry.Nussbaum explains, “My sculpture grew from non-traditional vessel making into sculptural basket-like forms. This work continued for a number of years in a series of painted wood structures referencing vessel forms, architecture, and the figure. Over time, I continued working with the figure in a series of painted metal sculptures, followed by a series of figures in painted ceramic and plaster/resin. After working with the figure for many years, in 2012 I returned to exploring more abstract structural forms, working in welded steel, wire, and paper.”

Many of Nussbaum’s new works investigate vessel forms or containers, and as such also connect to the history of ceramics and basket making. In his practice, Nussbaum explores the visual connections found in the fabrics and patterns of quilts and textiles from around the world. His new work also references forms found in nature, such as atomic models and cell structure, and man-made patterns such as interconnecting circuits and the worldwide web.

About Tom Nussbaum
Tom Nussbaum is known for a variety of work including sculpture, drawings, paper cuts, prints, children’s books, animations, functional design objects, and site-specific commissions. His sculpture and works on paper have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States, and internationally. Since 1987 he has completed over thirty site-specific commissions located in a variety of public settings including public plazas, train stations, schools, hospitals, and environmental centers.

Nussbaum has been a visiting artist and lecturer at colleges and universities, and has served on many peer review panels and juries. He has been awarded two New Jersey State Individual Artist Fellowships and has been a three time MacDowell Colony Fellow. He currently works from his studios in East Orange, NJ, and Burlington Flats, NY. www.tomnussbaum.com

Photo caption:
East Orange Boogie Woogie from New Constructions by Tom Nussbaum. Courtesy of the Artist.




As They Are: Portraits by Mel Leipzig

July 16–September 5, 2015
Opening Reception Thursday, July 16, 6–9pm
Mel Leipzig has been concerned with the figure, painted directly from life, for over 40 years. As They Are: Portraits by Mel Leipzig focuses on the characteristic informality of his subject against a backdrop of architectural detail and highly skewed perspective. The paintings are at once disconcertingly familiar and unfamiliar.Mel Leipzig was born in Brooklyn in 1935 and lives and works in Trenton, NJ. He is a retired professor of painting and art history at Mercer County Community College and has had over 40 solo exhibitions at museums and art centers throughout the country, including a retrospective at the New Jersey State Museum in 1998. In 2009, he was the subject of two exhibitions at the New Jersey State Museum. One, Mel Leipzig, Selected Paintings, was a selection of his paintings completed in the first decade of the 21st Century and curated by Margaret O’Reilly, Curator of Fine Arts. The second, Mel Leipzig, The Artist as Curator, was an exhibition of figurative paintings from the museum’s collection curated by the artist.

His works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Academy Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City. In New Jersey his paintings are in the collection of the New Jersey State Museum, the Montclair Art Museum, the Morris Museum and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University. In Pennsylvania, his paintings are in the collections of the Woodmere Art Museum and the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania which purchased his painting Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. In Massachusetts, his paintings are in the collections of the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Provincetown Art Association Museum. In 2003 the American Academy of Arts and Letters purchased his painting Bernarda Shahn and donated it to the Springville Museum of Art in Utah.

Leipzig received a Fulbright Grant to Paris (1958–59), a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award (1959–60), and four grants for painting from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (1982, 1986, 1992, 2002). In 1980 he was the first recipient of the Mercer County Community College Distinguished Teacher Award Gold Medal and in 1996 was one of the last individual artists to receive a grant in painting from then National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000 and 2002 he received awards for his paintings from the National Academy, NYC.

He studied at The Cooper Union under Nicholas Marsicano, Morris Kantor, Will Barnet and Neil Welliver (1953–56); Yale University, School of Art & Architecture (BFA) under Josef Albers and James Brooks (1956–58); and Pratt Institute (MFA) under Nan Benedict, Ralph Wickiser and George McNeill (1970–72).

In 2006 Mel Leipzig was elected to the National Academy. In 2014 he was one of the artists included in Deborah Forman’s book Contemporary Cape Cod Artists, People & Places. He is one of the seven painters included in the book Selected Contemporary Figurative Painters, published in 2010 by the Tianjin People’s Fine Arts Publishing House and edited by Qimin Liu, which introduces contemporary American realist painting to the Chinese audience. In October 2015, he will be going as part of an artist exchange to Shandong Province in China.

Mel Leipzig is represented by Gallery Henoch., NYC.

Photo caption:
Mel Leipzig
Gregory at Gallery Henoch, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 in.