June 17, 2022/in Columns, Eye Level, header, Journal Square, Narrate, Visual Arts
by Tris McCall
On a dead-end street in an ignored corner of McGinley Square, a cardinal has landed. That its arrival had long been anticipated does not make its touchdown any less impressive. This is an unusual bird, even by the vivid standard of cardinals, those showy backyard visitors. Its body is composed of hundreds of torn strands of gingham fabric. A beach blanket could fit between its wingtips. Should you stand on a metal platform and turn away from the sculpture — as you’re invited to do — it’d look like those giant wings are yours.
The bird is the fabrication of Bayard, who is, by now, an old hand at turning the back room at 34 Dekalb Avenue into a fantasyland. Like much of his work, the sculpture feels, simultaneously, alien and protective. He’s chosen his avian avatar wisely. The cardinal is the foremost among the Angry Birds, true, but according to long tradition, it flutters by when angels are near. Here in Jersey City, those go-betweens from the spirit world have had work to do. Many of us have lost someone. For awhile, it looked as if we’d lost EONTA Space.
But after years spent in pandemic limbo, the bright and cheerful art space in the low building at the end of a residential cul-de-sac is back in operation. Bayard will open the cyclone-fenced gates to EONTA Space at 6 p.m. tonight. He’s calling the comeback show “Troublemakers,” and the artists he’s riding with on this voyage are, in the Jersey style, idiosyncratic and stubbornly dedicated to personal visions. But the prevailing tone of the group show is one of consolation. A cardinal is flying by. Angels may not yet be on the ground in Jersey City, but we trust they’re somewhere in the vicinity.
Circumstantial evidence of guardian spirits is present throughout the show. Julie Allen embroiders a tiny “Outfit for an Angel,” complete with little red espadrilles, into a framed piece of vellum; she’s even stitched the fifty-two cents it took to buy the clothes into the work in softly fraying fabric coins. Was this an ensemble for a lost child, or does it wait for a child to inhabit it? Medicating angels hover over the show. Chuck Nitzberg gives us a portrait of a man assembled from Band-Aids of different sizes. He’s an amalgamation of wounds, and his posture betrays the beating he’s taken, but he’s still standing. Michelle Mayer’s oil-painted Black Lives Matter protester drops her medical mask just a bit to show us the determination and pain on her face. Cheryl Gross’s female pugilists back up Mayer’s fighter with a similar righteousness; “I will either find a way or make one,” reads a hand-lettered inscription tucked into an illustration. Then there’s EONTA favorite Andrea McKenna, whose distressed, spectral figures in rust-brown and institution-green paint stare back at us from the bardo of her imagination. McKenna’s liminal zone is a place of longing and resignation to fate. Her characters would send us a cardinal, if they only could.
McKenna is the curator at Art House Productions, which, though large by the standard of Jersey City cultural institutions, remains an independent operation.