New York Art Gallery Squeezes Nature Into a Broom Cupboard

artbridge jon feinstein e1311711503380 New York Art Gallery Squeezes Nature Into a Broom Cupboard
‘Untitled’, by Jon Feinstein

There are one million linear feet of scaffolding erected in New York City at any one time, Jordana Zeldin, the director of the nonprofit public-art group ArtBridge told The Observer in her tiny Chelsea office earlier this week. In 2009, Ms. Zeldin continued, her organization used about 400 feet of that scaffolding, on the London Terrace Gardens apartments in Chelsea as a canvas, strapping 25 artworks into place for a yearlong exhibition that attempted to beautify the somewhat unappealing plywood and metal structures.

Another ArtBridge installation at the apartment building appeared the following year, and a third is set to open at the Atlantic Yards Development in Brooklyn in October. What began as a one-off project by artist, designer, and ArtBridge founder, Rodney Durso, to decorate the city’s construction sights, has become an ongoing initiative, and an ambitious one: the group has tapped an impressive selection of curators for its temporary installations, including photographer Lorna Simpson, Brooklyn Museum curator Eugenie Tsai, and the Guggenheim curator David van der Leer.

Now the group has decided to open a small gallery in Chelsea’s commercial gallery district, on the fifth floor of 526 West 26th Street near heavyweights like Lehmann Maupin, Robert Miller Gallery, and James Cohan Gallery. “We noticed that a tiny broom cupboard of a place right next to our offices had become available, so we rented it,” Ms. Zeldin explained. “We wanted to offer a more traditional exhibition space to our artists than our outdoor installations provided.”

The space is indeed small. At 75 square feet, The ArtBridge Drawing Room ranks as one of New York’s smallest galleries, and The Observer had difficulty imagining how more than 200 people could squeeze inside, which Ms. Zeldin said had occurred on the opening night of the space’s inaugural exhibition on July 21. “They all lined up down the hall,” the director said. “The elevator operator had quite a task taking everyone up and down.”

Despite the gallery’s modest dimensions, the space’s current exhibition, “The Nature,” manages to house the work of five New York artists: Jon Feinstein, Max Glaser, Cheryl Molnar, Matthew William Robinson and Cecilia Schmidt.

The Observer was curious about the title, which seemed to be missing a word or two. Shouldn’t it be “The Nature of Man,” or “The Nature of the Universe,” or something similar?

“It was in Iceland in June of this year that I was first introduced to the expression ‘The Nature,’” Ms. Zeldin said. “The article ‘the’ did something to what our tour guide was talking about — it gave it a kind of force.” In Iceland, no one lives in the middle of the country, she said, and nature has ultimate dominion over man.

In America, Ms Zeldin believes that things are different. “Maybe the mid-19th century notion of Manifest Destiny has informed our approach to what’s ours, but if anything, when it comes to deciding where to set up shop and spread our industrial wings, it seems that we’re the force that acts upon nature.”

The exhibition is an exploration of where exactly the natural ends and all things human begin, an idea that is epitomized in the work of New York-based photographer Jon Feinstein. His untitled photograph depicts what looks like a wall with photographs of trees hanging on it. In fact, they are not photographs but picture-shaped holes that allow you to see through the wall to the natural world behind it; it is a mystifying optical illusion, at once eerie and contemplative.

One of the more unusual aspects of the exhibition, in The Observer’s humble opinion, was the fact that it had a soundtrack. Created by Ramsay Davila, it was an unexpected medley of drills, running water and birds, recorded around the city and mixed together to create an unusual symphony. Experiencing it seemed to support Ms. Zeldin’s ideas about nature’s power over man, in that the chirping birds and gentle streams proved more of an intrusion on our psyche than the boring drills.

Though ArtBridge is only open by appointment for the summer, Ms. Zeldin emphasized the group was serious about selling its work and that the gallery would be open during the Chelsea Art Walk on July 28. Sales go to fund the organization’s future projects. There was another unexpected aspect to the gallery, Ms. Zeldin noted: instead of the 50 percent cut that most galleries take when making sales, ArtBridge keeps only 30 percent.