Lacquer Art Is Only the Latest Unusual Attraction at Michael Bolla’s Madison Jackson Condos

  • Things are never boring at 371 Madison Street. While some condo conversions even make great views and amenities look dull and depressingly generic, Madison Jackson never fails to entertain (and it hasn’t even opened yet!).

    Besides 24-hour-a-day vegan and kosher room service, a juice bar and a pool with single-sex swimming hours to cater to Orthodox Jews, the converted public school on the Lower East Side has recently taken to embracing the arts as well.

    The edgy showrooms of design and art collective BOFFO just closed this weekend, but the building is now hosting a show by Chinese artist Wenzhi Zhang.

    The show, “Women of Esther,” materialized after Prudential Douglas Elliman broker and developer Michael Bolla found a book about the preeminent Chinese lacquer artist on a colleague’s coffee table and was immediately captivated.

    Mr. Bolla is a man of many interests and causes, he’s not only interested in lacquer, but in preserving the remnants of the Jewish community on the Lower East Side.

    “I’ve really developed this passion for lacquer,” explained Mr. Bolla, who curated the show himself. “We became fast friends. She is the foremost lacquer master in China. She has an amazing amount of power and clout.”

    He went on to praise Ms. Zhang’s work and her inspiring type of feminism. Not only is she “extremely intelligent” and a professor, but she also has incredible stamina, able to go for days without sleeping, Mr. Bolla explained.

    “She’s a bit of an Eva Peron,” he paused to consider that statement. “Not a bit, a lot.”

    So what of the show? Mr. Bolla, who grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community, told The Observer that it was a celebration of the biblical Esther, women and the fleeting nature of life.

    “This art form will last for thousands of years. This show is sort of meant to express how people are using their lives in ways that are really meaningless because what they’re doing is not linked from one thing to another,” he mused. “Life can be very meaningless.”

    The exhibit, which can be seen by appointment only (email wenzhi@michaelbolla.com), is open until September.

    But expect more of Ms. Zhang’s work in the city in the future. Mr. Bolla told The Observer that five lacquer artists are working in a SoHo studio he owns, preparing work for a fall exhibition: “An eastern conversation on Western life.” And if he had his druthers, the exhibit would be installed in Madison Jackson permanently. Unfortunately, they need to eventually use the space for commercial tenants. Such is the nature of development and the condo is on the verge of opening. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be more unusual projects in Madison Jackson’s and Mr. Bolla’s future.

    “The people we’re dealing with are usually traditional business people that operate in a corporate modality,” said Mr. Bolla. “They think Michael Bolla has all these crazy ideas and they have to be incorporated.”

    “But I think at the end of the day we’ll create a building that is interesting for people to live in.”

    kvelsey@observer.com

  • Lacquer fan and developer Michael Bolla curated the show.

  • One of the lacquer pieces in the show.

  • Ms. Zhang is a Chinese sculptor and lacquer artist.

  • Lacquer is the star of the small show at 371 Jackson.

  • Ms. Zhang also has a sculpture show in Queens.