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Interview with Artists Alliance Director Jodi Waynberg

Jodi Waynberg is the Executive Director of Artists Alliance Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the careers of emerging and underrepresented artists and curators through residencies, exhibitions, and commissioned projects.

We asked her a few questions about her past and present projects, the relationship between art and the neighborhood, and two artists at Residency Unlimited, Guillaume Bresson and Ana Prata.

Since joining AAI in 2012, Waynberg has curated several group and solo exhibitions including Liminal Inversions (2012), Philip Emde Destroyed My Life (2013), The Real Estate Show, What Next: 2014 (2014), and Little Gloating Eve (NYC and Milan 2014). Waynberg has also served as a visiting critic and juror at Residency Unlimited, Wassaic Project, Hunter College MFA Program, AHL Foundation, NARS Foundation, ArtSlant and Wave Hill Winter Workspace. Waynberg began her career in San Francisco as the Associate Curator at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.


Dorothée Charles (DC): Can you present Artists Alliance and the different programs you have developed?

Jodi Waynberg (JW): Artists Alliance was founded as a membership organization in 1999 by a group of 40 Lower East Side-based artists working in the former PS160 building, now The Clemente. They believed that the arts and individual artists were essential to the culture, history and future of the neighborhood and wanted to form an organization that was committed to advancing the practices of emerging artists and created opportunities for independent curators. Over the past 16 years, the organization has remained faithful to this early intention and continues to grow and expand access for artists, curators, and the larger arts community through an exhibition program at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, the Lower East Side Studio Program residency and a newly established commissions program, Public Works.

In 2001, a group of founding members, led by artist Paul Clay, established Cuchifritos Gallery in Essex Street Market. Given our location in the heart of an historically diverse neighborhood, it was central to the mission of the gallery that it be designed to foster a more significant connection between contemporary art and the general public. When I was first introduced to the gallery space in 2012, I was excited to find a platform that really forced contemporary work into perspective with the rhythms of daily life. The accessibility of the exhibition program really reflects the disposition of our organization – that access to art should not require each of us to go out of our way in order to engage with salient ideas, but rather that the privilege of social and cultural dialogue is for everyone. 

The LES Studio Program and Public Works further this objective by offering fully-funded studio space and project support to artists of all disciplines (painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation, new media, or other forms), backgrounds and at various stages in their careers. The latter presents commissioned projects outside of traditional art spaces in order to prioritize the relationship between the work and the context in which it exists. It is our core belief that projects of this kind can provide necessary time to slow down or suspend time, allowing viewers to more carefully consider the role art can play in illuminating common spaces with new perspective.


DC: Cuchifritos Gallery is located in the historically significant Essex Street Market. How do you curate projects in this space?

JW: In general, our exhibition program is curated through an open call process. We work with 8-10 curators to produce 10 exhibitions annually that represent myriad forms, content and subject-matter. Selected proposals are reviewed based on the conceptual rigor of the exhibition, artistic quality of the work to be presented, commitment to contemporary practice of both exhibiting artists and curator, as well as relevance to the Lower East Side. While not all of our exhibitions have an explicit connection to the area, the work often considers questions that have strong thematic roots within the community including ethics, immigration, ecology, and exchanges of power. 

We’re incredibly fortunate to work with a distinguished Curatorial Committee composed of artists, curators, and gallerists from esteemed institutions including New Museum, SVA, Pratt and Untitled who contribute to the vision and clarity of our exhibition program each year.


DC: Each year you collaborate with Residency Unlimited and organize an exhibition of the artists in residencies program. Could you tell us more about this partnership?

JW: Our collaboration with Residency Unlimited began in 2011 in order to support and augment each of our respective core programs. RU provides a remarkable amount of tailored support towards the development of new work to their artists-in- residence. As an artist-centered organization, this was a natural partnership and Cuchifritos Gallery a fitting platform to showcase these experimental projects. 

RU often works with internationally-based artists who have spent little or no time working towards their own professional goals in New York, making this period of development for artists particularly significant both in their practice and work. Those artists who have exhibited at Cuchifritos through this partnership often use the opportunity to reflect more carefully on the behavioral and material differences between their own culture and that of New York, in addition to creating meditations on the intimacy between individuals, notions of surveillance and the contradictions between the privacy of an art-viewing experience within a public space.

Over the years, our collaborations have included artists from France, Germany, Turkey, Taiwan and Brazil.


DC: From August 26 until September 25, 2016 you organize an exhibition with 2 artists from RU: Guillaume Bresson (French) and Ana Prata (Brazilian). Could you present their work and the collaboration?

JW: I recently met Guillaume and Ana through their residency at RU and was immediately taken by each of their practices. Both are impressive painters, though their aesthetics appear to have little in common at first glance. Over several conversations with each artist, it has become quite clear that their work intersects in several really meaningful ways, which has made this a very exciting exhibition to develop.

Guillaume’s figurative work is closely related in style, technique and composition to the late-Renaissance and Baroque periods, while Ana’s approach is much more rooted in the history of painting technique itself. Her body of work, if considered as a whole, nearly dismantles any attempt to build an historical timeline to discuss her work in relation to the medium. Moving between and manipulating various styles—primitivism, cubism, expressionism, minimalism—Ana’s work becomes both quotation from the modern era and anti-historical.

Guillaume expresses a very similar tension. The historical references are quite unavoidable when considering the surface of his paintings, but a closer study is rewarded with a work that is nearly suspended in a dream-like state. He frequently collaborates with dancers (both professionally trained and self-taught) to create and capture frozen movement; the liminal space between aggressive combat and relaxed rhythm. Combined with hyper-real depictions of anonymous urban architecture, spaces of modern consumption (i.e. McDonalds) and reference to the post-war mass housing outside of Paris, the works begin to transform into a surrealist dystopia, rather than a hero painting, as the style might suggest. 

Perhaps the most inspiring quality about this opportunity to work with Ana and Guillaume has been the discovery of the relationship between their two practices. Both artists work with the concept of motion in a fascinating manner. Guillaume’s representation of movement as theater or performance is an interesting contrast to Ana’s emotive gestural work. It reminds me a bit of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965). Kosuth’s open-ended question provided an invaluable opportunity to consider the place of representation and the creation of meaning in an artwork. Similarly, these two painters, when related to one another, reignite this question. With a storied history between painting and representation, particularly in relation to the advent of photography as a more accurate form of documentation, this is an extremely powerful moment to consider the expanded place of painting within the overall identity of the medium. In coordination with the exhibition, we’ll be publishing a small book that reveals each artist’s process for making work and will, hopefully, better illustrate these connections. The book will include a selection of photos of Guillaume’s collaborators, which he uses as studies when painting a new work, as well as series of Ana’s black ink drawings that express the action and gesture of her body when developing the vocabulary of signs and symbols that appear throughout her work.


DC: As Essex Street Market is closing. Where will be the new location for Cuchifritos Gallery and the forthcoming projects?

JW: We’re moving into the new Essex Market in mid-2018, which will be housed within the forthcoming Essex Crossing development across the street from our current location. Until then, we’ll continue to operate in our current space. Because the gallery is only in the design phase, we’re still in the midst of planning our programs for the new space. While the coming changes to the area and neighboring community are yet to be imagined, Cuchifritos’ position within this new landscape is perhaps more vital and necessary than ever. With significant economic and demographic changes to come, we are committed to finding ways to advance artists’ practices and ensure that the Lower East Side remains a powerful place for making and viewing art.