Curious Matter and JC Public Library Team Up for ‘A Time in Arcadia’ Art Exhibit

'Ghetto Palm' by Jamie Isaia

A ripe new exhibit at Curious Matter, in collaboration with the Jersey City Free Public Library (JCFPL), is opening this Sunday with a look at how we interact with the botanical world and nature in general.

“A Time in Arcadia” looks at plants, gardens and mankind’s longtime obsession with the fantasy of a verdant, idyllic, often pastoral place where man can be in perfect harmony with nature like Shangri-La, Eden or, of course, Arcadia.

Artists exhibiting at Curious Matter are Lasse Antonsen, Aaron Beebe, Ewelina Bochenska, Arthur Bruso, Robyn Ellenbogen, Stephanie Guillen, Jamie Isaia, Kit Lagreze, Richard Lapham, Ross Bennett Lewis, Joe Lugara, Sabina Magnus, Marianne McCarthy, Julie McHargue, Joan Mellon, Vikki Michalios, Raymond E. Mingst, Robert Mullenix, Samantha Persons, Gilda Pervin, Robert Schatz, Corinne Schulze, Leona Strassberg Steiner and Margaret Withers.

Those at the Main Branch are Lasse Antonsen, Kristi Arnold, Jessica Baker, Aileen Bassis, Greg Brickey, Eileen Ferara, Jessie Horning, Richard Lapham, Joe Lugara, Sabina Magnus, Anthony Heinz May, Sarah Pfohl and Debra Regh.

The library has also created a bibliography with nearly 200 selections from the Main Library’s six departments and the nine JCFPL branches around the city.

JCI spoke with Curious Matter directors Raymond Mingst and Arthur Bruso about the mystique of the pastoral ideal, man’s interference with nature and their collaboration with the library.

JCI: What inspired this exhibit?

Arthur Bruso: Since the gallery follows the tradition of cabinets of curiosities, plants and the vegetative world are a big part of what would be exhibited in such a venue.

Raymond Mingst: Each of our exhibitions is an inquiry, so the inspiration grows from ongoing conversations with each other and other artists. We also like to consider what theme would resonate and inspire a variety of approaches and points of view.

JCI: What is it about the idea of Eden that has intrigued man for so long?

AB: The notion of the ideal. Eden or Arcadia, is the place where we conceive of everything being provided for us and life is without labor.

'Tulip Circles' by Jessica Baker

JCI: Did a lot of the artists in this show explore the idyllic fantasy? What aspects of nature did they focus on?

AB: Surprisingly for us, most of the artists are concerned with the degradation of the environment or with human interference of natural processes, like gene manipulation. We were not expecting such a dark response, but these are the issues that face us now. Can we actually look at a landscape and enjoy it for its freshness and life, or are we preoccupied wondering if the growing things are non-native invasives?

JCI: What are some highlights from the show?

RM: My personal highlight is the bibliography created by the librarians at the Jersey City Free Public Library. It is a fascinating and elegant document. Every department of the Main Library and every branch contributed and (their spokeswoman) Michele Dupey assembled and edited the final piece. You’ll read about poisonous plants from the Reference Department; reusing contaminated landscapes from Federal Documents; opium addiction in the 1880s from historical works in the New Jersey Room. Of course, there are terrific titles that might have more immediate benefit for your garden, too.

AB: Because every branch and department contributed to it, it ranges from antique tomes from the Jersey Room to children’s books. We hope that it will show how varied, pervasive and important the subject is.

JCI: How exactly did this collaboration work?

AB: We proposed the exhibition and they were thrilled that we reached out.

RM: This idea was a totally organic extension of our gallery and exhibition practice. Each of our exhibitions is an inquiry, so including the library was a means to add another dimension to the experience for our audience and the artists as well. We’re the first arts organization that ever proposed this sort of collaboration with the JCFPL and it’s been a terrific experience working with them.

JCI: What do you hope audiences take away?

AB: That our interaction and reaction to the landscape and the growing things in it is visceral and personal. Whether we water a geranium, hike mountain trails or devise ways of feeding the starving multitudes, plants are the basis of life on Earth and there are severe consequences if we ignore that.

RM: I hope they take away a library card!

“A Time in Arcadia” opens with a reception on Sunday, May 19, from 3 pm to 6 pm at Curious Matter, 272 Fifth St. The show runs through June 23. Gallery hours at Curious Matter are Sundays from 12 pm to 3 pm and by appointment. The second half of the exhibit is on view at the Main Branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library, 472 Jersey Ave. Hours are Monday to Thursday from 9 am to 8 pm and Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. For more information, visit the Curious Matter website.

Check out more photos from the exhibit:

Photos courtesy of Curious Matter

Additional Coverage:

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.