Fresh Air Montclair makes the town a gallery
Fresh Air Montclair
Ribbon-cutting and fashion parade on Sunday, June 28, 3 p.m.
Begins in front of “eGALLUTS: Quarantined,” photography by Armando “OUTthere” Diaz, at The Crescent Shops, 18-30 South Fullerton Ave. will conclude in front of 641 Bloomfield Ave.
Organized by Cynthia Walker of Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (S.O.F.I.A.) and Kathryn Waggener McGuire of Clerestory Fine Art.
“InSide Out,” at Studio Montclair Gallery, 127 Bloomfield Ave., through August.
Art in storefront windows throughout Montclair. For details, visit Freshairmontclair.com.
By GWEN OREL
When you look at an empty storefront, or a series of empty storefronts, your heart sinks a little. Your step hurries. You don’t want to linger.
But what if the store windows held art?
Pictures of a woman dancing with a mask on?
A spreading maple tree, embracing the forest?
A striking installation made out of garbage?
Some business owners and art curators in town began thinking along the same lines a few months ago: Art in those windows would lift everyone’s spirits.
Fresh Air Montclair Exhibitions opened last month.
On Sunday, June 28, at 3 p.m., Fresh Air Montclair will hold a fashion parade at the Crescent Shops, 18-30 South Fullerton Ave., leading to a designer showcase in front of 641 Bloomfield Ave., followed by a ribbon-cutting.
Business owner Luther Flurry spoke to photographer Armando “OUTthere” Diaz about doing something in the windows. Diaz then contacted Kathryn Waggener McGuire, owner of Clerestory Fine Art, who held Diaz’s first solo show in August 2019.
As McGuire began planning an installation of Diaz’s photography in stores on South Fullerton, she realized that around the corner, Mary Z. Scotti, of 73 See Gallery and Design Studio, was installing an exhibition of three artists in the windows of Pure Energy Hair Studio on Bloomfield Avenue.
Each exhibition had a charitable mission, McGuire raising funds for Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (S.O.F.I.A.) and Scotti for the Northeast Earth Coalition.
Flurry connected the curators to the Montclair Business Improvement District’s Montclair
Mondays conversations, held on Zoom with DesignShed.
People began to talk about “how we could bring awareness to existing business, and boost
morale,” McGuire said. “I subscribe to the broken-window theory, that the psychology of dismal space is bad for assumptions about the neighborhood and morale.”
For Jason Gleason, director of BID, the idea was a “no-brainer.”
“Art is baked into the whole history of Montclair. This is a perfect showcase, getting people back to business,” Gleason said. “Fresh Air Montclair makes the street into a ‘public museum.’”
The idea caught on quickly: There were nearly 20 exhibits by the end of the first week. “We really hit the ground running,” Gleason said. “Nobody’s said no yet. Every couple of days we’re redoing the credit panel on the website.”
Diaz is in the process of arranging for his art to move to other shop windows, including windows in the South End.
And the public art in windows will likely keep going: Nobody knows how long some version of the shutdown will last, and “things opening up doesn’t mean a lack of vacancies,” McGuire said.
Armisey Smith’s art, from her series “Side-eye, Pink-eye,” will be in the windows of the Studio Montclair Inc. gallery at 127 Bloomfield Ave. beginning tomorrow.
SMI gallery joined Fresh Air Montclair Exhibits and launched “InSide Out” at the beginning of June. Studio Montclair has always hung art in its windows, but much of the art in “InSide Out” was created as installations for the whole window. Santiago Cohen, said SMI Executive Director Susanna Baker, designed an installation using mannequins, about “Day of the Dead.”
“Montclair is such an art town,” Baker said. “It’s sad when there’s nothing to see. The museum is closed, galleries are closed.”
While there are virtual exhibitions — and SMI is planning its annual member show as a virtual show right now — the art in windows makes it “fun to drive or walk down Bloomfield Avenue. It makes you want to be there.” And it’s safe, you’re not going into an enclosed space, Baker added.
Smith began working on her “Side-eye” series of paintings and mixed media, including masks, last year.
“It was in response to inequities I encountered as an African American woman,” she said. “One of the ways we respond is to give the side eye, ‘Are you serious?’ Then when COVID hit, I thought, ‘Okay, let me try to figure out a way to talk about the cavalier attitude from white people about not wearing a mask. African Americans are more at risk.
“I decided to do the ‘Side-eye, Pink-eye’ series. Pinkeye has a lot of connotations about getting sick, it’s an indicator of illness. The women that I paint are looking at whoever the viewer is, thinking ‘Why do you not care whether or not I get sick because of the color of my skin?’”
The death of George Floyd brought another shift, she said. The African American man was killed on May 25 by a policeman holding a knee to his neck.
“I wanted to address racial inequities and microaggression, this myth of freedom, what freedom means for certain people,” Smith said.
Having her work displayed in windows makes more of a statement than it would if it were in a traditional gallery setting, she added: “Montclair is a diverse town, and I’m hoping that it will speak to a variety of people.”
Having the art in windows might encourage some people who do not think of themselves as art lovers to engage with the work, Smith said.
Diaz dedicates his work to his childhood friend Gary Glover, who recently died at age 46 of COVID-19.
Yvette Lucas, whose work is displayed at Pure Energy Hair Studio, along with the works of Kate Dodd and Monika Smerdel, created work showing a large tree called the Mother Tree. She also made works using leaves she collected in Brookdale Park.
“I saw the whole piece as showing respect for our natural environment, our connection to
it, and then a bit of a warning about abusing it,” Lucas said. The title of the Pure Energy show, organized by Scotti, is “Seeds to the Future.”
Fresh Air Montclair is a way to ease isolation, Lucas said. “People need art. This is a great way to bring it to everyone in the community. It’s a gift.”
The community seems to agree. Gleason said, “People are leaving thank-you notes on Post-its.”