Multiple Realities of Abstract Art at the Southeast Queens Biennial


In the universe created by the 2022 Southeast Queens Biennial, abstract art invited viewers to engage their imaginations and to consider the multiple realities conveyed by the seven participating artists through their distinctive visual languages.

Curated by artist Rejin Leys, the show, titled Formations, presented artwork by Jean Foos, Vandana Jain, Jeanne Heifetz, Anton Kerkula, José Carlos Casado, Carl E. Hazlewood, and Dominant Dansby at the York College Fine Arts Gallery and the King Manor Museum.

“We chose to focus on abstraction to open up space for the imagination, and to highlight how a material or a process can drive an entire project,” Leys said about the biennial’s third iteration, which recently closed after extending its run through April 29.

José Carlos Casado, left: “sacrifice.vHeadWar” (2013), archival inkjet print on canvas, acrylic and oil paint, plastic sculptures, polyurethane; right: “sacrifice.vMeat” 
(2013), archival inkjet print on canvas, acrylic and oil paint, plastic sculptures, mirror PVC (photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)

As Leys observed, the similarities that emerged among the distinct artworks were especially evident at the York’s gallery. 

José Carlos Casado uses digital technologies and media to create installations and sculptures, among other artworks. His approach is exemplified by “sacrifice.vMeat” (2013), in which a mirror’s reflection brings to mind a psychedelic alternate reality. 

In his series R3-visi0n3D, Anton Kerkula also makes use of technology, in this case to transform his architectural photography into surrealistic images that challenge viewers to reconsider the logic of architectural structures.

Dominant Dansby, “Interlude of constructed ideals or mannerism” (2015), pastel, color pencil, graphite, paper, wood (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)

Dominant Dansby’s abstract grids are inspired by the energy and improvisation of jazz. The collaged grids of pieces like “Interlude of constructed ideals or mannerism” (2015) explore textures and dimensions and showcase the importance Dansby gives to the notion of the artistic process.  

In Carl E. Hazlewood’s artist statement, he describes his intention to make “things that tend to be ephemeral in reaction to the space and the surfaces of the site.” The biennial showcases his “BlackHead Anansi Web” (2022), an abstract collage composed of organic forms and diaphanous lines.

Jeanne Heifetz, “Pre-Occupied 72” (2017), graphite on flax paper tinted with iron oxide (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)

In her series Pre-Occupied, Jeanne Heifetz faces her fear of death and offers layered drawings based on the maps of different Jewish cemeteries, including the ones where her relatives are buried.

Jean Foos and Vandana Jain collect and transform discarded materials, creating images that suggest rituals. Foos’s tower-like sculpture “Convulsive Beauty in the Fur Teacup Bar” (2022) evokes a totem, while Jain’s works provide a burst of energy, elevating ordinary objects, such as a broom or rope, into striking art objects to create pieces like “Love Is Love” (2020).

A poetic sense of materials unites the show’s artists, as well as the stories and ideas they express. 

José Carlos Casado, “Hetty is B/W (1816)” (2022), custom-made tablecloth (photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)

“One thing that I realized, looking at the show and installing it … is that though the pieces are different in the processes and the things that the artists are thinking, there’s a continuity in terms of how they approach materials,” noted Nicholas Fraser, York College Fine Arts Gallery’s director.

At the King Manor Museum, the contemporary artworks established a provocative, and almost transgressive, dialogue with the historic structure. 

Like its previous editions, the biennial served as a geographical and cultural bridge between art and its surrounding Southeast Queens community. “The biennial was founded to bring more visual arts cultural programming to Southeast Queens, and to bring more visibility to our artists and venues,” Leys explained.

In Formations, the curator’s aspiration for the community to experience and be challenged by the work of diverse artists was accomplished, offering new takes on abstract art and its symbolic power.

Vandana Jain, “Love Is Love,” (2020), cotton, acrylic and t-shirt yarn, jute and plastic twine, orange rope, fake pine garland, holographic skeleton torso, fake fur, plastic rope, plastic bag, couched wool roving, sequins, happy birthday banner, orange tubing, pink easter grass, acrylic white ribbon, plastic flowers, broom (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)
Anton Kerkula, “R3-VisioOn 3D series Building 5” (2018), digital photograph on lustre photo paper (photo Carmen Graciela Díaz/Hyperallergic)
Vandana Jain, “Khatta Meetha” (2021), mixed media; and “Thrum Bones” (2021), sewing table, organza “bones” stuffed with studio waste (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)
Jean Foos, detail of “The Ballad of Mary Alsop King” (2022), acrylic on paper packing forms (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)
José Carlos Casado, “Thawing Embryo III” (2016), aluminum, clay, wood, polyurethane, paint and found objects (courtesy York College Fine Arts Gallery)


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