Jennifer Elster’s Multi Medium Exhibition: Take Heed At the Development Gallery in Tribeca

Take Heed At The Development Gallery in Tribeca

By Taylor Dwyer

Powerful, eerie, beautiful, with a sly sense of humor.

Upon peering through the towering windows at The Development Gallery, one might think it is a construction site. Once you enter through the tall burgundy curtains you are in a different zone. No bells and whistles. Just the opposite. A ceiling that is falling down while majestic six- teen-foot Corinthian columns run down the center of this 4000 plus square foot space with construction lights threaded throughout to highlight the artwork which is meticulously laid out and makes you feel as if you are supposed to start somewhere. I look down and there are footprints on the floor with a trail.

Take Heed_Jennifer Elster_The Development Gallery

Walking through, you begin a strange journey amidst text art, sculptural assemblages on pedestals, self-portraits and paintings, all intermingled in an unfamiliar way and as if without regard, but executed with utmost precision. Juxtapositions are a theme in the artist’s life.

Hurricane Head, 2021_Jennifer Elster_Take Heed 2022

Have you always practiced multiple disciplines?

JE: “As a child I created nonstop. It was how I got through. Directing my friends in plays, creating sculptural people out of clothes, collecting garbage and making things out of it, dressing up, singing, dancing, but I was un- trained in all fields. I never took lessons. I did it because it was how I had fun and it helped me to get through and process my surroundings which were very challenging. Writing was always my favorite and is also an integral part of my art.”

What inspires you?

JE: “I grew up in NYC. I was always a deep thinker, analytical, with an obsession with writing and a fascination with human nature. I was very poor as a teenager, lived in one of, if not the, most dangerous building, and went to what was the most dangerous school in Manhattan. My life experiences, my thoughts and feelings inspire me. I was also obsessed with music (and I make music too). I grew up with folk and rock music as a kid and then disco, rap and house. I could dance. I had style. And I was a club kid in the art scene so what people refer back to as old New York streets or the real art scene, I was a part of. It had life. It was dangerous. Strange. Beautiful. Fun. Wild. Back when Public Enemy and Run DMC hit the scene and would pop up at The Funhouse, Vin Diesel was the bouncer at the Tunnel, and Keith Haring would watch me dance freestyle at MK. My grandfather was the lead harpist at The Met so I was ex- posed to the opera too. One of my first art jobs where I got paid was styling David Bowie into different characters for his album 1.Outside. My first art exhibition was in the West Village at The Shooting Gallery in 2000 and I had done two solo exhibitions since. In Take Heed I exhibit new art, along with works from my previous exhibitions, each in their own corner, as well as a tribute to my work with Bowie with an installation and some of the artifacts from the shoot on display for the first time.”

The sculptural assemblages beckon the viewer to near her direct statements written in her distinct and hauntingly beautiful handwriting style. A mask reads “Watch Out”. A paper towel reads “Historical Phrases: What’s Your Plan”. One gets the idea Elster is constantly creating and will use anything for means of expression. “If We Cower From the Demented We Be- come A Prisoner in a Fear Cell” reads the paper in a plastic enclosed box.

Even the Fighters Won’t Want to Fight_2016_Triptych_Jennifer Elster

Was it a cathartic experience making and exhibiting these works, and if so, how was it cathartic?

JE: “Exhibiting the works has helped me to overcome a great amount of anxiety I have been feeling over the state of the world. I’m obviously a very worried person. I have seen and been through a lot in my life and I understand the degree as to how things can go down. I think most people can’t fathom aw- ful things happening because it’s out of their wheelhouse, or it’s too scary. But I’m a survivor of many things so I feel comfort in aware- ness. Who wants to think about our harsh realities? Not me. But I do. And I also very much love to have fun. As concerned and serious as I am is as much as I joke around too. I love hearing people laugh out loud when they are taking in some of the different artworks. The exhibition is a weird experience. In its own bizarre way, it makes it fun to think about serious things, I think, and sharing this exhibition was a great purge of concerns and I feel happier since.”

Jennifer Elster_War Head, 2022_ Take Heed

Do you feel fear in looking at our “harsh realities”?

JE: “I believe we must face things, use our foresight, and care enough about the wellbeing of the future, for all of us. We need to take care now to avoid people suffering, or our- selves suffering, in the future.

I am not afraid to see even if I don’t like what I see. I rather deal with it, then do what I find so many doing which is not looking at reality, frankly, due to fears, but then end up living in those fears because they don’t want to look at it. And I get it. We’re living in weird times and it’s overwhelming, but it doesn’t go away and I personally don’t like living in accumulated denial of climate change or anything else. New York did just break all records for its poor air quality and turned orange from smoke from the Canadian Wildfires. We’re in it. It’s sad, but there’s no time to wallow.

We need to go deep into the psychology of our existence, but if people don’t want to see what chance do we have to break these cycles?”

Tell me about “In The World” (The Extremism is Wearing Me Down)?

JE: “The extremism of anything is just too much. I’ve been in a great relationship my entire adult life so I understand compromise. As Americans we are sharing America. So, we all need to compromise a little to move forward. Many are so hard edged with their own theories and/or beliefs. We need to be more agile with the times. I think we can bring people together even more than we do through art, music, and humor. New York City is a culture hub and should be leading.”

In Here”, where written in cursive on a notecard on display is, “The World is So Creepy Should we even interact with it?”

JE: “While I personally enjoy bringing people together, I am a loner. I am not a part of any group or organization. The show does not support a political party or have an agenda nor does it have any tolerance to entertain any conspiracy theories. The text art pieces are bold statements with hard facts while the self-portraits are role playing in a sense and the paintings abstract.”

A series of self-portraits entitled Warfare are of Elster dressed up in a gas mask and suit in a fetal position or gasping for help and lead into self-portraits of being driven mad entitled Everything’s Great. Frightening and darkly humorous, these works dated 2016 resonate even more today. It takes a moment to realize the exhibition is mapped out with dates that are telling.

Paintings seem to be triggered by world events.

Hurricane Head was painted after a hurricane destroyed her house. War Head was painted after Russia entered Ukraine. The paintings are abstract and yet each represents a deeply emotional state of mind using harsh brush strokes and a style all her own.

What would you make art about (or would you) if the world were not in the state it’s in?

JE: Right now is the 20th year anniversary of the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival of the feature film that I wrote, produced, directed, and co-starred in with Gale Har- old, Particles of Truth. I’m a hermit. Since, I directed a film series called In the Woods (and Elsewhere) — which got me out of the house and into many existential adventures. I would love to return to finish that filmmaking and return to my writing about the complexities of existence. And I am beginning to.

You can feel Elster’s roots are deep seated. The gallery is a hard contrast to the pristine white box spaces Manhattan has grown ac- customed to. It’s as if it’s an exhibit that would have taken place back in the day, in a loft ground space or that one would find underground —yet the gallery is on Leon- ard Street in Tribeca just down the block from the Anish Kapoor Bean, and deals with modern themes.

Check our online edition for a performance video.

The Development Gallery is open from Tuesday – Saturday from 12-7

75 Leonard Street, between Church and Broadway for further information. The gallery is also lauded for its edgy and dynamic performance artwork, talented musicianship, and special guests. Follow @JenniferElster on Instagram for details on the upcoming Night of Film which will include some of Elster’s directorial film work.

And don’t miss the gift shop that includes art pins, text art t-shirts, and an accessory collection created from upcycled scraps of leather

Jennifer Elster_In the World, 2018_Take Heed 2022

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