With a title like “Sea Witch Space Witch,” one might not expect the components of an exhibition to be about its surrounding New York City neighborhood. And yet that’s what one finds when walking into the East Village’s Modern Love Club. The current exhibition, curated by Gabrielle Sirkin, tells many stories—of the sublime, the surreal, the mythical and magical—but it’s very much about owner Amy Van Doran’s relationship to the neighborhood. Van Doran’s Modern Love Club space, used for her work as a matchmaker, doubles as a full-time gallery. And Van Doran’s friendship with Sirkin has resulted in another exhibit curated from a place of passion and curiosity. With a Man Ray piece and photographer Michael Halsband’s Klaus Nomi portrait among prints and sculptures stretching across centuries, it’s a group show that delivers wisps of dreams in many shapes and sizes.
It began with the concept—and, soon after, the title. “We wanted an exploration of works underwater and into space,” Sirkin says. “But I wanted to make sure that there was a spiritual, ethereal element to this. In our group shows, I am pulling together unexpected juxtapositions. In exploring sea and space we were drawn to the idea of the void and the abyss.” Certain works touch upon all of this literally, but others—including Mollie McKinley’s striking salt sculpture “Support Monolith” (2017) and Fafnir Adamites’ otherworldly “Impediment Series II” (2018) of sculpted paper and fiber pulp—in more abstract ways.
One piece set the tone for all that was to follow. “We had Michael Halsband in the last show we did together, with his Basquiat Warhol piece,” Sirkin continues. “Amy got to know Michael a bit better, and then saw the Klaus Nomi. We both embraced the fact that he was the ultimate space witch. And this was his neighborhood. Everyone knew him here. For him to return to the East Village, in this space, was a really exciting endeavor. It branched out from there.”
Sirkin notes that as the work moves toward contemporary and emerging artists, it moves deeper into the spiritual and ethereal, while the vintage prints adhere to the theme more literally. “I would like for people to stumble upon things,” she adds. “Because it is a small space, there is sort of a linear path through which you can experience the work. Really, you can almost see everything all at once. But when you dive into each piece, you see how much the details truly matter.”
It was the characters of the East Village that felt authentic
Van Doran’s childhood dreams infuse the show. “I grew up reading about that ’80s New York where you could sleep on the dance floor after the party. When I came to New York, that wasn’t here anymore,” she says. Van Doran spent time searching and it was in the East Village, then, that she found what she was looking for. “It was the characters of the East Village that felt authentic. It got me closer to that dream.”
Not only are these characters still in the neighborhood, they’ve already walked into the show and announced their relationship to Nomi or their appreciation for the authentic love of art they witness. Van Doran explains it best: “At all times, this is an operating art gallery but matchmaking supports the space. I can offer it to my friends to do what they’re supposed to be doing with their life, without the stresses of the commercial art market. Everything is curated from a place of realness without the terror of going out of business.” And this most certainly works.
“Sea Witch Space Witch” is on now through 23 August at the Modern Love Club, (156 First Avenue, New York). There will be a closing night reception, co-hosted by Sebastian Beckwith and Michael Halsband.
Install images by Cool Hunting, artwork imagery courtesy of Modern Love Club