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Gallery shows “Perfect Lovers” in black and white

Curator Rafael Melendez in front of Ivan Gaete’s “Blindness.”

A poem printed on the wall in black with stark white letters chronicles the tumultuous relationship between a man and his lover as they weather years of fights, affairs and marriages to other people. A grainy video shows strangers holding up the possessions they love most. And beside it, a television monitor plays an intimate montage of men and women balancing on top of one another in complex poses.

These are just a few of the pieces occupying the BronxArtSpace in a group show titled “Perfect Lovers,” chosen and arranged by artist Rafael Melendez. Developed over the past year through a correspondence with gallery co-founder Linda Cunningham, the show is a black and white survey of intimacy, passion and opposites coming together to portray the complexity that is love.

“I’ve always liked the idea of juxtaposing black with white because it speaks to so many different things. I mean, when is black and white not relevant in our culture?” said Melendez, who kept a studio in the Bronx. “It can be romantic, but it also has heavy political undertones. I wanted to put black and white up on those walls and show that they can coexist in a nice way.”

Melendez explained that he decided to curate the art for this project in a variety of different forms – video, photography, poetry, sculpture and painting – in order to make his point accessible to all those who walk into the space.

“Perfect Lovers thematically offers a sense of continuity, with elements of visual texture that will inspire the viewer to engage with the artworks,” said artist Paula Izydorek on pieces like Mary A. Valverde’s “Notes on Phases (Testament),” which lies on the floor so that viewers must kneel down to see it closely.

Matthew Burcaw’s “Untitled Chance Portrait” series creates a mash-up of pictures from online dating profiles. Ivan Gaete’s “Yin-Yang” piles white crates opposite black ones to form two daunting towers that nearly touch the gallery’s ceiling. And Olivier Borde’s untitled black and white curtains greet visitors upon entry, flying the flags of light and dark.

“Art doesn’t have to be that difficult,” Melendez said of what he hopes is the takeaway of his exhibit. “It can be simple, and it can be beautiful, too.”

Art that sends a big message has become the regular mission for the BronxArtSpace. The gallery, a non-profit mecca for creative types located on 140th Street at Third Avenue, was founded by Cunningham and fellow artist Mitsu Hadeishi, and sponsored by arts service organization Fractured Atlas. It has hosted a number of artistic movements in the last few years, including pieces that examined hip hop and ballet mash-ups to the racially-empowering contemporary works of Latin American artists.

“We try to choose art that is relevant to the community,” Cunningham said of the weighty political undertones behind the pieces chosen for the show. Now more than ever, she and her staff are taking steps to make the space an integral part of the Mott Haven area.

“We really want to push the growth of the gallery and celebrate our accomplishments,” said Stephanie Lindquist, the assistant director. “People are still trying to realize that it’s okay to walk in here. When the doors are wide open, we want people to wander in.”

The gallery also wants to welcome children in the community and will be hosting a series of painting workshops with noted guest artists throughout the month of July.

“We’d always have kids who would poke their heads in and look in through the windows wanting to know what was inside, how they could help, how they could create,” Cunningham said. “This is our way of inviting them in.”

In addition to the workshops, the BronxArtSpace will be hosting “Faces from the Block,” a guest series by visiting Brazilian muralists, who might also reach beyond the walls of the gallery and paint murals within the neighborhood as well. Part of the gallery’s goal is to expand the perception of the borough through a more diverse art scene.

“I knew I was going to break the stereotypical mold of what people think of when they think of the Bronx,” said Melendez. “The Bronx is known for graffiti, and I’m not trying to replace that. The community can be a space for contemporary art, too.”

“Perfect Lovers” runs until May 8. BronxArtsSpace is at 305 E. 140th St., #1A, (646) 327-8281. Gallery hours for this show are Wednesday 2 – 6:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday noon – 6:30 p.m., and Saturday noon – 5 p.m. 


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