A new Asbury Park collective is redefining the relationship between art and community.
New Art Syndicate, or N.A.S., is the brainchild of Carrie Ruddick and John Amelchenko, two long-time Asbury artists. The nonprofit group aims to display quality works of art, harvest critical dialogue and network with local businesses.
Ruddick and Amelchenko met during graduate school at Rutgers University. But with this new project, they hope to depart from academic discourse.
“We have similar interests in how we discuss the relevance of art,” Ruddick said. “I think we’re both very conscious of what it means to be in Asbury Park right now, and we don’t want to be ignorant of that. Instead, we want to use art in a way to talk about living in a place that is rapidly changing.”
N.A.S. has teamed up with Kula Urban Farm for “Grocery,” an exhibition featuring works of mixed media and graphic design, plus a fully-sustainable hydroponic grow-tower of edible plants and herbs.
The gallery’s inaugural show aims to present the aesthetic of grocery stores and urban bodegas. Ruddick and Amelchenko believe in the importance of these independent spaces, and their ability to remain unaffected by money, culture and change.
“We were looking at the idea of a grocery store and bodega as a necessity that will outlast any trend,” Amelchenko said. “When countries go into economic depressions, there are always liquor stores that don’t have anything to do with looking cute or cool. It’s what they are selling that really matters, something people want that sustains itself without any special garnish.”
Ruddick and Amelchenko reached out to Kula because of its contributions to the Asbury community. The farm grows all of its products locally, and provides ingredients to many popular restaurants in town such as Talula’s, Pascal & Sabine, Cardinal Provisions and Langosta Lounge. Kula’s mission is to do great work and make quality products. They hire kids from Asbury Park High School, employ homeless and needy people in the area, and their cafe provides food to people. They also aim to revitalize the west side of town, which has fallen along the wayside in the era of gentrification.
Rather than opening their own store, N.A.S. wants to convey a feeling through this collaboration. “Grocery” was born out of a desire to see something that was missing in Asbury’s downtown area. In exchanging spectacle for practicality, Ruddick and Amelchenko create a new space for conversation, one in which ambiguities abound.
“We get some confused people asking what’s going on here, and that’s a great thing, to be confused,” Amelchenko said. “The worst thing you can do is just make people indifferent. You want to engage them whether it’s in a positive or negative way. Confusion is a good emotion because when you express confusion, you are expressing interest at the same time.”
“I liked the idea that there’s something that exists for everybody,” Ruddick said. “There is not necessarily something for everybody in Asbury. If you are not 21, then you can’t go to the bars. If you don’t have enough money, you cannot go to the restaurants, and that takes up a lot of the local culture. But everybody has to eat, and everybody has to go to a grocery store.”
The gallery is adorned with Amelchenko’s signature blend of visual rhetoric and commercial decay, resembling large advertisements in subway stations and convenience stores. What separates these works from ads, though, is the selected imagery. Amelchenko juxtaposes photos of the Fertile Crescent, also known as the origin of civilization, with disassociated phrases and shapes to subvert and corrupt meaning.
These large-scale works are juxtaposed with Kula’s grow-tower, a fertile example of local culture. “Grocery” is therefore an interdisciplinary exploration of life and death in a capitalist culture, and a reminder of how the cycles of nature influence the evolution of human history.
“This is a nice bridge to those people that aren’t necessarily art people,” Amelchenko said. “Having produce from a local farm here, it’s illuminating a reality. Maybe it makes someone think differently, or reveals a truth they never previously saw. With a whole constellation of things working together in the same space, there is a lot up for grabs for all kinds of people.”
While N.A.S. cannot provide resources to the whole community, they can nonetheless revive the sentiment of sustenance. And in doing this, they raise awareness to important issues in the ever-evolving Asbury community.
The curators have planned a special event on Saturday, May 27, to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend. “Live at Grocery” will offer an alternative form of entertainment with experimental musicians and performance artists.
For updates, follow @nasyndicate on Instagram. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
N.A.S. x KULA ‘GROCERY’
WHEN: Through May 31
WHERE: New Art Syndicate, 529 Bangs Avenue #11, Asbury Park
INFO: 551-227-7435 or www.nasyndicate.org