TURNING HEADS, WITH THE TOWN AS CANVAS

Shay Guiod prepared to hang one of  Dumitru Gorzo’s paintings at the Two River Theater on Sunday, above, having installed another at Space Interiors on White Street, below.

By TOM CHESEK

The opening of an exclusive major exhibition of paintings by an internationally acclaimed artist would be a feather in the cap of any town — and an absolute must for a cranny of culture that was ranked third on Smithsonian Magazine’s list of the 20 Best Small Towns in America.

A feather goes to Red Bank, then, for landing HEADS, an ongoing, open-air (and in-your-face) “observation of the individual spirit” that takes to the borough’s exterior walls from these dog-star days of August to the harvest-moon evenings of early autumn.

Three of Gorzo’s paintings grace the bare west wall of the Count Basie Theatre, where they’ll  remain on display through October 14 as part of the outdoor art show HEADS.

Commissioned by the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art and created exclusively for this free public installation, the collection of more than 50 large-scale pieces is the work of Dumitru Gorzo, a Romanian-born, Brooklyn- and Bucharest- based painter and sculptor who has been variously characterized as a photorealist, a street performer, a field anthropologist — and something of a pornographer.

While the 37-year-old Gorzo’s “sexual pranksterism” has earned him a reputation as a controversial provocateur in his native country, the all-ages outdoor Red Bank exhibition will feature “nothing inappropriate,” in the words of NJMoCA founder Robin Parness Lipson.

“It’s a very nice balance of work that’s academic and approachable,” said Lipson. “It makes for some challenging conversation.”

HEADS also represents Gorzo’s first museum exhibition in the United States, but f you’ve been wandering in search of the museum, don’t despair — the floating facility in this case is the exterior surfaces of multiple Red Bank landmarks that range from the borough’s two performing arts centers to the historic library and several well known commercial buildings.

Measuring a uniform 4 by 8 feet, the images of “expressive, allegorical, strange, satirical, and futuristic heads” were painted in-studio and are now being mounted for display (as well as exposed to the elements). While the oil-on-canvas paintings are covered with protective layers of resin, there’s otherwise been no special framing or preparation of the featured pieces by Gorzo, whose highly regarded studies of Transylvanian peasants and East European village life were left exposed to the “interventions” of nature and passersby during outdoor exhibits in Germany and Romania.

Lipson and founding trustee/ local artist Ellen Martin had “been wanting to work with Gorzo for many years” — and following a well-received inaugural group show at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, the energetic art lovers looked to the “arts-oriented, walking town” of Red Bank as a logical host venue for the next NJMoCA project, a choice made all the easier by the borough’s “rich history, dynamic cultural organizations, easy train access, and great architectural buildings.”

“The town’s been amazing,” says Martin. “Everyone’s on board with this — the mayor,  the library, the two theaters, special events, and [borough Administrator] Stanley Sickels.”

Having initiated talks with town officials back in January, the NJMoCA team found an early ally in Sickels, who in Martin’s words “said ‘we’re intrigued— keep it going.’ And so we did.”

As the Monmouth Beach artist and consultant tells it, “Valerie [Aufiero] from Front St.Trattoria  was the first person to give us an enthusiastic, unqualified YES — and right after that we got a yes from Numa [Saisselin, recently departed CEO of the Count Basie Theatre]. In all, nine people said ‘yes’ when we asked them if they wanted to display some of the paintings on their building.”

Apart from the Trattoria and the Basie, the HEADS exhibit will also be hosted by the Red Bank Public Library, Two River Theater, Buona Sera, Better Housekeeping, the downtown Hamilton Building — and artistically minded, locally legendary landmark Elsie’s Subs.

Perhaps most intriguing of all will be the installation of selected artworks on the long-vacant Anderson warehouse building, adjacent to the NJ Transit rail tracks — an endeavor about which Martin says, “some 8,000 riders over the next couple of months will suddenly be smacked in the face by this art.”

To kickstart this high profile project, Lipson and Martin enlisted the aid of special guest curator Marek Bartelik — noted educator, art historian, president of the International Association of Art Critics, and a figure of “incredible gravitas” in international art circles.

Both Bartelik and the artist will be present for an opening reception in the upstairs atrium of the  Galleria at Red Bank on Sunday, August 19, between the hours of 5 to 7 pm; while the public is invited to this free event, attendance is limited, so take it here for the required RSVP.

Also in the works during the run of the exhibition will be a companion K-12 educational program planned in partnership with the borough’s school system — a feature under which “teachers can plan an outdoor field trip at their convenience,” according to Lipson.

Officially on view from August 19 through October 14, HEADS will also play a major role in the next Red Bank Art Walk event, scheduled for the evening of Friday, August 24. Organized by a consortium of local galleries led by Gallery U and Boutique — and boasting the participation of several borough restaurants, retailers and service businesses — the self-guided tour will spotlight works by David Banegas, as well as the late James Avati, the Red Bank-based “King of the Paperbacks” whose local legacy was previously examined  here on redbankgreen.