MegaBinxes: Useful, comforting, fabulous

Jesse A Greenberg, Mega Binx 5 copy.jpg
Jesse Greenberg, in a photo he sent me, demonstrating how to interact with one of his MegaBinxes.

Jesse Greenberg invited me to his studio a while back and when I finally made it over there last month I found him busy preparing for his show at Bobo’s on 9th (til Oct. 19). Greenberg, a young artist (RISD BFA 2004) who’s been in Philadelphia for about a year, is part of the recent RISD influx that also includes Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch and company and the Bobo’s trio, Phil Cote, Drew Gillespie and Nick Payne. (Greenberg like Trecartin and Fitch lived in New Orleans after graduation, then left after Hurricane Katrina, spent time in Los Angeles and then settled on Philadelphia as a place to live and work.) The RISD classmates form a loose network of allies, helping each other with work (Jesse has appeared in Trecartin’s videos and the Bobo’s have shown Fitch and Trecartin’s work and now Greenberg’s in their gallery space).


leaning station, detail
A MegaBinx leaning station, seen in the studio. The height is just right for leaning on it and it’s soft and cushioned for that purpose.

For his senior thesis project Greenberg conceived his first interactive sculptural environments and called them “MegaBinxes” a word he made up that combines today’s reliance on mega to describe anything big and awesome and binx, a made-up word that sounds mischievous although harmless. “Oh you little binx, you!”

The idea was to make something intriguing and interactive; colorful, luminous and low-tech; a useful piece of sculpture with soft edges, glitter, rick rack, beads, swag. The artist filled the MegaBinxes with what he calls “touchables,” cast resin and rubber objects that fit in the hand and feel good to the touch and look familiar (they resemble things like harmonicas, chess pieces, buttons, buckles, and pieces of toys).

box of touchables
a box filled with touchables.

Jesse A Greenberg, Touchables 7 copy.jpg
Touchables seen in a professional photo the artist sent me. These remind me of Mardi Gras bling.

The MegaBinxes — which were featured in the Lousiana Biennial at New Orleans Contemporary Art Center in 2006 — are made with materials scavenged from the street and with recycled industrial scraps the artist gets at 10 cents/pound from scrap dealers up and down the East Coast. (One he mentioned is Recycling for Rhode Island Education (RRIE).

Plastic and foam in many colors and with sparkles embedded might be left-overs from a diner’s re-upholstery project. Greenberg works with the materials, building an armature then adorning it with the great cast-off materials. The end result looks old and new, DIY hand-made and whiz-bang industrial, as if Willy Wonka became an artist and threw aside chocolate to make delicious things out of plastic and foam rubber.

Jesse Greenberg, megabinxes
Little MegaBinxes.

Greenberg, serious and soft-spoken, knows he is making something highly seductive. And while he wants people to interact with his works (in fact one piece is called a “leaning station” ie it’s to lean on) he doesn’t want to come out and say that in a gallery setting. Instead, he prefers people to come to their own mind about touching the art and playing with the touchables. Most people are reluctant to interact with art but there’s something so humble, so engaging and non-threatening about these pieces that I imaging people will overcome their natural hesitation and leap right in.

Greenberg leaning on his leaning station in his studio.
Greenberg leaning on his leaning station in his studio.

This is generous work that taps into everyone’s childhood memories of toys and play. And without being made with any thought towards politics or geopolitics, the very fact that these are comfort stations says volumes about how discomfited most people today are. This art is intended to entertain; it’s meant to lift you out of your worries and anxieties and take you to a pleasant place where your senses are stimulated in a gentle way. Art has always represented an escape into some other realm. Good art will draw you in and transport you. Where it takes you to depends on where the artist leads. Here, the young artist is leading the flock into a zone of trinkets and gentle play. While the environments resemble video arcade stations the game they offer is not one of winning and losing, stress and discomfort. Instead, they’re like getting a hug from a big sister who’s come to visit and brought you a present expecting nothing in return but a kiss.


Jesse Greenberg, paintings
Greenberg had his paintings laid out on a sofa in the common space outside his studio. Something about the hodge-podge of works all together like a high school class posing for a picture was really terrific.

Greenberg is debuting some paintings in this show. He’s been making them on the computer and in the real world. Some of the works are representational but most are abstract with shapes, colors, textures leading the way. The abstract works have a collage feel to them the way the MegaBinx sculptures are collages, made from this and that. The colors evoke the sculptures as well, with hues that are clear references to colors you might find on seat cushions made out of pleather. Some of the 2-D works seem like they might be microscopic sections from the MegaBinxes, although interestingly the 2-D works are not fuzzy and warm, not full of comfort and not terribly welcoming the way the sculptual works are. The paintings are new and feel like they’re searching. I do believe the artist — who has much to contribute and has created something unique and wonderful in the MegaBinx works — will figure a way to express himself in paint as well.

Jesse Greenberg's upstairs studio
The artist’s upstairs/downstairs studio, seen from the outside. The light bulb is to the left of his easel.

The artist’s studio by the way is in a shared space at 1712 N. 2nd St. just a little north of the Crane Art Center. The big warehouse has around 25 artists studios, each carved out individually inside the large space. There are several common areas for congregating, showing art, and working. Greenberg made himself a “two-story” studio in the high-ceilinged building. He built a roof on his studio, made a ladder to a roof and it’s up in the rafters — on his rooftop space — where he makes his paintings. The warehouse is run by Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study an art group as mysterious as their Princeton-nodding title is funny.

common area in shared studio building
One of the common areas in the large studio building which has skylights and a good ventilation system.

So what does the artist do as a day job? He works for a faux finishing service, something that keeps his hand in the art realm — and maybe started him thinking about painting. More photos at flickr, and be sure to get over to see the show at Bobo’s.

New work by Jesse Greenberg
to Oct. 19
1134 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147