Oohs and Aahs – Maya Hayuk at Cinders Gallery and Justen Ladda at Storefront

Brooklyn is a medley of sensory impressions, many of which shimmer and shine–the glint off the East River, new eye glasses, lustrous 99-cent accessories. Two artists on view in the borough right now explore different sorts of sensory impact: Maya Hayuk, with a black-lit installation at Cinders Gallery and Justen Ladda with subtly glimmering mirrors at Storefront.

Maya Hayuk, "Heavy Light"
Maya Hayuk, “Heavy Light”. Installation: acrylic on canvas and panel, paint on wall, black light. Photo courtesy of Cinders Gallery.

Cinders Gallery is a walk down Graham Avenue in Williamsburg (past the City Reliquary community museum) and onto Havemeyer. Maya Hayuk borrowed the space for her current exhibition—an installation that sets itself up to be highly immersive. The installation, which spans three walls and uses black fluorescence as its light source, has the ambience of an arcade. The artist painted the walls with a texture of layered neon colors and then painted back over her work with a black mask to carve out patterns. This is one of her key strategies.

Maya Hayuk, Mural from "Heavy Light" Installation.
Maya Hayuk, Mural from “Heavy Light” Installation. Photo courtesy of Cinders Gallery.

The left wall is a mural with tricky fake perspective while the right is integrated into a symmetrical arrangement of small paintings on panel and canvas, appearing like a beaded curtain. The paintings are abstractions that defy or superficially indicate deep space, extraterrestrial Rorschachs, or loose renderings of hamburgers. While some of the abstractions achieve integrity and weird grace, for the most part they lack sensitivity and remain visually alerting without the complexity needed to render them serious paintings.

The title of the installation, Heavy Light, could refer to the visible spectrum or it may be an ambivalent statement about the installation as heavy or light. The option to read the work as heavy gives the viewer the authority to be critical, but if the work is light it becomes enjoyable. This see-saw question is more interesting than an installation about light. If the installation does strive to be a neo-Dan Flavin, then it takes advantage of the unusual forms of the medium that always bring oohs and aahs but fails to make a point.

Further down the L line at StorefrontJusten Ladda uses some of the same light gimmicks as Hayuk in an installation more sedate. Ladda’s exhibition, “Seven Mirrors and a Nose” features seven polished elliptical pieces–“mirrors”–and a large, white nose.

Justen Ladda, "Seven Mirrors and a Nose" installation featuring "white nose", polyester batting and fabric over stainless steel wire frame, "silver round mirror", and "long red mirror".
Justen Ladda, “Seven Mirrors and a Nose” installation featuring “white nose”, polyester batting and fabric over stainless steel wire frame, “silver round mirror”, and “long red mirror”.

Ladda, an artist who has been active since the 70s, meticulously treats the surface of cut cedar shapes with stain and other media and then finishes them with clear resin to give each piece a luxurious shine. Ladda calls the objects “mirrors”–and they do reflect the surrounding world, incorporating it into their being like The Large Glass–but with these the viewer gets absorbed in their surface, not their glassy reflections.

They are funny objects to make, clearly deriving from Minimalism, but so craft-oriented that they almost teeter off the edge of high art. The objects are distributed evenly throughout the gallery, hung just below eye-level, as if to emphasize the simplicity–the dumbness I read as intentional. They are like surfboards with their waxy surfaces and Malibu colors; the long ellipticals even refer to the boards. One, a long horizontal ellipse spanning 29 inches, titled “green, orange, and blue mirror” looks distinctly like a rosy sunrise: wavy, orange highlights perforating a blue-green horizon.

Justen Ladda installation at Storefront featuring, "carib mirror", "orange round mirror", "green and orange mirror", and "long red mirror", all mixed media and epoxy resin on red cedar wood.
Justen Ladda installation at Storefront featuring, “carib mirror”, “orange round mirror”, “green and orange mirror”, and “long red mirror”, all mixed media and epoxy resin on red cedar wood.

The mirrors are paintings below a resin surface. Ladda makes the viewer stare, but to no end. His mirrors try with all their might to be mirrors, frozen like children pretending to be manikins in a shop window, but they are moments away from losing game face, breaking into a giggle and revealing their true identities–colorful objects that can not really be identified as anything, and, I think, that is Ladda’s secret. These objects purport to be something, when they are not really meant to be anything at all.


Amidst the duplicitous looking glasses, there is also the large white nose–a steel frame, visible from the back side, wrapped in polyester batting. The schnoz (which suspiciously resembles Baldessari’s painted God Nose) is modeled after the opera singer, Maria Callas, and is part of a series. This one hangs about the same level as the mirrors. It takes authority as the single sculptural object in the group, but it is not tyrannical. Instead it collects–grounds as Ladda would say–the installation into a face with many eyes.

Ladda’s installation is a success in its mission to make the viewer believe something that isn’t true–that his mirrors were created with a sincere intent of being sensorily magnificent. Hayuk’s installation was created with the intent of being magnificent; this is why it falls short. In her attempt to dazzle, Hayuk dazzles but does not impress. Again, however, if you read “Heavy Light” as light, not heavy, you might enjoy yourself.

Ladda and Hayuk are only up for one more weekend, so see them while you can. Cinders Gallery is located at 103 Havemeyer St., nearly the Lorimer L stop, and Storefront is just off Flushing Ave. on Wilson in Bushwick. Cinders is open Wed. through Sunday and Storefront is open weekends and by appointment.