MOVIS: Like a book club but for artists

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

BON Appetit in the Princeton Shopping Center is known for its fine chocolates and cheeses. In the spirit of a true French café, it is also the birthplace of MOVIS, a group of Princeton-area artists who meet regularly to discuss and exhibit their work.

It began in 2006 when sculptor, curator and Rutgers University Art Professor Emeritus John Goodyear and his wife, Anne, encountered artists Margaret Kennard Johnson and Eve Ingalls eating lunch there. Joining them, the conversation was so stimulating and provocative, the group decided to meet again, adding pianist-composer Rita Asch, photographer Frank Magalhaes, and artists Marsha Levin Rojer and Berendina Buist.

The frequency of the meetings was stepped up to weekly, and the venue was moved to the dining room at the Institute for Advanced Study, where the group could gather around a large table. Buist came up with the name MOVIS. “I think I invented it,” she said. “I googled it and I kept getting misspellings of ‘movies.’ It has something to do with movement, motion and concept, but it can be anything you want. It sounds familiar, but it isn’t.”

When photographer Susan Hockaday was invited to join, she remarked, “I think I’m supposed to know what it means, but I don’t.”

“It has something to do with computer science, and it’s an acronym,” says Magalhaes.”But it has nothing to do with it,” continues Asch.

“The word has a lot of potential and we can be it,” says Buist.

“We can be movies misspelled,” adds Goodyear.

The catalyst for discussions may be a catalog from a show that has caught a MOVIS member’s attention. “Then we’ll have homework on post-modernism assigned by our professor,” jokes Magalhaes, referring to Goodyear, who imparts leadership to the group in a gentle, selfless way. He brings a thick textbook on art theory to help stimulate discussion.

But there are no tests.

Boomerang, an exhibit by MOVIS, on view at the New Jersey State Museum through Sept. 22, includes works in painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, kinetic and sound works, ephemera and installation.

The idea for the exhibition came about when MOVIS member Eve Ingalls read A Fine Disregard by the late Kirk Varnedoe, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA and faculty member in the Institute for Advanced Study. Varnedoe talked about a cultural boomerang as a “kind of export-import exchange that involves sending out a tradition that then comes back to you… newly alive and fertile.”

Take, for example, the exchange between Japan and European artists. Western perspective was changed and played with by Japanese artists, and subsequently their re-imagined versions of perspective became fascinating to Impressionists and post-Impressionists, who incorporated flattened perspective into their work.

The MOVIS members were interested in the idea of borrowing from extracultural sources – transforming source materials to reflect the needs and customs of the borrower.

These artists, all well-traveled, recognize the effect of world cultures on their work, even if they cannot exactly pinpoint the origin of the influence. And many of these artists continue the boomerang effect by exhibiting in “extracultural venues.”

MOVIS has become family for Rita Asch, a composer and musician who creates sound pieces. “There isn’t a sense of competition – each of us is there for the other to be the best at what they do..”

When traveling through Morocco and Turkey, she was struck by the modal similarities in their calls to prayer and in the indigenous music of each country. “The plaintive nature of the music reminded me of the Jewish/Hebraic/Yiddish sounds I have heard all my life,” she says. “Despite cultural differences and dissention, much, at least musically, is shared.”

For “Voices,” she digitally generated sounds of the clarinet, accordion, banjo, percussion and shofar, then wove them together to create a “musical fabric” of melodies of Turkish and Arabic classical music, and Jewish Klezmer music. Magalhaes, who is Asch’s life partner, has helped to engineer Moroccan and Turkish vocal clips.

The work is housed in a box with a fan that is activated when a viewer approaches, and sets off a scent suggesting the spice markets of the parts of the world evoked by the music. Don the headphones, inhale the scent, and you’re magically transported to that hybrid world.

“I’m hoping people will have that Proustian moment of the scents evoking memories,” she says.

“Artists get their ideas in different ways, and I hope this helps viewers understand,” says Curator Margaret O’Reilly.

Boomerang, an exhibit by MOVIS, is on view at the New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State St. in Trenton, through Sept. 22. 

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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