While you’ve probably heard the phrase “one man’s trash is another’s treasure,” you might not be as familiar with the concept espoused by Materials for the Arts — that there simply is no such thing as trash.
That is the underlying premise of “Made in the MFTA,” an exhibition currently running at the Henry De Ford III Gallery at the Citi Center in Long Island City.
Created in 1978 by New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, MFTA is a program that gathers artistic materials through donations — everything from paint to fabric to picture frames — and redistributes them to artists, non-profit art organizations and educators in the five boroughs.
“Made in the MFTA” brings together nine works made exclusively of materials from the group’s warehouse in Long Island City. The pieces were designed by 10 artists who are involved with organizations that get materials from MFTA.
The works range from relatively simple pieces like Ian Montgomery’s oversized “Origami Bear,” made from reused brown paper, to elaborate works like Deborah Slavitt’s “Crazy Red Quilt,” made from recovered fabric.
The largest and most prominent work in the exhibition is an installation by Polish artist Olek entitled “BORBORYGAMI,” which features a knitted chair, television and dog enclosed in an explosively colorful tangle of crocheted materials and plastic bags.
Susan Springer Anderson, MFTA’s education administrator and a sculptor, also teamed up with Joy Suarez, the group’s master teaching artist, to create “La Blanche Forêt (The White Forest)” for the exhibit. The piece features one of Anderson’s signature works — a female torso made from wire fencing and dressed with string pearls — in a forest-like environment created from corrugated cardboard, sticks, ribbon and beads.
“At the heart,” Anderson said of the piece, “it exudes the whimsy and drama of fairy tales — a floating winter queen, a tree of pearls and lace, and forest brush that glimmers with icy dew.”
The Henry De Ford III Gallery was chosen as the setting for this display primarily because of MFTA’s partnership with Citi Group. Incidentally, the unconventionality of the space — a tiny gallery within a large skyscraper — is central to the experience of visiting the exhibition.
“I think that people generally tend to go look at art by visiting an institution or a gallery. They make a special trip,” said Harriet Taub, MFTA’s director. “One of the great things about [the Henry De Ford III Gallery] is that it turns you on your head. Finding the space and finding this kind of very unusual gallery show is a wonderful surprise.”
In addition to supporting the arts, MFTA aims to protect the environment by promoting reuse within the artistic community.
“Environmental topics are a hot issue these days,” Anderson said. “MFTA has been promoting reuse for 30 years and the exhibit was a great way to show the influence it has had for all of the organizations represented.”
According to Taub, the issue of environmental sustainability has always been at the heart of MFTA’s mission.
“We were green when it wasn’t sexy or cool to be green,” she said. “Every day, we have a truck pick up stuff that might otherwise be tossed. It’s something we talk about every day.”
“Made in the MFTA” is on display at the Henry De Ford III Gallery at the Citi Center, 1 Court Square, in Long Island City through March 5. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, visit www.mfta.org or call the gallery at (718) 248-2953.