MBK Gallery: Art That Binds

Tonight feels a bit like the Fall inauguration ball in New York, across all media. West in Chelsea, Jacob Kassay, James Hyde, and Younger than Jesus alum Brendan Fowler combine media and forces in Nicole Klagsbrun’s Project Room, while on the same floor of 526 W. 26th young New Deal curators Kyle Thurman and Matt Moravec co-host the opening of their second show in the past year, at Marvelli; a few blocks away, at PaceWildenstein, Maya Lin opens her spectacular geo-installations to the public; all the while, all over the city, Fashion’s Night Out kicks off fashion week; if you head downtown to Soho, the Swiss Institute is putting up 5 parallel shows at once (and they’re all good); and just up the street, catty-corner from Interview‘s offices, there is a curious little art happening happening. (LEFT: BRILLO, 2009)

We may not need to travel far to get to the opening act of the brand-new pop-up gallery Marhami Bookatz + Kurdi, but the artists certainly had to come some ways to get to us. MBK’s first show features Y Liver, the Paris-based duo of David Liver and Rugiada Cadoni. “David is so excited to come to New York,” one of the co-curators, Karen Bookatz, tells me. “He’s never been before. Fa’iz [Marhami, another of the MBK principals] found Y Liver online. He contacted David, and they have been friends ever since. Fai’iz went to visit them in Paris and stayed on their couch. We actually started this gallery to show Y Liver’s work to the world.” (Which still begs the question: Which is the chicken and which is the egg?)

The third principle of MBK is Noel Kurdi—Marhami, Bookatz, and Kurdi are, respectively, Palestinian, Jewish, and Saudi Arabian. And though their mutual friendship may’ve been coincidence, the mission behind MBK is no accident. “We want to show exclusively Arab, Israeli, Islamic, Jewish and Persian-themed contemporary artwork,” says Bookatz. “But you’re not going to walk in and go, ‘Oh my god the Holocaust.’ We’re not into that. The work is humorous; it’ll be crazy, funny, and fun—not political, sad, or scary.”

In that context Y Liver’s work takes on some levity. Their pieces could be viewed as politically provocative—one of the performance and visual art duo’s better known acts was at the 2003 Prague Biennial, when they staged their “Keep a Kippa” performance, where they distributed 5,000 kippot (Jewish skullcaps) to random fair visitors. But David, a French-born Jew who is the creative driving force behind Y Liver, does not really actively practice his faith. “When I was a little girl, my parents wanted me to go to temple, but I didn’t want to go,” says Bookatz. “With David, it was the opposite. He moved a lot when he was young, around Italy and France. Not easy countries to be Jewish.” Because of this displacement, much of Y Liver’s work revolves around Jewish identity. “David’s interested in cultural identity, not religion per se,” Bookatz says. “But he won’t shy away from anything: he’ll dress up as a Hasidic rabbi, he’ll tag huge Jewish stars on walls-he’s kind of crazy.”

The show tonight will include handmade pamphlets, wall texts of French-English non sequiturs, drawings, and a video piece composed partially of Gchats between Marhami and Liver (a very intuitive direction—when Bookatz first told me that Marhami and Liver became friends over Gchat, I asked, “Why don’t they make a piece out of Gchats?”). Later on in the night, MBK is going mobile. “We’re taking the show on the road to Chelsea,” says Bookatz. “There’s just too much going on tonight. I mean, this gallery was conceived to be a pop-up. We’re Middle-Eastern, we’re by nature nomadic.”

MBK is located at 560 Broadway, Ste. 604. Y Liver in NY opens tonight at 7 PM.