The Power of Everyday Magic: Artistic/Gnostic Impulses at National Arts Club (New York, NY)

““What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The rich, fertile soil from which Everyday Magic: Artistic/Gnostic Impulses, on view now at the National Arts Club on the south edge of NYC’s Gramercy Park, all began – as rich soil often does – with the consideration of what has been reclaimed to the earth and how it nourishes what comes after. The result of the combined forces of Rebecca Goyette and Jenny Mushkin Goldman, both of whom have cultivated significant artistic curatorial experience, respectively, in the NYC art world, “Everyday Magic” was given the right nourishment it needed to fully bloom into the rich and multi-layered experience that it embodies, welcoming visitors of all walks of life. On view from March 2- April 27th, 2021, the exhibition accepts guests via timed entry at the above link.

Above, Tamara Kostianovksy’s ‘New Man Stump’ and ‘Short Stump’ (both 2018) and Below, Installation view, “Everyday Magic: Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” on view at the National Arts Club featuring work by Elizabeth Insogna (and featuring performance by Kay Turner) (foreground), Clarina Bezzola, Rebecca Goyette, Jaishri Abichandani, Aaron Johnson, João Salomão and Sahana Ramakrishnan.

Show organizers Goyette and Mushkin Goldman, excited to embark on this joint quest to present an art exhibit engaging with themes around ‘magic’, envisioned this group show featuring over 20 artists as a platform for exploring aspects of magic and occultism, particularly through the lens of empowerment: seeking ways in which indigenous, femme/non-binary and queer practices in turn rise above and gain agency over colonial, patriarchal and gender-normative narratives. Mushkin Goldman noted this in her observation of how the exhibition has unfolded. “This is a diverse show rooted in many ways in a femme presence, or energy, a story that had to be told which isn’t the hegemonic dominant narrative but is still such a force in itself.”

Echoing the utterances of revered postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a woman’s position in society is tenuous at best, and artistic voices of women from the Global South are further suppressed. “For the ‘figure’ of woman, the relationship between woman and silence can be plotted by women themselves,”(1) Spivak notes, revealing the truth that the voices who notice this absence are most acutely those being oppressed, rather than the oppressor. Voices absent from a Western-centric, patriarchal-oriented art history make their presence felt in this powerful exhibition, with something for everyone to connect with especially along the root themes of community, ritual and heritage, nature and the Spiritual. Perhaps what this fully realized show impresses most on the viewer is the power of the unknown, or the unseen, and how this wealth of intuitive ‘seeking’ on the part of the exhibited artists can reveal a wellspring of power, resilience, beauty, understanding, and love.

Above, Rear of space installation view of “Everyday Magic: Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” featuring work by (L–>R) Sahana Ramakrishnan, Qinza Najm and Staver Klitgaard and Below, Installation view of “Everyday Magic: Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” featuring work by (L–>R) Clarina Bezzola, Rebecca Goyette and Jaishri Abichandani

Two very different aspects of this exhibition make it especially unique: first, the timeline, as the show was intended to open early Summer 2020 and was pushed to this March due to the pandemic. Second, and more importantly, the wealth of this exhibit’s treasures lies in the rich array of cultural forces that propel it forward in the viewer’s imagination, as rituals, traditions, and magical elements span a range of heritage evident on a global scale.  “In the exhibition, artists who transmute personal struggles through their art practice are in dialogue with those who have traditional magical and occult practices,” observes Goyette. “Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions, South American traditions, South Asian traditions, Nordic traditions and more are reflected from the artists’ many places of origin.”  As Mushkin Goldman reflects, “This show isn’t about one thing, because for every person (who visits) it is their own. We wanted to create (an exhibition that approaches these topics) from as many perspectives as possible.” In this vein, spiritual practitioners of all backgrounds can take away potent reminders of the diversity of occult practices the world over, with a body of evidence laid out in “Everyday Magic” like a cornucopia upon which visitors can feast to their heart’s delight.

Returning to the roots of the exhibition, Goyette remarks upon the artists who spoke to her as her approach to the show became fully realized. “When I saw artist Tamara (Kostianovsky)’s latest series tree trunk sculptures, her work(s) resonated with me because of their sense of ritual and alchemy. The metaphor of the rings visible in the tree trunks is powerful.” Kostianovsky’s practice of adapting her late father’s clothing into art installations provides a nuanced reflection upon her own roots and the tactile presence our loved ones exert even after their departure from our lives. Similarly, Mushkin Goldman encountered the works of artist L, and was mesmerized upon learning that each these jars presented in the artwork she encountered contained a multitude of spells. With themes of transmutation, alchemy, and transformation of trauma and life experiences into whatever meaningful form the artist conceives, the power of “Everyday Magic” lies in the agency exerted by individual – and collective – artists to challenge accepted narratives and subsume existing power structures.

In addition to the power of ritual present throughout the exhibit, the influence exerted by community and, alternately, by nature are both strongly felt presences emanating from the exhibition. Both Goyette and Mushkin Goldman commented on the power of nature’s inclusion in such work as installations by Lina Puerta, Alexis Karl and Elizabeth Insogna as placing nature, and in turn, touch and healing central to the visitor’s encounter when entering the exhibition’s center where these installations are located. In addition, many artists’ practices, either spiritually or artistically, formed nexxus points linking them to other artists exhibiting in “Everyday Magic”: revealing  interconnected links between practicing artists who were engaging with spiritual approaches to art-making. Artists such as Jesse Bransford, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Alexis Karl and Courtney Alexander had all encountered one another in various ways prior to the exhibition’s unveiling, while artists such as Elizabeth Insogna and Kay Turner collaborate to produce performance work and art installations. Courtney Alexander’s “Offering to God Herself” presented the opportunity for gallery-goers to encounter her presence, embodying divinity, through a communal offer of deference, love and respect to the Artist.

Above, works (L–>R) by Qinza Najm, Staver Klitgaard, Jesse Bransford and L for “Everyday Magic: Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” at the National Arts Club. Below, detail of Qinza Najm’s “Pleasure & Veil” (2020)

Artists such as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge are known among audiences for the incisive, bold and alchemical work they created, while other artists bring their own unique perspectives to the ideas of alchemy and transformation to bear. Goyette highlighted the works of Abichandani and Najm as particularly powerful demonstrations of art’s ability to express artistic impulses that transcend societal pressures and expectations. Goyette reflected on the power these artists’ work possesses and how it upends societal norms. “Jaishiri Abichandani’s work alters views of Hindu goddesses by subverting patriarchal structures, incorporating people she knows into sculpture portraits in her depictions of these goddesses, including feminist and LGBTQ+ artists and activists.  She also uses self-portraits in her work, as sculpture self-representation. Her work takes a feminist approach, challenging how goddesses are depicted in the canon of Hindu mythology, and how sculptures can be made to play with taboo. Meanwhile, Qinza Najm engages with Muslim traditions of her native Pakistan, particularly how patriarchal ideologies affect women. Her interactive installation, “Pleasure and Veil” utilizes spiritual (hijab/head covering) and sexual (Nara-trouser strings) textiles collected over the past 3 years from Muslim/Jewish communities (women, minorities and LGBTQ+ community) in the U.S. and Pakistan to explore the sacred and forbidden aspects of sexuality. In Pakistan, it is considered shameful for women to show or allow others to touch their Nara. Najm asked women close to her to reveal their Nara, and when she did, the women released shame and personal narratives. She asks viewers to engage with her work, gently touching a chosen Nara from her installation, in magical feminist solidarity to release shame.  Both Abichandani and Najm engage ideas of what is taboo in dialogue with religion.”

Mushkin Goldman offered the works of Lina Puerta and Sahana Ramakrishnan as avenues by which visitors can engage with meaning around sexuality, feminism, vulnerability and fertility. “Lina Puerta explores the intersection between synthetic and natural, commenting on both consumerism and life’s fragility. Sahana Ramakrishnan in turn reflects on ideas of fertility as alchemy and means of transformation.” Artists use a range of synthetic and natural materials, of abstract and figurative approaches, to all reach the core of a reality which we can grasp through experience and intuition, rather than research and academia. “Everyday Magic” is an exhibition about the truths we grasp, the experiences we know, and the underlying hidden links that bring us back together as spiritual beings and root us to natural forces who remind us of who we are.

“Everyday Magic:Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” is on view to guests who RSVP via the show’s website through April 27th, 2021. The exhibit is on view at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park S in New York, NY. The show’s organizers Jenny Mushkin Goldman and Rebecca Goyette can be reached for sales inquiries or exhibition specifics via their respective emails, Jenny at jenny@kingold.art or Rebecca at rebogallery@gmail.com.

Founded in 1898, The National Arts Club is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to stimulate, foster, and promote public interest in the arts and to educate the American people in the fine arts. Annually, the Club offers more than 150 free programs to the public, including exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, lectures and readings, attracting an audience of over 25,000 members and guests. For a full list of events or to learn more, please visit nationalartsclub.org.

  1. Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988.