‘Post No Bills’ leaves its mark at 1978 Arts Center

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — New art is hanging on the walls of the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center in a show that centers around hanging items on walls: “Post No Bills,” put together by the New Jersey Photography Forum, a group of professional photographers who live and work in New Jersey. The show’s title refers to laws passed in the 1940s and 1950s in many American cities that prohibit the posting of fliers and notices in public places because, when torn down, the walls became ugly and full of graffiti. People posted signs anyway, and this exhibit aims to find that artwork in the chaos of the streets. The exhibit opened to the public March 31, with an opening reception April 8.

“Cities would put up signs that said ‘Post No Bills,’ and people got annoyed,” Charlann Meluso, the exhibit’s curator and one of its artists, said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “They were telling people not to put up signs, but they were putting up their own. We wanted to elaborate on that theme.”

The 30 different pieces in the gallery, made by 18 different artists, look like they could be found in current city streets. According to Meluso, that was the objective of the show.

“There’s this graffiti and grunge that looks artistic, it looks cool,” she said. “We wanted to show that there’s beauty even with stains on a wall.”

The NJPF members take turns curating shows, and Meluso said she wanted to take the helm on “Post No Bills” because of the hands-on nature of the art. The group relaxed their format rules for the show, allowing artists to branch out from the black frames and white mats usually required for photography displays.

“This is the kind of stuff I like to do; it got our members to really think outside the box,” Meluso said. “I know some people came to me and said this was a challenge, and people actually went out to Brooklyn and Manhattan and walked around and looked, and I really appreciate that.”

Russ Wills has two pieces in the show, one of which took the goal of the show literally. A large, double-sided board sits in the window of the gallery on Springfield Avenue, painted green with an image of the Statue of Liberty. Titled “Liberty,” Wills’ piece encourages viewers to staple their own fliers, business cards and notices to the piece. Markers and paint are also available for visitors to add graffiti to the piece.

“I had worked on an installation in Newark where we blew out walls,” Wills told the News-Record in an interview at the event. “With that you can see the beauty of things that people would overlook, like something like tar or spilled paint on the ground.”

Wills also has another piece in the show called “A Tribute to Aaron Siskind,” a photographer he studied in graduate school.

“I had to find one style to imitate, and when I saw him I was like, ‘That’s what I’m trying to do,’” Wills said. “It has this run down and beat up theme and there’s more redemption.”

Heidi Sussman, a West Orange-based photographer and artist took the theme of “Post No Bills” even more literally than Wills did — two of her three pieces in the show used actual bills in them. “Post No Bills 2” is a collage of currency from around the world, while “Post No Bills 1” is a collage of all the famous Bills the artist could think of. The faces of Bill Clinton, Bill Murray, Bill Gates and William Shakespeare are all overlapping on a canvas and splattered with paint, made to look like street art.

“I thought it would be fun to be defiant,” Sussman told the News-Record in an interview at the event. “It’s made to look like paper and peeling paint on the side of a building.”

Sussman took advantage of the relaxed format, hanging the two “Post No Bills” pieces on chicken wire on the wall. It was a chance for her to work outside her comfort zone.

“It was a fun theme,” Sussman said. “I got to experiment with something new.”

“Post No Bills” will be on display at the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center until May 12.

Photos by Amanda Valentovic