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Coasting: Newest LES Gallerist Maryana Kaliner on her Female-Focused Program

Coasting: Newest LES Gallerist Maryana Kaliner on her Female-Focused Program

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Maryana Kaliner FORMah Jeane Cohen
Jeane Cohen, Leda. All photos courtesy of FORMah.

The Lower East Side is a buzzing hotspot for nightlife, bars, restaurants, the arts, new galleries—you name it, the LES has it. FORMah gallery founder, Maryana Kaliner, knew immediately it was the right space for her gallery the moment she set foot in 42 Allen street. With a background in finance, Kaliner’s passion for the arts has existed long before she founded the physical gallery. In fact, her love for the arts practically radiates from her in conversation, which is also reflected in FORMah’s mission: to provide a platform for female-identifying artists and give the public a rigorous exhibition program with close to monthly rotating exhibitions. It’s no secret that women generally are underrepresented in the art world, and FORMah’s goal is to give emerging and mid-career female artists that opportunity to shine.

Currently on view at FORMah is “Lateral Expansion,” an exhibition curated by Audra Lambert. This exhibition showcases five female artists whose work explores female identity, and the different representations of identity through sublime explorations of representation, gesture and visceral approaches to surface texture. From painting to fiber art and sculptural collages, these artists embrace the ideologies of lateral expansion: taking up space and claiming power through a lateral expansion both metaphorically and literally in artworks on view.

“For me, art is pure and an honest expression of emotional state. This is the reason I started to collect. I bought the artworks I could resonate with, that touched me, that made me feel.”

-Maryana Kaliner

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Maryana to discuss what it’s been like to join the buzzing art community of the LES (with Trotter & Scholer, Shin Gallery and Ki Smith Gallery only a stones throw away) as well as the best tips for finding new talent out there as an emerging gallerist.

For those who aren’t familiar, you founded FORMah in 2021 followed by the opening of the physical gallery in January 2022. Can you share more about your background as a gallerist and art collector?

I am indeed a new gallery founder. I had a wonderful career as a finance professional for over 12 years, but art was always my passion. Every time when I felt I needed to reboot, I visited museums or galleries. The very first artwork I bought was an abstract paper relief by Noga Yudkovik-Etzioni, which caught my eye and symbolized the cycle of life, spring, and new beginnings but also had a bit of melancholic feeling to it. I felt this tension and the balance between the elements of the relief. It was so exciting to purchase this masterpiece! It is one of my favorite artworks in my collection. This is how it started and so far I haven’t stopped. Art is uplifting and addictive. Later on, I got more and more involved in the art world, and some of the artists became my friends. I learned that the art market is unlike any other—so attractive and exciting. Finally, I wanted to take a more meaningful part in it, I organized several exhibitions in 2021 and founded FORMah as a nomadic gallery at first. In 2022, I decided to fully transition from finance to the art industry and opened a permanent gallery location in the LES. 

Susan Arena, Demeter, 2023.

The mission of FORMah is to showcase women artists. You’ve exhibited some extremely talented female artists including Chellis Baird, Adi Oren, Rives Wiley —the list goes on and on! How did you find these artists? What are some tips for other emerging gallertists to connect with new talent? 

It is a real journey. I enjoy being surrounded by artists, get a sneak pick to their creative process, listen about inspirations and challenges. The artists featured in the gallery are indeed very talented! Timing is everything. You meet the right people at the right time. Some of the artists I found during open studios, some at art fairs, and others were introduced to me by artists or curators. The best tip I can share is to show art you believe in. For example, I met Adi Oren during art expo art fair and fell in love with the “Divers” series she exhibited in her booth. In the series she explores the ancient obsession with flying. Adi took it to another level and created paintings that are full of sense of freedom and the unknown. They are incredibly uplifting.

I followed her career for almost a year, and last February I included her paintings in the group show “Emotional Landscapes.” In the process, we decided to collaborate and now it has become a longterm relationship. She is a very gifted and intelligent person. I am looking forward to seeing her career unfold.

Adi Oren, Coasting.

The newest show, “Lateral Expansion,” opened last month. I love the double layered meaning of lateral expansion: artists taking up literal space, claiming power and their own agency. How does this exhibition relate to the past two exhibitions, “Emotional Landscapes” and “Thriving”?

FORMah is continuing to show mainly female-identifying artists. It is our mission to empower female-identifying creatives and the common denominator among all the shows in the program. In the “Thriving” exhibition we celebrated reflection, resilience, and spiritual growth. In “Emotional Landscapes” all artworks shared a deep message about the search for meaning, whether it comes from within human nature or a response to social interaction, and the surrounding reality. “Lateral Expansion” offers multidisciplinary and new expansive formats through which we consider the role that women command in contemporary art, and is dedicated to women’s history month. The exhibition, curated by Audra Lambert, combines artworks by five female artists and speculates on the multiplicity of identities that women inhabit through multidisciplinary approaches. Susan Arena offers powerful explorations of women in myth and folklore in bold and expressive works on paper. Natalia Nakazawa accumulates archival imagery in Jacquard woven ribbons that have been arranged as orthographic architectural forms to present multiple perspectives. Abstract yet evocative paper collages by MaryKate Maher offer a means of contemplating and exploring two-dimensional space. Sarah G. Sharp is questioning the formal interrelationships between early pixelated video games and the traditional medium of weaving in her textile artworks. Jeane Cohen embracing natural and mythic elements, that offer alternative visions into the worlds we create and how our identities can serve as complex lenses through which to consider our lived experiences. In this exhibition women artists author their own narratives, re-examine loaded histories, exert physical presence, and reinforce the vibrant yet disparate tales embedded in the contemporary practices of woman-identified artists. 

Natalia Nakazawa, La Migracíon.

The LES, always a trendy hotspot for young people, has become a hub for art galleries. What made you decide to open FORMAh on the LES? 

This is the neighborhood I can relate to the most in the city. I always enjoyed spending time here. The restaurants, the bars, and the art scene in the LES are unlike any other neighborhood in the city. I couldn’t imagine the gallery located elsewhere. 

When I was looking for a space, the 42 Allen Street storefront was the first location on the list. It also turned out to be the last one. I stepped into the space, which was unfinished at the time, without drywalls and proper floors, and covered with graffiti and I felt that it has to be the gallery. I never checked or considered any other location. I immediately made an offer and am very happy it worked out!  I am lucky that FORMah is the part of the LES art scene, surrounded by friend galleries, and local businesses. 

Sarah G. Sharp, Starlit Diamond.

I heard that you are extending into the art fair circuit. Tell me more!

This May, FORMah is going to show at the VOLTA art fair with “Thriving II”, an extension of our inaugural group exhibition. Building on the themes of introspection and optimism from the first exhibition, which took place Nov’22 at our gallery space, the second installment of Thriving delves deeper into the artists’ experiences and showcases their resilience and spiritual growth through their art.  The works in this exhibition continue to showcase the artists’ distinct materiality and technical approaches, while maintaining a sense of balance between tension and release.  “THRIVING II” offers an integration and deep connection between the gallery space and the art fair booth, and highlights FORMah’s mission to provide a platform for female/identifying artists. In addition, we are looking forward to very exciting collaboration between FORMah and other galleries. It will be huge, new, fresh and very innovative.

MaryKate Maher, Surface.

Initially, you set the goal of exhibiting a new exhibition roughly once a month. I am so impressed! What can we expect to see next at FORMAh? 

There are several meaningful solos coming up. In late May, FORMah will have it’s first and very special solo exhibition called “Ceremony.” The solo exhibition is all works by Prema Murthy, which will feature a series of black monochrome paintings that reflect the structures of unseen inner worlds. I am very excited to see all the artworks together, the way they will re-invent gallery microcosmos. Additionally, there will be more shows coming up after that.

Catch Lateral Expansion before it closes on April 8th. There is a closing reception for the exhibition on Saturday, April 8th from 2-4 PM.

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