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The Matzo Files

by Christopher Frederick

I'm a sucker for the New York City skyline. It still gets to me every time I get a good view, especially at night with the myriad lights glistening like diamonds. I am constantly reminded of all the little gems hidden throughout the city. The ones that intrigue me most are treasures hidden in unexpected spots. For example, there is a series of flat files and boxes filled with an eclectic array of artwork in -of all places- a matzo factory. The collection, aptly called The Matzo Files, is located at Streit's Matzos in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on the corner of Suffolk and Rivington. While New York is full of cultural opportunities, The Matzo Files has something truly unique to offer. Don't think about the division of High and Low culture. At the Matzo Files they are fused together, without being overly commercial or ironic, like so many endeavors that combine the grit of and sheen of contemporary life.

Walking in the front door, you get a glimpse of factory employees pulling matzo hot off the conveyor belt to be stacked and sorted for packaging. On the left are the files, in clean metal drawers or in archival taupe boxes with metal reinforced corners. Their clean design stands out from the more rustic industrial shelving for the unleavened and kosher products, not to mention the mammoth almost ancient cash register that imposes its weight on the lightly dented aluminum counter where it resides. It may seem like a strange home for the artwork of 250 artists, but in truth, it is an accurate reflection of the communal co-habitation that surrounds the store.

The Lower East side is a diverse community where Jewish, Asian and Hispanic cultures greatly influence the neighborhood. No wonder so many artists are drawn to the area. There are so many delightful and unexpected combinations to be experienced at all times. While The Matzo Files is simply one of the more recent ways artists are making their presence known in the community, it is nice to see one of the more long standing factions embracing the artists, as opposed to artists imposing their presence on the community.

In turn, the files themselves hold the work of 250 artists of diverse origin. Many stem from the immediate community, but others come from across the country or overseas. The work itself is equally varied, including; drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, jewelry and even a sound piece. An index alphabetized by artist name, complete with images, price list, and credentials helps viewers navigate the almost overwhelming amount of work. The range in content, style and prices makes the files a great place for collectors and art enthusiasts to mull over their favorite works and engage in debates about taste. There is an assistant on hand, usually Gallery Director, Lisa Dahl, to help find what you're looking for as well as aid in handling the art. By donning a pair of white cotton gloves, you actually get to touch the art, a rare treat indeed for the average gallery hopper.

Much like the unpretentious atmosphere, the quality of the work usually has a refined and understated quality to it, but with plenty of character. Some of the art has been specifically made for the files as well, such as Lauren Schwerd's cast bronze matzos. Other artists present a focused collection of work while others show a sampling of their portfolios. Like with the city itself, The Matzo Files hold a treasure hunt reflective of a truly American experience where cultures intertwine in a way that set each other apart, yet compliment each other at the same time.

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