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By Anthony R. Ponzio

Portrait 1, Danielle Julian Norton, 2011.

“Birds represent good shepherds and stewards on earth. It’s about the inner meaning of life.” That’s Cynthia Reeves, a gallerist and client advisor with galleries in New York City and New England, discussing her upcoming exhibition Conference of the Birds.

“They are the only species on the planet that inhabit the three realms: air, water and earth,” she continues. There seems to be an innate understanding of this within artists, within people, and through Conference of the Birds, Reeves illustrates the virtual planetary existence of birds by selecting the work of artists from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Australia.

Including approximately 60 pieces, from nearly 30 artists worldwide, Conference of the Birds opens Sunday, May 6 from 1-5 p.m. at Mana Contemporary (click here to RSVP).

With an homage to an 1177 Persian poem of the same name, Conference of the Birds is “a meditation on our relationship to birdlife,” Reeves explains. “In every instance, the birds are communicating by their numbers how successful we are in preserving habitat for all species, including our own.”

Using a diverse genre of mediums, including “conceptually driven installations,” Reeves is building a collection to help the audience “strive towards enlightenment,” just as the subjects of the poem did. The verse was written as allegory and the birds’ illumination was a search for God (or the Simorgh, a mythical flying creature resembling the Phoenix). “I’ve co-opted that sense of parable,” says Reeves, and “the birds are a metaphor on a different order, that of the earthly realm: their message is about our species’ relationship to our habitat, and by extension, the habitat of all living creatures.”

“Here we are dealing with such an obstacle to the natural world,” she says.

Ms. Reeves has built the gallery’s reputation on artworks that emphasize innovative use of materials and authenticity of voice. Just consider some of the artists and art she represents: lyrical abstractions by Sarah Amos; curious and sometimes caustic narratives of Dawn Black; monumental and meditative sculpture of Jane Rosen; and the fugitive, large-scale installations of John Grade and you will get the picture.

Developing that eye, with a nod toward selecting art, whether for a collector or an exhibition, takes a bit of work and some time, admits Reeves, “I have loved looking at art, learning how to see art,” she says “one is refining one’s eye all the time.”

When viewing Conference of the Birds in May, spectators can use a touch of that discipline to grasp the message behind the exhibition. Reeves hints that “it happens interiorly, if you look with a certain attention; allow the piece to make its impression on you. To me that’s very important.”

– Anthony R. Ponzio