Four Options for JC Fridays


Looking toward the Renaissance: “Sideways,” by Mandy Theis

Hudson County applauds abstraction and bold, passionate, macho gestures of individual self-expression. Artists here are supposed to be sui generis, guided by peculiar inner lights, serving no masters but themselves. Toss soot and tar on a canvas, scrape and bang a rusty tin can into a sculpture, tease out the beauty and drama in some unloved industrial byproduct: that’s the Jersey way, and it’s a good one. It’s served us well. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a rule breaker yourself, and you prefer it when artists proceed with irreverence. 

But there are artists in Hudson County who work in traditions that go back further than Warhol’s Factory or even Duchamp’s ready-mades. They speak in a quieter voice than their more flamboyant peers do, but sometimes, when their works talk, they do so with the authority of the ages. “30 Days: One Month of Training in the DaVinci Initiative Atelier” is not the kind of show we’re accustomed to seeing in Jersey City: The assertiveness and ungovernability that so much local art broadcasts is completely absent. In its place is humility, discipline, and deep respect for the most venerated of the masters — the celebrated Leonardo himself, protean wizard of the Renaissance and a figure who, I’d wager, most Jersey City artists and Jersey City residents don’t think about very often.

But perhaps we should! The twenty-plus piece group exhibit, which will be on view in the Majestic Theatre Condominium (222 Montgomery St.) through February 22, makes a strong case that DaVinci remains an exemplar worth following, even in our post-Eurocentric era. The show is heavy on the basics: still life oil paintings, studies of stern-looking individuals, charcoals and pencil sketches, and two accomplished renderings of softly illuminated white spheres on black backgrounds, heavy grays and browns on the palette. Some of these pieces do feel like the results of specific training exercises, and it will surprise nobody to learn that many of the exhibitors are local art teachers. The DaVinci tradition emphasizes fundamentals; these artists put those lessons into practice in pieces of their own. You can see it for yourself when the Majestic throws its doors open to the public for JC Fridays at 6 p.m. tonight.

Mind you, this show is more of a slow burn than a roaring fire. That’s by design, and it’s appropriate to the material.  But these painters and sketchers do hear footsteps behind them. The ghost of the master hovers over the shoulders of these contributors, scouring canvases for flaws and departures from Renaissance orthodoxy. There’s a nervousness about this exhibition that you won’t find elsewhere in town, where creators are flinging around materials with absolute abandon. Nevertheless, when these artists do connect firmly with the tradition they’re chasing, it’s as satisfying as the peal of a church bell in a medieval abbey. Caitlin Bludgus renders a branch-stuffed vase and a gold finger-bowl in oils. Milene Fernandez sketches a foot in pencil with such adamantine precision that it communicates the heft — and ageless sorrow — of a chunk of broken marble statue. In soft, melting charcoal, Mandy Theis captures a woman in side profile: Her model’s eyes are occluded by shadow, but contemplation and slight impudence haunts her face anyway. Her hairstyle is current, more or less. Otherwise, the sketch could have been completed centuries ago. 

Yet my favorite pieces in “30 Days: One Month of Training in the DaVinci Initiative Atelier” apply the Renaissance techniques to subject matter that alludes to the present day. Lisa Von Schwichtenberg’s “Blue Twilight” presents us with a character whose psychological depth and complexity marks her as a modern subject: a woman seated in a chair, dressed modestly but alluringly, one knee bent protectively in front of her stomach, her expression slightly haughty but curious and alert, preparing perhaps to be approached. Von Schwichtenberg has chosen to obscure her expression and deepen her mystique by shrouding her face in a soft veil of illumination. It’s a choice that a Renaissance painter — one familiar with the devotional significance of halos — might have made, and it gives this canvas a rare combination of sanctification and sensuality that I reckon DaVinci, rogue that he was, would have enjoyed quite a bit.

The Renaissance-somber mood of the exhibition is augmented by its setting. With its high ceiling, dark-wood wainscoting, and antique wooden staircase to nowhere in particular, the space feels like a rebel gallery that broke off from the Met and floated across the Hudson. Curator Kristin DeAngelis’s other JC Fridays show feels almost compensatory. “Fabric of Life,” a display of fifteen pieces by Anthony E. Boone, is a pure expression of the Hudson County post-industrial style. These rough-hewn canvases stuffed with electric flashes of acrylic and strands of gauzy fibers soaked in paint are busy, big, bright, engrossing, raw, and richly textured: A few of them suggest what Jackson Pollock might have done if he’d ever cultivated a serious interest in fabric. 

Electricity and fire: “Helping Hand” by Anthony E. Boone

This would be a problem if the work wasn’t as viscerally impressive as it is. But the sheer excitement and emotional effulgence of this atrium show overcomes the sense you may have that you’ve seen these neural nets of color and paint-can-imprint circles before. Through its sheer confidence, “The Ultimate Gift,” a very long panel, renders the Pollock comparisons irrelevant. So bold is Boone’s painting that it might take you a moment to recognize its balance and execution. Those who live at the Hamilton Square Condominiums (232 Pavonia Ave., right near the Van Hook Cheese outpost) will be welcomed home with a big embrace by these pieces until December 27. For the rest of us, there are special viewing events, including JC Fridays. The reception begins at 6 p.m. tonight.

Pure conceptual shows are nearly as rare in North Jersey as tributes to the style and influence of Leonardo DaVinci. We’re materials-minded here; we like to smell the oil and listen to the machinery as it revs. SMUSH (340 Summit Ave.) is well known for art shows that put a premium on tactility. That’s part of their brand, and it’s inscribed in the gallery’s inviting handle. But this JC Fridays, they’re throwing us a curveball. The sly “Art on Toast,” which will be on view through January 18, is exactly what it sounds like: images of scores of works, many of them world famous, digitally superimposed over pictures of slices of bread. Not artisanal bread from french bakeries, mind you, but the Wonder stuff baked in industrial blast ovens, wrapped in plastic, and presented in charmless bulk. 

Seen from one perspective, this is all highly impious. SMUSH strips paintings by Botticelli, Botero, Picasso, Twombly and other museum favorites, flattens them out, shrinks them down and spreads them flat on a piece of regulation white toast as if they were pats of Hotel Bar butter. The gallery presents this project with a smile and a wink, and invites visitors in on the joke, but let’s be honest: Like all radical democratizing gestures, “Art on Toast” is an aggressive act and one designed to rankle those who consider masterpieces sacrosanct. 

Of course, I’m not one of those people, and neither are you. You might agree that artworks of this quality can stand up fine to a little playful digital manipulation and decontextualization. You may further conclude that the brown, arched crust of a piece of Wonder bread makes a holier and more elegant frame than the ornate wooden ones some of these works were initially burdened with. You may even nod your head at the implicit critique of museum presentation: crowd-pleasing rooms that serve up great pancake-stacks of paintings as if they’re tasty but interchangeable slices of a single processed loaf. 

If you really spend some time with the art selected to crown these golden toasts (which you can do at 6 p.m. tonight), you’ll notice that for bread enshrinement, SMUSH has pointedly selected many latecomers to the canon — artists of color like Kara Walker, Jean-Michele Basquiat, and Kerry James Marshall. Among these, the gallery has interspersed toast-portraits of works by relatively unknown locals, prompting a few pertinent questions. Who gets to call themselves part of the staff of artistic life? Who decides what’s worthy and what isn’t — and with what criteria? When it’s all reduced to art on toast, do those distinctions even matter? 

The mischief maker behind this project is SMUSH proprietor Katelyn Halpern, a woman who possesses some broad ideas about the practical applications of art and the permeable limits of its appreciation. Halpern is a dancer as well as a visual artist and curator, and on Sunday she’ll take to the floor of Eonta Space (34 DeKalb) for “Fiber and (k)Not,” a movement piece composed in response to Bayard’s wild, enveloping, Seussian sculptural installation, “Theme M Purr Purse Knew Close Or He Nay Kid Mother Far Curr.” This begins at 2 p.m. and lasts until 6 p.m., and it won’t be just Halpern dancing: She’s bringing along a troupe. Bayard encourages interaction with his massive fiber sculptures, many of which seem as pettable as big shaggy dogs, so I’d expect Halpern and company to make some inanimate friends, and possibly some animate ones, too. The show ought to be a fitting conclusion to a weekend celebration of Jersey City audacity and a nice honor bestowed on one of the year’s most emotionally generous exhibitions.  Bayard’s work sure made me feel like dancing.

Fifteen Places in Town to See an Art Show


We’ve arrived at the final JC Fridays of 2019, and that means it’s time for a revision of our gallery rundown. The landscape has shifted since the launch of Jersey City Times: 107 Bowers Gallery & ArtSpace has shut its doors, and its guiding spirit Kristin DeAngelis is now curating shows at a pair of Silverman properties (Hamilton Square at 232 Pavonia, which is open to the public, and the Majestic at 222 Montgomery, which isn’t). To our list, we welcome the Fine Arts Gallery at St. Peter’s, the pleasantly mysterious Eonta Space, and the gorgeous Village West Gallery on the ground floor of a private home in the shadow of the elevated pillars of the Turnpike Extension.

The JC Fridays calendar is another reminder that Jersey City is a visual arts town. It’s what we do well, and it’s a comparative advantage the city has over other municipalities in the Garden State (and beyond). We love to look at pictures, and sculptures, and photographs, and off-the-wall installations. The annual Jersey City Art and Studio Tour turns the entire town into a giant open gallery. While there are plenty of other cultural events on the calendar, JCAST feels like the anchor of local culture.

Funny, then, that we still don’t have a town museum to call our own. For a while we did, and the husk of the Jersey City Museum still squats, unloved, on the corner of Montgomery and Monmouth. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the arts in Jersey City that the closure of the museum — it shut its doors in 2010 — didn’t lay a glove on the local scene. (The loss of the Arts Center at 111 First Street is another story altogether and outside the scope of a roundup.) There are still many, many places to catch outstanding art shows; same as it ever was.

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. It’s a rundown of rooms where we’ve seen special things, but there are many others, and we’ll add to this page as exciting new places open. Launching an art gallery is easier than opening a restaurant or a music venue: All you really need is wall space, a source of light, and open-minded visitors. We expect that the gallery scene in Jersey City will remain in flux, and fans of the unpredictable that we are, that’s exactly how we like it.

Art House Productions

One of the adamantine institutions of Jersey City culture, Art House Productions has been entertaining and enlivening the city since 2001. Over the years, the location of the “house” itself has moved, but they’ve found a permanent home in the demilitarized zone between the Holland Tunnel and the Hoboken border. (They’re in the building with the Bowie mural on it, naturally.) While Art House is most closely associated with performances and festivals, they’ve got a lovely gallery there, too. The recent joint exhibition of works by Méïr Srebriansky, a painter in resin, and Geraldine Neuwirth, a provocative paper cutter, was a bold splash of color and kinetic energy.  (262 17th St., www.arthouseproductions.org)

Curious Matter

Some galleries announce their presence in a neighborhood with a bang and a shout, and some address passersby in an alluring whisper. Curious Matter has been on Fifth  Street between Coles and Jersey for more than a decade, but it still feels like a secret. Part of that is the building itself — one of those downtown row houses that’s pretty as a jewelry box. It promises delights inside, and again and again, Curious Matter has delivered with shows that are deeply intelligent, often beautiful, and entirely consistent with the gallery’s name. This spring’s “To Some Point True and Unproven” was a soft-spoken, physics-minded stunner. More like that one will surely follow. (272 5th St., www.curiousmatter.org)

Deep Space

Cornelison Avenue, the western limit of a large industrial zone tucked away in Bergen-Lafayette, doesn’t get too much foot traffic. But Deep Space Gallery is making Cornelison a destination: Their shows are audacious, vital, thought provoking, and pleasantly frequent. This artist-run space has been one of the most active in town, regularly hosting first-rate, world-class shows in relatively humble digs. This summer’s “Love Triangle” was a mesmerizing geometric delight that, quite frankly, blew most contemporaneous New York museum exhibitions away. Deep Space is a quintessential Hudson County gallery, and if you’re interested in local art at all, you owe it to yourself to visit. (77 Cornelison Ave., www.deepspacejc.com)

Drawing Rooms

Just down Newark Avenue from Mana is the Topps Industrial Building: a little grungier, a little greyer, a little less striking, a little easier to overlook. But the old warehouse contains a quietly impressive gallery with a long history of excellent shows. Like many institutions (and people!) in Jersey City, Drawing Rooms recently moved from downtown to the environs of Journal Square, and the gallery has made the most of its bigger space. Its most recent show, “Cosmic Love,” felt like a callback to the freewheeling days of the Arts Center at 111 First Streetand featured a dazzling suspended sculpture in string by Maggie Ens, one of 111’s leading lights. (926 Newark Ave., www.drawingrooms.org)

Eonta Space

At the tail end of a stubby and otherwise undistinguished cul-de-sac in McGinley Square squats an old taxi depot that has been seized by art imps and transformed into one of Jersey City’s genuine secret playgrounds. The gallery abuts an old cemetery, but there’s nothing funereal about what happens inside: Experimentation and liveliness is the rule. This autumn, local conjurer Bayard transformed Eonta into a Seussian fairylandpopulated by giant sculptures festooned with thousands of ribbons. He encouraged visitors to hug them. They really did seem to hug back. (34 DeKalb Ave., eontaspacenj.com)

Fine Arts Gallery

St. Peter’s University maintains its art gallery in a wide corridor on the fifth floor of the Mac Mahon Student Center, which means you’ll probably bypass several student lounges as well as cafeterias, rec rooms, and undergraduates in various states of study in order to get there. But since the Center is open nearly every afternoon, it’s actually one of the easier galleries in town to visit, and the incongruity of the setting will melt away once you sink into the show. The playful “Reprocess,” a recent sculptural exhibition featuring the works of local artists Jodie Fink and Robert Lach, made imaginative use of repurposed industrial materialsthat evoked Hudson County’s manufacturing past. (47 Glenwood Ave., saintpeters.edu/fineartsgallery)

Mana Contemporary

Mana feels like the big kid on the block: For all intents and purposes, it’s a contemporary arts museum even if it doesn’t call itself one. It’s huge, it’s multifaceted, it’s got its own parking lot, and it’s just about the only arts space in town where you’ll be able to see multiple exhibitions in a single visit. It’s also the rare local arts institution with branches in other cities: There’s a Mana Miami and a Mana in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. But the Jersey City Mana is the flagship, and it has certainly made an asset out of the giant former tobacco factory where it resides. Tip: An outstanding, perennially intriguing individual gallery within the huge Mana complex belongs to Scott Eder, who specializes in the art of comic books. (888 Newark Ave., www.manacontemporary.com)

Meagher Rotunda Gallery

Normally, we wouldn’t encourage art appreciators to visit City Hall. We’re not cruel like that. But 280 Grove Street is architecturally significant, both inside and outside, and its dedicated gallery in the Meagher Rotunda really does put on fine, community-centered shows. While it can be tough for the art to compete with the wrought iron balustrade, wooden wainscoting, and colored tile floor of the space, the curators have a long track record of making it work. Better yet, the Meagher Rotunda is one of the most active gallery spaces in town: They’ve got a new show nearly every month. Should you happen to see any politicians while you’re visiting, just avert your eyes and concentrate on the art. (280 Grove St., www.jerseycityculture.org)

MoRA

Once called the C.A.S.E., short for Committee for the Absorption of Soviet Emigres, the MoRA is a small but rigorously curated museum of offbeat Russian art. That means the emphasis here has always been on art that wasn’t sanctioned by the Soviet state and was, either implicitly or explicitly, critical of totalitarianism. But MoRA isn’t strictly Russian. An expansive summer show highlighted new works by Korean artists alongside their European and American counterparts. The MoRA is located in one of the prettiest buildings in Paulus Hook, and that’s saying something. Note: Members get in for free; there’s a recommended $10 donation for everybody else. (80 Grand St., www.moramuseum.org)

NJCU Visual Arts Gallery & Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery

The biggest educational institution in the city maintainstwo of its most underrated art galleries. The Visual Arts Gallery, which really could use a snappier name, maintains a neat balance of shows by luminaries, inspired locals, students, and members of the New Jersey City University faculty. The Lemmerman Gallery, its kid cousin, is located in the most architecturally significant building on campus: austere Hepburn Hall. There is also a fine art space on the campus of Hudson County Community College: the Benjamin Dineen and Dennis Hull Gallery. Go back to school; there’ll be something to see. (100 Culver Ave., www.njcu.edu)

Novado Gallery

When activists first conceptualized the Powerhouse Arts District in the ’00s, it was spaces like Novado Gallery they were envisioning: roomy enough to host a yoga class, and friendly, active, imaginative and resplendent with architectural features that link the space to the neighborhood’s industrial past. The Gallery is one of the most active spaces in Hudson County, its monthly shows are always shrewdly curated, and its hours (open five days a week) are generous by anybody’s standards. (110 Morgan St.,www.novadogallery.com)

Panepinto Galleries

70 Hudson Street looks like a bank. A nice bank, mind you, but not exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find any artistic ferment. But hey, bankers have always supported the arts (well, some of them, anyway), and the Panepinto Galleries gives those who aren’t involved in the financial services industry a reason to hang out on the Paulus Hook waterfront. The favored style runs toward abstract expressionism and that which you might associate with hotel lobbies and corporate atriums, but there are definitely exceptions. The recent show “Something Blue” featured blue paintings in various styles, and the effect was enveloping indeed. (70 Hudson St., www.panepintogalleries.com)

PRIME Gallery

PRIME is a real estate company with residential listings in Hoboken and the Heights; if you’re renting in Jersey City, there’s a decent chance you’ve worked with them before. They’ve also dedicated enough space to artwork in their sharply-appointed, brick-walled office, too, that it’s more than fair of them to call it a gallery. Many of the shows at PRIME have focused on local favorites like Kayt Hester, Ricardo Roig, and Robert Piersanti, names that’ll be familiar to those who’ve followed visual art in Hudson County for the past two decades. “Up 4 Interpretation,” the current group show, contains nothing but work by Jersey City artists. (614 Palisade Ave., www.primegallery.art)

SMUSH Gallery

The SMUSH Gallery is owned and directed by a true multidisciplinary artist, and the bookings reflect her omnivorous tastes. The gallery in Journal Square has hosted dance ensembles, rock groups, comedians, a lesbian crafting circle, a weaving workshop, and probably many other things that have eluded our notice. But it’s also a really good, playful, and approachable space to see visual art, and it’s one that always seems to have something engaging going on. This summer, they even fulfilled every gallerygoer’s deepest wish: Alex Pergament’s “TouchTouch” show let visitors feel the art that was on exhibit. It’s not called SMUSH for nothing. (340 Summit Ave., www.smushgallery.com)

Village West Gallery

Just a few doors down from White Eagle Hall is a lesser known cultural institution, but one that is, in its quieter way, just as impressive. The Village West Gallery is the first floor of a private home, one that has been renovated, in part, with wood reclaimed from the Arts Center at 111 First Street. It’s a room that demands from its visitors a certain meditative and thoughtful pace — a mood that “Slow Art,” the most recent show at the space, did plenty to reinforce. (331 Newark Ave., villagewestgallery.com)

 

Are you regularly hosting art exhibitions in Jersey City? Have you got something to add to the local conversation? If so, we want to hear from you. Let us know, and we’ll visit your gallery and add it to the guide.

 

 

Anne Novado: New Queen of the Art Scene


“Would you like some organic tequila?” Anne Novado asks me as we settle into her gallery’s sitting area a few nights before her current show. Novado Gallery itself is like an aesthetic shot of tequila. Opened in late 2016 and tucked into Jersey City’s Powerhouse Arts District, the gallery hit the ground like a stylish Cessna. The space is elegantly appointed with exposed wood beams, lofty ceilings, and a carefully designed layout. But what’s notable about Novado openings is a slightly older crowd of art patrons and New Yorkers.

Novado’s own artwork “Stranger than Friction”, graphite on vellum, 38″ x 31″

Anne Novado is no newcomer to the art world. As a practicing artist herself with an MFA from Syracuse University she knows a thing or two about art — and about how to make a gallery stand out. While teaching at Syracuse and at Onondaga Community College she sat on the board of the nonprofit arts group ThINC (The Institution of a Now Culture). The group put together exhibitions “that went beyond the average landscape and figurative work,” Novato explains. “They were adventurous, fun shows, shows that elevated the arts scene in Syracuse.”

The same could be said of  Novado Gallery’s local impact. Like other Jersey City gallerists, Novado (along with business partner Steve Pearlman) wanted to create a dedicated space for art shows as opposed to a café or hair salon that also happened to exhibit art. Business owners and real estate developers often persuade artists to hang works in their spaces for “exposure,” adding much-needed decor to their ventures for free, This bartering was exactly what Anne didn’t want to see. After all, “does a lawyer set up a booth for free advice just for exposure?” she asks.

At any group or solo exhibition you will find a diverse range of artists who have established some degree of recognition yet have likely not been given a solo show at a similar mid-level gallery in New York City. When asked what drives her curatorial process, Novado explains, “I have to be excited about the artists that I show. That may be based on their humor or materials or perhaps the social commentary in the work.”

Cue Dutch artist Lex Heilijgers, whose work currently on exhibit at Novado is a seduction of color, form, and emotion. Figures, landscapes, and architecture are reduced to their essence in a style reminiscent of Matisse or Picasso.

“I really wanted to show Lex’s work here in Jersey City,” says Anne. “He didn’t have the greatest experience at his New York gallery, and I felt that we could improve upon that plus give our community a chance to appreciate his work.”

She notes that since Jersey City is championed as one of the most diverse cities in the country, that diversity should carry over to the artists represented here.

“As a gallery we can celebrate diversity in the artists we show; through something as humble as the materials they use as well as the ethnic or political diversity they bring into focus through their work.”

What does Novado see for the gallery moving into 2020?

“We feel invigorated and are gathering momentum to bring more two-person and solo shows to the space so we can champion and focus more on the artist’s body of work. For my own growth — I live and breathe art, but I’m also a business person — I want to see how I can bring more people in and get them excited without overwhelming them, give them nuggets of information if they’re not used to accessing art on their own.”

Could offering an art appreciation program of some kind be next on Novado’s agenda?  This professor-of-art-turned gallerist wouldn’t rule it out (or simply “She wouldn’t rule it out.”)

Novado Gallery: 110 Morgan St., Jersey City, NJ. 07302, 201-744-6713, NovadoGallery.com, Facebook.com/NovadoGallery.

Header: Novado photo in gallery, by Jayne Freeman. Painting behind her is by Azarez.art.

 

Understanding Your Property Taxes


Courtesy Brigid D’Souza / civicparent.org