Bodycam Tapes Show Bravery of Jersey City Cops, Fulop says


Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said police bodycam footage from the scene of the horrific Dec. 10, 2019, shooting at the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket at 224 Martin Luther King Drive showed that his city’s cops went above and beyond in exposing themselves to possible harm.

At a brief press conference held Friday, Feb. 21, directly across the street from the still-shuttered shop, Fulop, accompanied by Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea, said the newly released tapes “only reinforce a lot of what we said in the days after the Dec. 10 incident … that we are exceptionally proud of how police officers ran toward danger and how they communicated with each other.”

The attack on the market by two radicalized anti-Semitic shooters identified as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, ended with both assailants dead along with the shop’s co-owner, Mindy Ferencz, 33; an employee, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49; and a customer and rabbinical student Moshe Deutsch, 24. Police said Jersey City Det. Joseph Seals, 39, was shot dead by Anderson and Graham a short time earlier in Bayview Cemetery.

Two other Jersey City police officers – Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez – were wounded during the multi-hour gun battle. Shea said on Friday that Sanchez had elected to delay surgery to repair his shoulder wound so he could attend Seals’ funeral. He has since had the procedure, Shea said. Fernandez suffered an injury to her right hand, according to Shea.

Fulop made his remarks to a phalanx of local and out-of-town news crews the morning after the state attorney general’s office released a total of seven videos (as reported by several TV news media outlets) taken from police bodycams at the shooting scene.

Asked by a reporter if the city felt “blindsided” by the attorney general’s decision to make the video available for public consumption, Fulop replied, “We were a little blindsided, I don’t want to mince words,” but added: “We do feel that’s their prerogative. It’s important to be transparent.”

The mayor said he received an email the night prior from the attorney general’s office advising the city about the tapes.  He also said the city learned that the victims’ families were notified prior to the tapes’ going out.

Elaborating, Shea said the city “confirmed (the families) were spoken to, and they were comfortable with the release.”

In any case, Fulop observed, “We couldn’t be more proud” of the way Jersey City police officers reacted to the threats to public safety.

In an interview with a TV newsman, Shea said an examination of the images captured by the bodycams made him feel “very confident that all of our officers acted heroically.” He said that as more information is released, the department would expect to learn more.

Meanwhile, the mayor said that to ensure the police continue to be in a state of readiness for any similar incidents in the future, the city would continue to invest in active shooter training, some of which will be carried out this year.

Excerpts from some of the footage broadcast recently by New York-based TV news stations show a man and woman emerging from a van parked along Martin Luther King Drive, carrying long guns aimed at the market and striding inside.

Other images depict a police officer ensconced inside an upper-floor classroom at Sacred Heart School, located across the street from the market, firing multiple rounds from a handgun aimed at the shop. The officer, speaking into a communication device, identifies his shots as friendly fire.

In an audio portion of one of the tapes, a police officer can be heard shouting in an apparent reference to one of the attackers: “I think he’s down. … No, he’s still moving. Behind the wood! Behind the wood!”

Various collections have been set up on behalf of the victims, and the City of Jersey City announced that it would help pay off the mortgage on the Seals family home in North Arlington.

Header:  Mayor Fulop and Public Safety Director Shea courtesy City of Jersey City video.

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JC School Board Holds Public Meeting on 2020-2021 Budget


Parents and Educators Implore the Board to Put Children First

Hillary Clinton wrote, “It Takes a Village” to raise a child. In the case of Jersey City’s public-school children, it takes a budget that will address their needs, from counseling to a decent breakfast.

A small yet impassioned group of parents and teachers spoke at the school board’s public meeting held at the Jersey City Board of Education’s (BOE) Claremont Avenue office Thursday night. They were there to give the nine-member board their input as it prepares the 2020-2021 school budget. The first draft goes to the county’s superintendent of schools on March 20, and the budget must be passed by May 14.

The Thursday night meeting in the Dr. Emery Konick, Jr. Conference Center took place two days after Mayor Seven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun held a press conference outlining a $250 million school-funding plan to fill the BOEs $120 million budget gap. Fulop and Yun proposed a three-year commitment to transfer $40 million over from tax abatements to the BOE.  Their plan would also include spending cuts on firefighter and police recruitment, a pay freeze for select staff, limits on overtime pay and a school tax levy. School taxes are part of a homeowner’s property tax.

Board President Lorenzo Richardson spoke briefly about the mayor’s press conference, saying that he sent the mayor an email the morning of the press conference “providing directives as to what the needs of the schools are in terms of funding from the city.” In the email, President Richardson requested that the city fulfill its commitment to cover the state’s funding cut, which is projected to be $72 million (previously believed to be less than $55 million).

“At this time, we are dealing with funding issues related to state cuts,” President Lorenzo said at the start of the public forum.

Parent Nancy Pokler address the School Board.  Photo by Sally Deering

The board president then opened the public meeting to the small group of parents and educators who came to talk. Jersey City resident and P.S. 5 parent Nancy Pokler talked about the loss of 200 public school positions including 160 teachers, 25 assistants and aides, 20 janitorial, security and food service staff, and 15 administrator and supervisor positions. She spoke of the state’s SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) formula of 2008, used to determine how much each school district receives in funding.

“The SFRA shows that Jersey City can and should be funding its own schools,” Pokler said. “Jersey City has the largest tax base in the entire state and shockingly one of the lowest school tax rates, ranking 532 out of the 565 municipalities.”

Jyl Josephson, parent of a P.S. 26 fifth grader, said that she didn’t want to talk about the numbers. Instead she wanted to talk about Jersey City’s schoolchildren. Josephson told the board that in the past she attended many public-school board meetings where parents made demands about what they wanted without ever mentioning their children’s needs. Josephson said she hoped the board would focus on the children above all else.

“As you begin to make the many difficult and important decisions that you’ll be making over the next few months, I want you to start right now by thinking about children, children that are your primary constituents,” Josephson said. “Our schools have the task of identifying and finding our children’s talents, seeing their beauty and potential, helping them correct their mistakes and do better next time so they can become adults who live together and take care of each other in this beautiful and vibrant democracy. I hope that throughout this process, you will take a moment and imagine the kids and put those kids first.”

School Nurse at P.S. 6 in Jersey City for 18 years, Jackie Matthews asked the board to hire mental health counselors for children who are suffering from extreme anxiety and parental neglect. She said many of the children who are general education students come to school tired, hungry, and filled with anxiety. These children need counseling, she said.

“The children with IEPs get counseling from the social worker, from the school psychologist,  that’s part of their IEP,” Matthews said. “I’m talking about the general ed students who come to school tired, who come to school in the same clothes, who come to school unable to learn because they’re hungry. They’re anxious children who are empty vessels who I fill up one day and who come back the next day empty again.”

Prof. Jyl Josephson

After all the speakers addressed the board, Superintendent Walker thanked them for expressing their concerns about the students. He said the board will focus on restoring “appropriate staff and services to meet the educational needs of the students.”

President Richardson then closed the meeting with a promise to address the issues brought up by the parents and educators. He said, “We will be keeping all your comments in mind and make sure we do everything we can to make sure this budget respects every student in this district.”

President Richardson also said there will be more public meetings scheduled before the March 20 deadline.

Board members in attendance: Superintendent Franklin Walker, President Lorenzo Richardson, Vice President Gina Verdibello, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Marilyn Roman, Lekendrick Shaw, Joan Terrell-Paige, Noemi Velazquez, and School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Regina Robinson.

 

Next Regular Meeting of the School Board
Thurs, Feb. 27, 6 p.m.
P.S. 41 (Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts)
59 Wilkinson Ave, Jersey City
For more info: jcboe.org

 

Header: School board holds special meeting for input on 2020-2021 budget.  Photo by Sally Deering

 

 

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Via On-Demand Van Service to Commence in Under-Served Jersey City Neighborhoods on Feb. 25


With the call put out for drivers and the princely color of purple decided upon for its vehicles, Via transportation company’s launch of 14 of its vans in Jersey City is slated for Feb. 25, according to a message on the company’s app. The vans are being introduced to provide better transportation between Greenville and the Heights. The six-passenger shuttles, a few of which will be fully electric, will also whisk commuters between these same neighborhoods and the transit hubs in Journal Square and Downtown.

“This innovative tech-based system is going to help create mobility for our residents who live in parts of our city that sometimes lack connectivity,” said Mayor Fulop in a press release.

For many years, Greenville and the Heights have been considered transit “deserts,” places where public bus and train service is sorely inadequate. When in June 2019, Hudson County closed the light rail stations on West Side Avenue, Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive, and Garfield Avenue in order repair sewer lines beneath the tracks, it made these communities only more isolated and inaccessible. Referring to the affected residents, indeed all residents of the underserved neighborhoods, Fulop noted the shuttles would “ease their commutes and diminish their frustration.”

Rides on the vans will cost $2 one way and will deposit customers within three blocks of their requested destinations; wheelchair-accessible versions will be available. To arrange for pickups, riders can use an app or place a phone call. Initially only credit cards will be accepted, though the company does offer a cash option in cities it’s been operating in for some time; service hours will be Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

How does Via differ from the private jitneys operating in Hudson County? Like the jitneys, the vans will transport numerous people at once; unlike them, they will be available on demand, and the stops will not be pre-fixed; each van’s course will be determined by proprietary software based on passengers’ needs at the time of scheduling. In this regard they are like Ubers and Lyfts.

Via touts its product as the best of the old and the new. Their technology allows the firms’ engineers to “collect data and build virtual routes that could become formal stops and routes,” a spokesperson said. Passengers will “find it easy to meet their vehicle following booking. They will be directed to a nearby corner within walking distance for pickup.” Wait times should “not exceed 15 minutes,” the spokesperson added.

Via already operates in New York City and Washington D.C. among 45 cities total in North America (and among four other continents). Readers can learn more at RideWithVia.com

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Five Takeaways from the 14C Art Show


How would a hundred visual artists overhaul an upmarket hotel?  If you’ve ever wondered, your answer is currently at the Hyatt Regency in Exchange Place.  For the next two days, that hotel — or at least two floors of it —  belongs to painters, sculptors, photographers, thread-stitchers and canvas manipulators, lucid dreamers, arts organizers, all-purpose appreciators, and collectors looking to score an ideal piece. The second annual Art Fair 14C opens to the public at noon today and runs until 8 p.m., and if you haven’t had enough, they’ll be doing it again on Sunday from 12 until 6.  Tickets and weekend passes are available through the Eventbrite link at www.artfair14c.com.

The action takes place on the eighth and ninth floors, which means you’ll get an impressive look at the Hudson River between glances at artworks. The ninth floor of the hotel hosts a juried show of pieces by New Jersey artists; they’re all together in one grand exhibition gallery.  On the eighth floor, each room has been given over to a single artist, artist collective, or arts organization to arrange according to their whims. Many of these artists are also locals, but a few have come to Exchange Place from much farther away. Attendees are encouraged to meander down the halls of the hotel, probing these makeshift galleries one after another. It feels a bit like eavesdropping, a bit like party-crashing, and more than a little like urban exploration.

We headed to the Hyatt for a Friday night preview, and didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a grand, generous exhibition that, despite its size, was surprisingly coherent. Themes emerged: the beauty of the post-industrial environment and the repurposing of found objects, whimsy and good humor, depictions of streetscapes, roadways, bridges and girders, and, naturally, a copious amount of Jersey love. Here are a few other things we learned at this blowout event — one that’s a hoot to experience, and a quick way to understand the scope and depth of local visual art as well.

Artists really know how to redecorate a hotel room.  

The rooms at the Hyatt aren’t too big, but artworks often are. Exhibitors have had to get creative, and in so doing, they’ve managed to transform a corporate hotel into a treasure box of clever surprises. Bayard, the impish spirit behind local gallery Eonta Space, has hung one of his fluffy, huggable Seussian sculptures in a closet as if it was a particularly outré robe (another Bayard work waves hello to visitors on their way in to the hotel.) The bathroom of the NJCU Art Department pop-up gallery has been flooded with enough colored light to make it resemble a disco — and yes, the party extends to the bathtub.

Some of the most striking pieces in the entire fair have been simply lain on the beds like exhausted business travelers: Juichigatsu, an arts organization visiting from Tokyo, has propped up Nobuyuki Fukata’s virtuosic stitched portraits right there atop a queen mattress. No surface is safe from the artists’ imaginations.  Philippe Halaburda, a Brooklyn artist who organizes a confetti-rain of short rectangular strokes of paint into imaginary maps, encourages visitors to affix strips of tape to the window overlooking Jersey City. An hour after the doors opened, that window already looked like a crazy page from a fantasy atlas.

New Jersey artists love to represent New Jersey.

This you probably already knew.  But if by chance you didn’t, the 14C Art Fair — which is, after all, named for a Turnpike exit — ought to put you straight.  Perhaps I’m biased (I am), but I felt that the finest work in the fair was pure Jersey, and Jersey rendered with remarkable fidelity to the source. Tim Daly, a Hoboken painter with a powerful sensitivity to place, somehow squeezed grand, gorgeous images of the Meadowlands and the Pulaski Skyway in his narrow hotel room. The result was something like a Jersey panorama, with familiar images everywhere, and roads leading viewers deeper into the swamps.

“NJCRR Ferry Terminal” by Gary Godbee

The stark realism of Daly’s works was matched, stroke for stroke, by the extraordinary near-precisionist renderings of New Jersey landmarks by Studio 7 artist Gary Godbee. His large and handsome oil painting of the New Jersey Central Railroad ferry terminal was a show-stealer; it radiated pure pride, and that sense of unearthly symmetry usually found in pictures of British manor houses. Then there’s Daly’s strangely unnerving image of cars speeding past the Hope and Blairstown exit on Interstate 80 under a high sky crosshatched with contrails.  The combination of the automated and the bucolic, the machine-framed setting, the promise of escape, the overtones of surveillance, the environmentalist critique alongside the roar of the engine — all of it was pure Garden State.

Other artists were somewhat more allusive.  Loura Van Der Meule, who works in Jersey City, contributed a majestic but somewhat sorrowful portrait of the Powerhouse in oil pastel, its sides cracked and its smokestacks rising against a faint pink sky.  It’s an emotional image.  Yet it wasn’t quite as gripping as her remarkable painting of a sealed entrance to a low building, washed in the faded, institutional blue of Jersey industrial zones.  The Garden State means splashy landmarks, but just as surely, it means particular details that long-time residents will immediately recognize.

Nothing is quite as dreamlike as the built environment.

“Ossoryi 4” by Philippe Halaburda

“When I look at New York City, I see no curves,” said Halaburda of his kaleidoscopic renderings of color and shape.  Instead, Manhattan comes at the artist in right angles and sharp diagonals, pointed, jagged, and perhaps a bit accusatory, and it’s that emotional state that he rendered in his imaginary maps. Anne Finkelstein’s work is more figurative, but hardly less emotional: There’s a soul of abstraction in her paintings of orange construction-worker netting and shafts of light illuminating the off-white tiles of subway stairwells. Her city is brightly-colored, but shadowed, depopulated, but filled with the evidence of human activity.

Finkelstein shared a hotel room with West Orange artist Allan Gorman, who chases a similar aesthetic down darker alleys. Gorman is attuned to the symbolic resonances of windows and walls, and the play of sunlight and shadow on floors. His best work: an image of a single distant open door at the far end of an empty room, its jamb hot with light from an outside source. It could be a factory, or a house abandoned, or one waiting for an occupant. It looks like it has secrets. But it won’t give them up easily.

Some of the best pieces in the fair are in the Jersey juried exhibition – and they show a New Jersey that might not be familiar to visiting New Yorkers.     

Like Gorman, Judith Lieberman gets emotional mileage from a lit-up aperture in a wall. She shows us a house from the outside — snow swirls white against a background of blue twilight. Yet there’s a defiant orange trapezoid shaking a hot fist at the storm. There’s life inside. The dark is closing in, but the permanent flame of electricity will ward it away.

Lieberman has set this scene in Whitehouse Station, a small town connected to the metropolis by Route 22. Near Whitehouse and beyond, the terrain in the Garden State begins to get rougher as the coastal plain gives way to the hills and reservoirs of the West Jersey ranges. This is farmland, and some of the richest in the nation, too, rich enough to hang that famous nickname on the state. James Fiorentino makes that bounty manifest in a startling medium watercolor of a Flemington farmhouse that’s crisp as a photograph. The wooden barn has been battered by the elements, and the tree is withered and autumn-bare, but the impression that the painting gives is one of great solidity and near-permanence.  Like Lieberman’s dream of a winter’s night, this work speaks eloquently of perseverance.

But the best image in the entire Art Fair comes from a familiar source. Photographer Ed Fausty was once the bard of 111 First Street: His portraits of the old Lorillard factory brought its fragility (and the fragility of the community that worked there) to life in colors that were strange, rich, and unearthly.  He’s since decamped to Boonton, where he has a gallery; I’ve been delinquent and I haven’t visited yet. His contribution to 14C makes me want to get in the car immediately. Fausty has photographed a haunted street choked by trees, with the sky overhead slashed by telephone wires. As is often true with Fausty’s photographs, the composition is impeccable, and the tone is downright ominous. With typical Fausty frankness, he’s called it “Looking Down a Very Dark Road.” Sometimes, not much more needs to be said.

This is a collaborative effort from Jersey City’s arts leaders, who demonstrated that their visions are complementary.

The prime mover behind the 14C Arts Fair is Robinson Holloway, who runs the Village West Gallery abutting White Eagle Hall.  She was assisted by Kristin DeAngelis, former owner of the sadly lost 107 Bowers Gallery, and current curator at a pair of Silverman properties which regularly host shows. Many of the most successful pop-ups on the eighth floor were those connected to local galleries: Drawing Rooms, for instance, provided a full bedroom of delights, including three striking grey-and-white pieces by frequent exhibitor Jill Scipione. The Art House, one of the most reliable institutions in town, contributed an entertaining chamber of their own. Many of the exhibitors have studios at MANA Contemporary, and MANA staff was on hand on the ninth floor, distributing material.

Some of the best, and most visible, figures in regional art were present, too: Megan Klim, with her unsettling amalgams of wire, fiber, and rust, Theda Sandiford, with her energetic tangles of multicolored rope, Cheryl Gross and her lurid illustrations of animals, Mustart, with his visual provocation, impeccable sense of balance, and collision of spray paint and magazine clippings. At the Hyatt (of all places) they were singing in harmony; odd harmonies, sure, but odd is good. It’s premature, perhaps, to call this evidence of a movement, but something brilliant is blooming in this town, and 14C is another sign of its florescence. Visual art in Jersey City has a tone and a feel, and a sense of humor, and fierce regional pride. And for the next two days, it has a home on the waterfront.

Jersey City Times readers will receive a 50% discount on tickets by going here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/art-fair-14c-tickets-86837935603?discount=JCITYTIMES50

Art Fair 14C
Hyatt Regency Hotel
2 Exchange Place

Jersey City, NJ 07302

Hours
Saturday, 2/22: 12 – 8 p.m.
Sunday, 2/23: 12 – 6 p.m.

Header: “Geo Engineering Over Route 80” by Tim Daly

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Art Review: New Abstract Works by George Goodridge, Debra Lynn Manville, Orlando Reyes and Kati Vilim


Deep Space is an appropriate name for a gallery that focuses on new and unusual art. It’s all unexplored territory out there between the stars. Anything a space cadet might encounter in those vast reaches is bound to be strange and novel and worthy of scrutiny. There are other kinds of deepness too — intellectual depth, emotional depth, conceptual complexity and depth of vision — and Deep Space curators seem intent on creating an environment in which these kinds of creative activities can flourish. There’s also the way in which the name of the gallery describes its position on the map of Jersey City. Deep Space is technically located in the Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood, but it’s on the fringe of an industrial zone that has, so far, barely been touched by the great wave of redevelopment that has swept through this town. Their home is deep JC — a part of the city that isn’t included in the destination marketing.

Perhaps it should be. None of our cultural institutions are showing work any fresher or more vital than the paintings and sculptures that have recently been exhibited at Deep Space. If visual art is what Jersey City does best (and it is), Deep Space Gallery is right at the heart of local culture. Its owners have shown a pleasing commitment to affordability, encouraging those who aren’t collectors to dive in and buy a piece. Some excellent small canvases at the gallery’s recent “Gigantic Miniatures” show were priced as low as thirty to forty dollars.

Gallery owners Jenna Geiger and Keith Van Pelt have brought back two of the painters from “Gigantic Miniatures” for “Circle the Square”: Orlando Reyes, who’ll be immediately familiar to longtime followers of Jersey City art, and Debra Lynn Manville, who might not be. Reyes was the founder of 58 Gallery, a Downtown space with an offbeat aesthetic and a communitarian spirit that Deep Space shares. Manville runs a virtual gallery project called “1Million Diamonds” (1milliondiamonds.org) that champions abstract geometric work. They’re both participants in the local art scene, which is not uncommon for painters who exhibit at Deep Space.

Reyes and Manville are two sides of the square. The other participants in this well-balanced show are Kati Vilim, whose flat, interlocking fields of color align her work with Manville’s, and George Goodridge, whose twisting, pulling, and warping of canvas makes him as much a sculptor as a painter. Taken collectively, these four artists share an attraction to bold hues, striking shapes, and offbeat rhythms. But what really unites them is their tone. This work is cheerful but not overly so, playful and experimental but not ostentatiously so, gentle but never toothless. Like so much of “Gigantic Miniatures” — and so much of the best Jersey City art — these paintings are weird but welcoming.

“To Dream Of Paradise” by George Goodridge

The weirdest and the friendliest of the quartet is Goodridge, who dabs ameboid ellipses and perfect circles on canvases that have been stretched tight as a Navy bedsheet over balsa wood frames. The frames aren’t visible, but their effect certainly is: this isn’t unlike painting on a cloud or a partially melted marshmallow. Most artists’ focuses get sharper as their works shrinks in size; Goodridge is just the opposite. His vision is best realized in his larger pieces, which are so relentlessly pleasant that their scale never overwhelms the viewer. “The Complexity of Joy,” a sixty-nine-inch tall acrylic painting on a curved canvas, hangs over the show like a thought bubble stuffed with pleasant ideations. “To Dream of Paradise,” a smaller canvas, is a cooler cumulonimbus. It possesses the hovering quality common to Goodridge’s work. It drifts over the viewer, but it never imposes.

“Common Space” by Kati Vilim

Vilim’s paintings, too, feel like unanswered questions. There’s a surprising amount of action happening in these abstract, static panels. Her shapes often float on soft gray backgrounds: They’re curves that cling and repel each other like horseshoe magnets, dark Ls and cubes that lock together to form rectangular prisms, mysterious raven-black cutouts given dimension and a sense of heft by blue accents. Sometimes she makes her shapes leap off of the panels and jostle for position: In “Common Space,” a great blue hook appears to rise and slip atop a pink one. There’s a similar sense of crowding and vague unease in “Summer Blue Influence”: three large figures, tentatively touching, tucked into a tight frame. The most placid of these subtly turbulent panels is a single U composed of pastel-tinted color fields of plaster. It’s called “Something Like Happiness” — not all the way to contentment but an acceptable facsimile thereof.

“Havens” by Debra Lynn Manville

The sharp lines and crisp angles of Vilim’s paintings approach geometric abstraction. Debra Lynn Manville’s work goes all the way and even flirts a bit with the airlessness of corporate logo design. Fans of this style will recognize an enthusiastic practitioner with a steady hand for parallel lines, a good eye for gradients, and commitment to knockout colors. “Tysimmon,” which is painted on a wood panel, achieves a near-metallic shine, like the fender of an automobile under streetlights. “Usilia,” too, generates the illusion of curved space. Too rigorous and too precise to be called psychedelic, Manville’s work does lean toward the surreal: “Havens,” a leftover from the Miniatures show, is strangely suggestive of the plant-stuffed windows of a beachfront hotel.

Manville uses Flashe paint to produce a vinyl-like matte sheen. Reyes is after some attention-grabbing effects, too, and he finds them at the intersection of pigment and metal. By applying color to aluminum surfaces, he gets paint blots to open like flowers or corals. Tiny rivulets of color score these radiant circles of his. He achieves similar results on other surfaces, but the aluminum plates sing loudest. If you’re familiar with the artist, you’ll also be familiar with the effects, too, but even if you’ve seen them before, they retain their ability to startle. Walking past a wall of his paintings is a bit like a trip through a tulip garden: colors and contrasts, pinks and reds in bunches, bouquets generously bestowed, an overwhelming sense of plenty.

Technically, all of these painters are experimenting. They’re pushing at the boundaries of their styles, exploring the power of shape and color, taking chances, doing the sorts of things that an artist does when he or she is subject to the interstellar currents of deep space. Yet there’s so little sweat visible in “Circle the Square” that you may not even notice. All they ask of you is the same thing that all deep space cadets do: Have a little faith, detach from the mothership, and float.

Deep Space Gallery
Circle The Square
Work by George Goodridge, Debra Lynn Manville, Orlando Reyes, and Kati Vilim
77 Cornelison Ave.
On view until February 29

Header: “Origami Sea Owl” by Orlando Reyes

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Death of a Venue: What Does the Future Hold for Live Music in Jersey City?


Fun doesn’t last forever, scenes die, everyone gets old.

On Feb. 1, FM, a beloved, yet struggling venue, presented its final show and took its final bow.

Although only open since May of 2017, FM felt so important to its fans, including this one. Downtown, where it seemed there was a dearth of music venues, FM filled an unmet need, with its unique mix of genres including indie, hip hop, country, and singer-songwriter. Certainly, the club had its ups and downs. Some nights it was so packed it was almost a fire hazard, other nights were so empty that shows got cancelled and the entire place closed early. But in the larger picture the closing of FM demonstrates the difficulty of operating a club downtown amidst changing demographics and high rents.

FM’s closing was a packed night. The majority of the bands were from Hudson County. You could hear it proudly in their accents, and you could hear it when the crowd chanted, “Dancing Tony! Dancing Tony!” Rounds of applause for Dancing Tony erupted throughout the night.

“Dancing” Tony Susco is credited by some for making Downtown Jersey City fun. He is the man behind “Rock-it Docket,” the events and promotion vehicle for many of the music events in town. Its motto is “We run fun,” and it bills itself as “The original source for arts and entertainment in Jersey City.” While some might disagree with this grandiose claim, there’s no doubt Susco had a big influence. After running 58 Gallery, gradually moving on to bigger projects  such as Groove on Grove and Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, and having a hand in nearly every free event that has a stage or books bands across town, it seemed inevitable that he would become the face of FM as the booker, general manager, and part-owner.

In spite of the closing, Tony was optimistic. “Music in Jersey City isn’t ending, bands in Jersey City aren’t ending, good times in Jersey City aren’t ending,” he addressed the crowd in a farewell speech. “We’ve got one last fire for you.” A few moments later, Corey Zack, sound engineer, walked across the stage with a lit baton and stood with it precariously burning for a dangerously long time until he could get it to the bathroom. Later, Dancing Tony, who never crowd surfs, “because he’s too tall,” threw himself into the eager hands of the crowd. It was a hot packed room, with a sticky floor, pulsing with Jersey City pride and accomplishment, pushing against an inevitable end.

Later, Tony told me, “Tonight was like burying a live person.”

Another short-lived venue that evokes heavy nostalgia is Funhouse at 32 Center Street, which was live from 2015-2017. Originally a biker club, Xylo-punk band Crazy and the Brains used the location as a practice space and eventually turned it into a DIY venue. Everything they did was fun and community driven,even politically and socially consciou, (although not necessarily legal vis a vis permits and licensing).

According to front man Chris Urban, “Funhouse was open for two years. It was an all-ages, DIY music venue/rehearsal studio/art collective/safe space. We hosted musical artists of all genres, typically punk, hip-hop, folk and metal, plus stand-up comedy, spoken-word poetry and movie screenings. We organized benefit shows for Liberty Humane Society, Boys & Girls Club, Christ Hospital, Liberty State Park, to name a few. Our main goal was pretty simply to give DIY punk energy a presence in the area we lived in. We lived in an apartment literally around the corner. We put on the type of shows that we wanted to go to. Funhouse ended because the property was sold, and we were kicked out.”

Why do some venues in Jersey City struggle? Is it because the acts aren’t good enough? Is it lack of interest? Astronomically high rent? Is it because the wave of gentrification flooding Downtown drowned out local culture? Is it simply the kind of music offered? Or is Jersey City over as a scene for the kind of music FM championed?

Or maybe it’s just about having a room. Todd Abramson, WFMU’s “Todd-O-Phonic Todd,” booker of White Eagle Hall, Landmark Loew’s, and former manager of Maxwell’s in Hoboken, said, “One thing that Maxwell’s had that worked well was separate rooms. I think that is very advantageous for a number of reasons, but it is not always logistically possible.” FM did not have a separate room.

“It’s not that you can’t ultimately make money from it, it is just not going to likely be the easiest or most lucrative way to do it. The current rents as well as the cost of a liquor license do make trying to open a new venue here somewhat daunting as in most major cities. But, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

Photo: White Eagle Hall by Melissa Surach

However, there are plenty of other venues that are keeping the fire alive. Jersey City has other rooms for sure even if not all of them have stages. Headroom Bar and Social, a cavernous space with a full backline (including a piano) and no-frills bar is quickly becoming a go-to for music showcases and open mics. (A backline is an enclosure for amps and speakers.) Fox and Crow has a lovely, intimate room in the heights; McGinley Square Pub has hosted a comedy festival in its tiny back room; Bright Side Tavern regularly has musical and comedy acts in its dining room (which is separate from its bar); Pet Shop hosts basement shows and second-floor festivals; Journal Square Lounge has basement performances; White Eagle Hall, the esteemed music hall on Newark Avenue, a block away from FM, has a capacity of 800 people, and according to Abramson, it’s doing fine.

Despite FM’s demise, many bookers in town remain optimistic about the future of live entertainment in Jersey City. Margo Parks, who produces the Jersey City Jazz Festival, books Fox and Crow, and organizes events in the Heights like Vault Allure and River View Fisk’s Music in the Park says, “We can’t assume it is the music that is responsible for a club closing. There are a couple of new and reopened venues such as Moore’s Lounge and Headroom. So as far as the future of live entertainment, to me it feels like it is thriving.”

Parks does acknowledge that “music venues and musicians can’t survive if they are the only ones supporting each other.” Indeed, she calls for “the entire community to be our audience and support the arts.” But to get the recipe right, presenters will need to experiment. “Music tastes are so diverse … it’s playing roulette to try and guess what will consistently bring folks out,” she states. Perhaps the biggest factor is quality. “It is unreasonable for us as presenters to expect community support unless we keep presenting music that is both interesting and quality.”

Abramson agrees. “I know some venues have either closed (FM) or stopped most of their music programming (Monty Hall). A lot of people feel things are looking grim, but I’ve found that generally speaking there tends to be an ebb and flow, and I am hoping things pick up again soon. I know there are a few things loosely being planned, and I hope they pan out.”

Meanwhile, Moore’s Lounge, a longstanding jazz lounge for nearly 50 years, at 189 Monticello, quietly reopened in early January after a year of renovations. Winard Harper, Moore’s resident jazz band leader, orchestrated a big show there on Jan. 19. The club is also planning to reinstate its “Meet the Artist” series soon.

Urban is also optimistic. “Regardless of what the reason or reasons may be that cause music venues to struggle, I think it’s extremely important that new ones continue to open whether it be legally or illegally. I’m happy to see venues have a long lifespan, but even those that are open as little as six months have an impactful influence on the culture and art community. I hope someone is working on opening up a new music venue right now.”

Header: Dancing Tony at FM’s closing. Photo Melissa Surach

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Friends of the Loew’s Contract Expiring Though Group to Remain Involved


Friends of the Loew’s, the Jersey City-based non-profit organization that has worked to keep the Loew’s Jersey theater in operation since 1987 and that has been in litigation with the city since 2013 will cease to have formal ties with the city at the end of this month when its contract expires. Despite these circumstances, the volunteer-run group will remain involved in the Journal Square landmark theater for at least the immediate future.

Professional theater management companies are also vying to run the theater going forward. Just who will get the rights to do so and to perhaps reshape the mission of the theater in so doing has been hotly debated for more than six years now.

In November 2013 Mayor Fulop informed FOL that he planned to replace them with a professional theater management company. This spurred the nonprofit group to file a verified complaint against Jersey City, citing several charges including breach of lease and breach of covenant of implied/explicit good faith and fair dealing. Last year County Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez sided with FOL, stating its lease was valid and paving the way for them to continue as sole operators of the theater for the duration of its contract.

Photo courtesy Friends of the Loew’s Facebook by Garrett Ziegler

The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre is located at 54 Journal Square across from the Journal Square Path Station. The well-known theatre is one of five movie palaces opened by The Loew’s Corporation in 1929 and features a stage and as well as a movie screen. The building’s extravagant design was meant to inspire moviegoer’s awe. As guests waited for movies to begin, they would be entertained by an organist who would rise from below the stage and play.

To the extent that FOL wishes to remain heavily involved in the theater’s future, it has a lot to do with the group’s history, accomplishments, and priorities. Executive Director Colin Egan attracted volunteers to restore the theater all of who shared a common interest in preserving the movie palace. “That’s a unique bond, and it speaks the kind of emotions that this building and a lot of the old buildings developed in their own communities,” he said.

Equally important to Egan and to Pattie Giordan, Egan’s cofounder and president of FOL, is the culturally diverse nature of the cinema’s offerings. In March, for instance, there will be a Filipino concert at the venue (something FOL is producing despite its contract ending). Dramas created by children are also expected to be shown.

Egan recognizes that should a professional theater management company take over the landmarked venue, it will likely result in further restoration of the property, which is a good thing for everyone. He simply does not want the theater to be “seen solely as just another commercial pop venue palace.” For him as well as for Giordan, the theater’s affordability is also a priority.

While certainly facing a transition this year, FOL remains optimistic.

Giordan noted, “The city has invited us to sit down and talk with them about the next step. “I am certain one way or another FOL will still be here.” Egan confirmed his colleague’s sentiments. “We will be in the position, one way or another to preserve the history, the community involvement, [and] the art programming.”

Header:  Jersey City Times photo

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Mayor Fulop

Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun Design $250 Million Plan to Fix School Budget Over Next Three Years


Mayor and Councilman Partner on Initiative to Fund Jersey City Schools
Revenue from Abatements, a Tax Levy and Budget Cuts All Part of the Plan

Taking steps to address Jersey City Public School’s $120 million budget gap, Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun partnered on the Jersey City School Funding Action Plan they outlined for the next three years. Revenue from tax abatements, a school tax levy, the sale of city-owned property along with the 1% payroll tax already in place, are all part of the $250 million plan.

“Today we are discussing a three-year, $250 million plan to solve the crisis facing the Jersey City schools,” Mayor Fulop began. “It speaks to the seriousness that we view this problem and the commitment we have to making sure that Jersey City kids have the best opportunities possible.”

Mayor Fulop’s school funding plan

Jersey City Public School funding has hit a snag. The district will lose approximately $27 million in state aid this year. That reduction along with the deficit the Board of Education (BOE ) has carried these past five years are all part of the $120 million budget crisis. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s plan targets a quarter of a billion dollars to be funneled to Jersey City’s schools over the next three years.

Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun met with stakeholders including parents, teachers and BOE administrators to come up with a strategy to bridge the funding gap. The plan includes new revenues, the 1% payroll tax, and a tax levy increase that comes to about $9 per taxpayer.

“Last year, we implemented the payroll tax and we expect that payroll tax to yield upwards of $80 million dollars this year,” Mayor Fulop said. “The last couple of months the Councilman and I have been meeting with PTA groups and we’ve introduced our budget earlier than ever so that we could make aggressive changes.”

The $250 million plan would restructure the Municipal budget to share the tax abatement shortfall in its entirety for 2020, 2021, and 2022; in total, an estimated $40 million that would go to the schools. The plan would collect $55 million from the city’s payroll tax, $15 million from the sale of the city’s Claremont Avenue property, $2 million from a Board of Education energy audit; $13 million from lead remediation; $5 million from a health benefits audit, $45 million from the Board of Education Operational Efficiency Corrective Action, and $75 million from the Municipal School Tax Levy Adjustment.

“We’ve increased the tax levy by 57% on the municipal side gradually over time and that would equate to a $9 increase per year,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think that’s manageable. We recognize that there are a lot of seniors in Jersey City and a lot of people on a fixed income that are still struggling, so we want to make sure that we’re able to achieve a solution that funds the schools but at the same time takes into account people who are on a fixed income.”

For example, a $25M increase to the 2020-2021 school levy, which can only be set by the schools, will result in a $101 annual increase ($9 a month) to CY 2020 residential taxpayers with an assessment of $440,000, the 2019 average. The BOE’s plans, so far, have been to rely on tax increases to bridge its budget gap, whereas the Mayor’s plan is less reliant on taxpayers.

Ward D Councilman Michael Yun discusses the school budget crisis

“We tried to minimize the tax increase for the people of Jersey City,” Councilman Yun said.

In addition, Mayor Fulop and the City Council approved an audit to review all PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements. The audit is to ensure the city receives the revenue outlined in each PILOT agreement. Any additional dollars discovered in the audit would go to the BOE. Although it’s possible audit savings could go unrealized, the Mayor’s office said its confident the projections are both achievable and reasonable.

On the downside, the 2020 plan calls for a reduction in police recruiting, fire recruiting, overtime, hiring and pay freezes. Mayor Fulop and Councilman Yun’s JCSFAP plan will give the schools $10 million from city budget cuts that include $2,.2 million in voluntary buyouts, $2 million in overtime reduction, $1.2 million from a pay freeze, $1.17 million from police recruitment reduction, $1.13 from fire recruitment reduction, $1 million in security contract reduction, $800,000 from operational efficiencies, and $500,000 from a health benefit waiver phase out.

“We are making sacrifices, and hard choices,” Mayor Fulop said.

In 2020, the City would move $10 million over to share from abatement revenue. By 2022, $40 million would be shared. Mayor Fulop said he’s committed to 100% sharing of abatement revenue. Jersey City has 178 tax abatements.

“That’s above and beyond anybody’s request,” Mayor Fulop said. “We think its proper to move into the direction of 100% sharing.”

Additional money for the deficit will come in when the city acquires the Claremont Avenue property where the Board of Education’s central office is headquartered, Mayor Fulop said. The city will lease it back to the school board for $1. This would be a solution to getting the BOE some additional dollars, rather than the proposal last year to sell it on the private market.

“There’s no secret we’ve been proactive with the schools,” Mayor Fulop said “We’ve done our best to highlight the fact that the city wants to do its part. We’ve outlined how we’re going to get there. It’s a $1/4 billion commitment. We think that’s meaningful.”

Header:  Mayor Steven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun hold a press conference in City Hall Tuesday to outline their plan to fix the school budget deficit.  Photo by Sally Deering

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City Council

JC Council Approves Arts Trust Fund Referendum, Laurel Court Redevelopment, and New City Clerk


At Jersey City’s Feb. 13 city council meeting, members approved a referendum for a new publicly funded arts trust fund to be on November’s ballot, voted unanimously for Sean J. Gallagher to replace retired Robert Byrne as city clerk, and approved a resolution to move forward on a plan for the redevelopment of Laurel and Saddlewood Courts in downtown Jersey City.

City Hall’s council chambers buzzed with local residents including a group of Downtown homeowners who came to address the council. They represented 37 of the 38 homeowners who want the council to pass a resolution formalizing a plan that deems their properties in need of redevelopment with possible condemnation. The developer Lennar Multifamily Communities (LMC) has made a tentative deal with the 37 homeowners to buy their homes for agreed-upon prices. In their place, LMC will build a 50-story high-rise with 810  rental apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space, a new public park, an expanded Filipino Veterans Plaza, and a new public school for 300-350 children.

“We support the city’s plan to redevelop our block based on safety issues as well as the obsolete design of the buildings,” homeowner Tommy Tran said. “All of us have been working so hard with the city’s planner to come up with a solution to this problem. I want to state we’re very knowledgeable about what we’re getting into.”

Tran talked to the council about the 38th homeowner who has refused to work with the other homeowners. Trans said the homeowner, a developer, doesn’t live on the property but bought a home there “with the intention to really bully us.”

“It was like, ‘If I don’t build on this block, nobody builds on this block’,” Tran said, referring to him. “We couldn’t deal with that. Our properties are obsolete. It’s been a long journey. I hope you can help us. Your vote today means a tremendous amount to us.”

Founder and CEO of the Shuster Group of Jersey City, Eyal Shuster is the 38th homeowner against the redevelopment plan. He attended the council meeting, and when it was his turn at the podium, he spoke out against the resolution, saying the city was treating him unjustly. If the resolution is approved, the council will then consider acquiring Shuster’s property through eminent domain.

“The city is unfairly and illegally favoring a competing developer and assisting its interference with our six-year effort to develop Saddlewood Court,” Shuster told the council. “With your vote today, you are not condemning my property, you’re condemning my livelihood and the livelihood of over 100 people who work in my office, 50 percent of which are Jersey City residents.”

Councilman Michael Yun showed his support for the redevelopment plan but warned the homeowners that he would not approve a tax abatement if the request came before the Council.

“Thirty-seven our of 38 homeowners want to redevelop their area,” Councilman Yun said. “I respect that. If 37 of 38 people look for redevelopment of their area, they deserve to have it, but don’t come back to the City of Jersey City looking for a tax abatement. You are not going to be happy.”

The council approved the resolution.

Art Tax Makes the Ballot

The council approved a referendum on November’s election day ballot allowing Jersey City residents to decide whether or not they want the city to establish an “Art Trust Fund,” an arts and culture initiative similar to the 2016 Open Space Trust Fund.  The council voted 8-1 in favor of the referendum with Councilman Boggiano voting “no.”

“We have enough taxes,” Boggiano said.

The fund would support local artists and arts education and would be paid for by the city’s homeowners and businesses at a maximum rate of $.02 per $100 of assessed property value. Mayor Steven Fulop supported the measure.

Three Minutes, Please

Josephine Paige addresses
the council, photo by Sally Deering

In a 6-2 vote, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would impose a three-minute limit on all members of the public wishing to speak at the second readings of ordinances at council meetings. The ordinance also includes a five-minute limitation on all members of the public “wishing to speak on the adoption of the budget and on any amendments to the budget”. Prior to the vote there had been no time limit on such opportunities. Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the restrictions, including Jeanne Daly of Jersey City.

“I think the three-minute limitation is unacceptable,” Daly began. “We have 275,000 residents in Jersey City, and the fact that 25 of us come to speak, you should consider yourself lucky. If everyone showed up, then we’d really have a problem.”

Daly admonished the council for not sponsoring ordinances and resolutions. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for the council members to research what they’re voting on, she said.

“You have the resolutions,” Daly said, “(and yet) it’s sometimes us, the residents, that have to look that up for you and then come in front of you and give you the facts. Council members are supposed to sponsor ordinances. This is what they’re supposed to be doing. If you do, you’ve done your homework.”

Appoint or Elect, Voters to Decide

Several Jersey City residents spoke out against the resolution passed last month by the council to approve a referendum for an appointed School Board. The referendum will be placed on November’s ballot, and if Jersey City residents vote in favor of it, Mayor Fulop will have the power to appoint the nine members of the school board for four-year terms (or longer) starting July 1, 2021.

“An appointed (school) board will leave the public with no say or input in the decisions made by the board,” Paige said. “With an elected board you can change members every year. With an appointed board, the same is not true. Members may remain on the board for as long as the mayor wishes, regardless of public discontent. Your vote will no longer count or have any impact.”

New City Clerk

New City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher, photo by Sally Deering

The council voted 9-0 to approve Sean J. Gallagher as city clerk, replacing the retired Robert Byrne. Gallagher worked with Byrne for 22 years and credits him for the inspiration to move up the ladder at city hall.

Council President Joyce E. Watterman cast a “yes” vote after thanking Robert Byrne for his service to Jersey City.

“Sean, I know you have great shoes to fill,” President Watterman said, as Gallagher stood at the podium. “You have a way of solving problems, and I do appreciate that. You always have something positive to say, and you come up with a solution, and that’s what you need, people who come up with solutions so they can move the city forward.”

With the unanimous vote cast, and to resounding applause, Gallagher accepted the appointment, with his wife, Laura, and son, Sean, watching from the front row of the public gallery.

“I definitely have really big shoes to fill,” Gallagher said in his acceptance speech. “Robert Byrne, without him I wouldn’t exist in the clerk’s office. He taught me well. I’ve worked with Robert for 22 years. He gave me the aspirations to move up. I would love to thank my wife, Laura, my son, Sean, and my brother William who introduced the family to Jersey City politics 25 years ago.”

Resolution Honors West Indies Festival

The council approved a resolution honoring Cheryl Murphy, founder and president of the West Indian Caribbean American Carnival Association in Jersey City, and the association itself upon its twenty-fifth anniversary . The nonprofit hosts an annual parade and festival featuring health screenings and entertainment and an annual business conference on finance, taxes, insurance, and maintaining “healthy” stores.

“We appreciate all that you do for the Caribbean community in Jersey City,” Councilwoman Denise Ridley said. Council President Watterman cast the final “yes” vote.

“Every year Cheryl’s here making sure that this parade and culture is noticed, and for that I commend you.,” President Watterman said. “So often, we get weary. We get tired, but you’ve been faithful. Congratulations for 25 years. I wish you 25 more.”

With a 9-0 vote, Council passed the resolution.

In attendance: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher.

Next Council Meeting: Wed, Feb. 26, 6 p.m.
Jersey City City Council Chambers
City Hall
280 Grove Street, JC
For more info: https://jerseycitynj.gov

Header:  Thursday’s Jersey City Council Meeting comes to order, photos Sally Deering

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Ibou Ndoye

Art Review: Ibou Ndoye and Adebunmi Gbadebo at NJCU


Painting on glass is tricky. Glass is not as forgiving as canvas or paper, and it stubbornly resists attempts by artists to convey texture. Yet when glass painting is done right, it shimmers like the surface of a lake — or the probing front of a camera lens. In Senegal, painting on glass is a science as well as a tradition: Masters turn out portraits on the backs of clear sheets, swivel them around, expose them to light, and generate an unearthly gloss and inner radiance that paintings with opaque backgrounds can’t match.

“The Wrestler” by Ibou Ndoye

Ibou Ndoye has plenty of experience painting on glass. In some of his works, the glass is broken, and fitted into the openings in wooden frames, like a ladder or a film strip. “Neighbors Near and Far,” his show at the Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University, doesn’t actually contain all that much glass painting. It mainly consists of huge, boisterous, enveloping canvases hung like tapestries; one of these is so long and broad that it spills down the wall and rolls, carpet-like, on to the floor. But all of these giant images possess the fiercely illuminated, sun-blasted quality of Senegalese glass painting. Glass is a major part of Ndoye’s artistic identity, and the translucent spirits of Dakar animate everything this artist does. Ndoye, who lives and works in Hudson County, doesn’t need to tell us that he was inspired to make these grand canvases after a trip to Africa. He doesn’t need to give us much background at all. The work speaks, eloquently, about his passions and his perspective.

Glass painting in West Africa has roots in a lower-tech era. Yet its modern resonances are undeniable. When done properly, a glass painting is seen through a thin, shiny transparent layer. It’s not unlike the way we modern viewers apprehend most of the images we encounter: through the backlit flat-panel screens of laptops and phones. The people on the seven glass plates in “Neighbors Near and Far” have the candid, shocked-awake, slightly distorted expressions that FaceTime imposes on those who use it. One man, depicted in sandals and a kufi, has his hands up and an entreaty on his worried face; another, a woman, carries an accusation in her eyes and a barbed threat in her hair, which leaps in black spikes from her head and scrapes the rim of the dish. Some of these glass vessels are circles, others are octagonal like a stop sign; all are, like iPhone screens, too small for the lively faces they trap and pin behind glass.

The characters in the wall-hangings play to the audience, too. A group of women sit around a mancala, and though they’re mid-game, they’re not looking at the pits and the pebbles. Instead, they’re staring outward, with smiles on the verge of grimaces, as if they’ve been posed there by an annoying photographer. The “Young Brothers” peer out between the skinny trunks of trees as if to challenge a voyeur treading on their turf. “The Wrestler,” the grey-faced star of a kinetic mixed-media canvas of paint and collage, performs his feats of strength and balance for two crowds — an arc of dispassionate dashiki-clad viewers who stand behind him and the real-life art appreciators on the gallery floor, who will be, I reckon, quite a bit more engaged.

In these scenes, there’s no place to hide: Sun and clear sightlines make every gesture apparent. Ndoye’s characters act like they know it. They’re all onstage or on camera, and their awareness of the viewer is inscribed in the pieces. And it’s this, more than the patterned backgrounds or brilliant colors or interplay of figures or even the facial features of the subjects, that marks this work as unmistakably West African in tone if not in origin. On glass and on canvas, Ndoye paints people who know you’re looking at them. They’re being watched, and they recognize it, and they pull you in to the performance.

“Uprooted” by Adebunmi Gbadebo

“Uprooted,” the other Black History Month exhibition currently on view at NJCU (this one is at the Visual Arts Gallery) addresses visitors in a thinner and sterner voice. The show features work by Newark-based sculptor and fiber artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, who works in a style that will be familiar to anybody who has seen recent avant-garde fiber art installations at area museums. Gbadebo makes large three-dimensional frames out of chicken wire and affixes massive amounts of fiber to the structure until it takes on the appearance of a huge fuzzy boulder or block. The boulder is suspended from a string and appears to float; the blocks are stacked into a great furry monolith of heft and subtle menace. Fingers of fiber climb a far wall as if they’re trying to escape the confines of the gallery. A long, thick rope snakes across the floor, daring visitors to pull it (don’t).

What’s really striking about these works, though, isn’t what they look like. It’s what they’re made of. All of Gbadebo’s artifacts are comprised of human hair — hair, specifically, from people of African ancestry. The artist does some amazing, gravity-defying things with the locks she’s collected: She masses it and hangs it in great bunches like animal pelts, she balls it up and stacks it, she pounds it flat until it has the consistency of paper and prints on it. So complete is her transformation of black hair that it often doesn’t look like hair at all. It’s possible to encounter, and even appreciate, Gbadebo’s work without ever realizing that the fibers she’s weaving, teasing, and flattening contain human DNA.

That is part of Gbadebo’s point, one that’s driven home further by her use of indigo dye, a substance associated with the slave trade. We don’t always notice the extent to which the manmade environment that surrounds us was built on the backs of black bodies. Yet to apprehend the full conceptual scope of “Uprooted,” the viewer needs to step back from the pieces and understand the backstory, the artist’s motivations and materials, and the conditions of the work’s creation. The show requires more than the basic transaction between the gallerygoer and the creator: It demands attention to something that can be missed if you aren’t in the know.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Museums in New York City have been mounting shows of that sort for years, and “Uprooted” does feel more like a Manhattan-style exhibition than anything I’ve yet seen in Jersey City. It’s hard not to contrast the Gbadebo exhibition with the tropical wave rippling at the Lemmerman. Ndoye’s figures establish an immediate relationship with the viewer. Gbadebo is quite a bit more parsimonious with her affections and with her energy, too. Instead of a rough neighborly handshake, she offers hard-won beauty. You’re welcome to observe it. Look at it long enough, and you might even get comfortable with it. But she’s certainly not going to do all the work for you.

Neighbors Near And Far: Ibou Ndoye
The Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery
Hepburn Hall
New Jersey City University
Showing Until March 3

Uprooted: Adebunmi Gbadebo
The Visual Arts Gallery
Visual Arts Building
New Jersey City University
Showing Until March 5
Artist Reception: February 19, 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Header: Ibou Ndoye

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