The first JC Fridays of 2020 is upon us, which means it’s time to survey the city and amend our gallery rundown accordingly. We’re pleased to report that there is at last a second street-level art space in the city’s designated arts district. For the moment, Dvora is getting called a “pop-up gallery,” which doesn’t sound too permanent, but we’ll take what we can get. We’re also adding a pair of downtown spaces in the Village neighborhood; that’s become something of an arts district, too, even if it’s an unofficial one. Welcome to our list, 313 Gallery and the Italian Education and Cultural Center at Casa Colombo.
JC Fridays stands as our quarterly 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 ever.
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 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 late 2019 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)
The exterior of Casa Colombo has been unchanged since it was first built by Italian immigrants nearly a century ago. Insofar as the neighborhood that surrounds it is still called the Italian Village, the presence of the Casa Colombo is a pretty big reason for that handle. The inside of Casa Colombo contains a recreation of a typical Italian immigrant’s bedroom in the 1930s and a room dedicated to local Italian-American history. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s also home to a sharp-looking and resolutely modern gallery where artists affiliated with the cultural center mount monthly shows. “Facets of Women,” an exhibition timed to coincide with Women’s History Month, opened yesterday and will run until the 31st of March. (380 Monmouth St., www.casacolombo.org.)
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. Last 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)
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. Last 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)
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 late 2019 show “Cosmic Love,” felt like a callback to the freewheeling days of the Arts Center at 111 First Street and featured a dazzling suspended sculpture in string by Maggie Ens, one of 111’s leading lights. (926 Newark Ave., www.drawingrooms.org)
Dvora Pop-Up Gallery
There’s more than one place in town to enjoy the distinctive Drawing Rooms aesthetic sensibility. The Drawing Rooms curators are booking exhibitions at the newest space in the Powerhouse Arts District: a gallery on the ground floor of the Oakman Condominiums. Dvora is rather rough-hewn, with exposed concrete pillars, fluorescent lights, and exposed ductwork in the ceiling. Yet the white-walled industrial vibe suited the space’s maiden show perfectly: Pat Lay’s “Exquisite Logic,” a search for the spiritual core hidden inside the computer chip. A show from the equally cerebral Bruce Halpin will follow in mid-March. (160 First St., drawingrooms.org/dvora)
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. Last autumn, local conjurer Bayard transformed Eonta into a Seussian fairyland populated 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 materials that evoked Hudson County’s manufacturing past. (47 Glenwood Ave., saintpeters.edu/fineartsgallery)
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 one of the only arts spaces 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)
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 maintains two 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)
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)
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 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. “Hands Up: A Campaign For Peace,” the current group show, is dedicated to Jahahd Payne and the victims of the Jersey City shootings. (614 Palisade Ave., www.primegallery.art)
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. Last 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)
Behind a bright red door on a Downtown side street is the 313 Gallery, the exhibition space affiliated with the Jersey City Art School. JCAS, which offers classes to children and adults alike, is worth checking out for its impressive old-school printmaking machinery alone. The curators at 313 have the catholic tastes you’d associate with independent educators. But they’ve taken a particular interest in questions of local identity, and many of the shows they’ve mounted explore what it means to be from Jersey City and the New York metro area. The 2015 show “New Directions,“ a candid look at gentrification, continues to be relevant five years later. The recent “Rooftops and Reflections” was an exercise in pure Jersey love. (313 3rd St., facebook.com/313gallery).
Village West Gallery
Just a stone’s throw 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.
Header: Courtesy MANA Contemporary