For an event that has become an institution, Art Fair 14C is awfully restless. In its five years of existence, it’s had no fewer than four homes. The first Fairs tucked exhibitors into guest rooms at the waterfront Hyatt. That was fun, and felt pleasantly impromptu, but it did not possess the gravity or feeling of import that the Fair has always reached for.
In 2021, a move to the Glass Gallery on the MANA Contemporary campus seemed to solve the problem. The building had a rough-hewn, post-industrial elegance that suited the enterprise perfectly. 14C appeared to have found a permanent home. But nothing at MANA Contemporary stands still for long, and soon thereafter, the Fair was again between residences.
In 2022, 14C settled on one of the most storied, most cavernous buildings around: the Jersey City Armory, a historic hulk often used for athletic events. Artists set up in booths on the parquet floor in the shadow of wooden gymnasium risers and a massive overhead scoreboard. The size suited the Fair’s ambitions, but the space did not match its mood.
So this year, 14C will set up in the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, a landmark structure in the northeastern corner of Liberty State Park. The Terminal is beautiful and austere, literary in that way that only old train stations ever seem to be, and worth a visit no matter how many artists are exhibiting inside. Usually there aren’t any. From October 12th through October 15th, there’ll be one hundred and thirteen.
With each move, Art Fair 14C has gotten a little trickier for area visitors to reach. The Hyatt is easy: it’s practically atop the Exchange Place PATH Station. Visiting MANA Contemporary requires a quick, enjoyable hike from Journal Square through Little India or a trip by motor to the Center’s capacious carpark. The Armory is a bit farther from the PATH, and finding a place to stash a vehicle in McGinley Square is no one’s idea of a stress-free activity.
Getting to the Central Railroad Station by car ought to be simpler — there’s a small lot to the west of the landmark — but, ironically, it’s not easy to reach by rail. The nearest mass transit stops are Grove Street Station, a half hour walk over the canal via the Pesin footbridge, and the Liberty Science Center light rail, twenty-five minutes down Audrey Zapp Drive in the direction of Bergen-Lafayette.
This geography matters because Art Fair 14C is no longer a standalone happening. It’s a cornerstone of Jersey City Art Week, a massive citywide event that also includes the annual Jersey City Studio Tour. Though 14C director Robinson Holloway was quick to temper the city’s suggestion that the Fair would serve as the Week’s centerpiece, it’s hard to disguise the footprints of the big kid on the block. That’s especially true this year, since 14C is running the show: the Fair, the Studio Tour, the whole artful enchilada.
Thus, Art Fair 14C must be evaluated differently from the way it once was. The first four Fairs were defined by what happened inside the walls of the venues. This one might be defined by the things that happen outside them.
If the Fair pulls Art Week attendees away from favored Tour stops and toward Liberty State Park, and JCAST falls flat, it’ll be hard to call that an unqualified success — no matter how delightful the show in the railroad terminal is. Conversely, if visitors revert to old October patterns and stick to the free events closer to the transit hubs (Art Fair 14C is free on Friday night but $20 per day thereafter), the old railroad terminal may be a lonesome destination indeed. Should people balk at the distances between the events and fail to circulate, the Art Week will lack the interactive energy and freewheeling serendipity that made prior Studio Tour weekends such rewarding, memorable experiences.
The 14C organizers are betting that there’ll be enough interest to sustain events all over town. It’s a risk, but Holloway is a gambler. From the beginning, her Fair has remained on the lookout for strategic partnerships and opportunities to grow bigger and publicize the brand. This protean quality makes 14C unusual in a town where organizations and events tend to evolve glacially; compare, for instance, the rapid growth and nimbleness of 14C to the Studio Tour, which hasn’t changed much in decades. There have been setbacks for the Fair, but every step the organization has taken has been toward greater centrality and local prominence.
The team around Holloway has shifted over the years, too. Fair III, for instance, was a collaboration with the organizers at Art House Productions that led to a short-lived merger. Kristin DeAngelis, founder of the 107 Bowers space in the Heights and current director of community outreach at MANA, helped assemble a terrific exhibition at the Glass Gallery. Fair IV was graced by the guiding influence of the outstanding abstract painter Donna Kessinger. This year’s Fair crew includes Kristen Go, co-founder of the MK Apothecary Gallery in Collingswood, journalist and academic Joanna Arcieri, and Tina Maneca, curator at Nimbus’s Firmament Gallery. Holloway has always entrusted the organization and execution of the Fair to women, most of whom have continued to serve the arts community even after leaving 14C.
Which brings us to another contrast between Art Fair 14C and the rest of Jersey City arts as we’ve come to know it. It’s a tonal distinction, but it’s deeply meaningful, and it says quite a lot about the ways in which the town has evolved. This Fair does not go in for crowd participation. Wherever Holloway has set up, she’s brought a sturdy fourth wall with her. Nobody is going to ask you to scribble your impressions on a post-it note or leave your thumbprint on a sculpture in progress. The loose, zonked, Exploding Plastic Inevitable feel typical of art happenings in Hudson County is nowhere in evidence at 14C. In lieu of the usual Jersey City populism, what you’ll get is a straightforward commitment to quality, and work screened by tastemakers who take art — and the business of art — seriously. Above all, 14C wants to be a meeting place for artists and collectors, and to help make Jersey City a reliable place for arts interactions, including arts commerce.
This would be slightly dispiriting if the Fair wasn’t good at selecting participants. But they are good — very good. Art Fair 14C has consistently brought excellent work to Jersey City, bestowing booths on painters and sculptors with unusual and imaginative styles. Many of the finest artists in New Jersey have exhibited here, and quite a few of them are back for the fifth iteration. 14C has also given a platform to Jersey City artists whose work is rarely seen in galleries, either because of their reclusiveness or their marginalization. They’ve been unafraid to foreground artists whose work is difficult and beautiful, and who confront uncomfortable topics: environmental degradation, dispossession, inequality, collective anxiety. This Fair is professional, but it isn’t slick. It does not reach for the least common denominator. It expects intelligence and discernment from its attendees. Go in that spirit, and you’ll be rewarded.
The best way to experience Art Fair 14C is to immerse yourself in it. Wander from station to station, experience the accidental connections between works, and slip into the peculiar rhythm of the event. It’s quite possible to see it all in a few rich hours. But if you’re on a tight schedule, here are a few recommendations for exhibitors you don’t want to miss.
There are many artists in New Jersey who make gorgeous pieces. Many others create unsettling work. But no one combines the two with the same seamlessness or sense of purpose as Valerie Huhn (Showcase). The Hunterdon County artist assembles her pieces from thousands of her own fingerprints, pressed on acetate, cut out, affixed to pushpins, and driven into ordinary objects. Her art speaks to surveillance, pressure, investigation, and the persistence of human identity under the scrutiny of institutional authority. It’s also incredibly cool to look at.
The wildly imaginative, politically engaged Raisa Nosova (B21) alternates between glass sculptures of mammaries, murals, and portraits of searing intensity. Sometimes those transparent breasts are decorated with ceramic honeybees or filled midway with liquid. Sometimes she uses that paintbrush to generate whirling interiors. And sometimes (well, once) she takes over the wallspace on an old gas station to make a stand for Ukraine.
It’s rare to find an artist who can make a decapitation look cute. Somehow, R.J. Calabrese (C15) turns the trick. The Trenton-born painter creates little scenes of startling detail and intensity, and, sometimes, remarkable goriness. There’s a lot of miniature action going on in his paintings, which evoke Breughel’s hellscapes, the grotesque tradition, and the art of merciless cartoonists like Chris Ware. His skill draws you close, and then bugs you out. Hey — ‘tis the season.
Art House Productions curator Andrea McKenna (A14) never gets as graphic as Calabrese does, but her paintings are every bit as destabilizing. Year after year, she gives us roomsful of ghosts: spectral figures with pale and beautiful faces, slipping between states of being. McKenna renders these ethereal travelers in rust browns and the faded green of oxidized copper, and paints their portraits on torn and torched burlap. We’ve all had to do more thinking about mortality than we’d like lately. McKenna’s wrestle with the reaper is particularly honest, and therefore particularly heroic.
If you’re looking for something a little more terrestrial, two of our best at depicting fauna are back. Painter Cheryl Agulnick Hochberg (B25) brings us a menagerie that feels simultaneously sympathetic and dramatic, precise and immensely respectful. Then there’s Cheryl Gross (A15), whose vibrant illustrations showcase both the grandeur of the animal and its awful predicament: it’s got to share the planet with lummoxes like us.
Of course, the most famous animal in town is, as far as we can tell, indestructible. BARC the dog, the acrylic-painted alter-ego of the artist and worldbuilder who goes by the same name, has gotten into all kinds of scrapes: laser beams, time machines, jungle combat. BARC (the artist) has painted it all, and BARC (the saw-toothed canine) always comes snarling back for another episode. His compadre Camp Tokar, generator of not-dissimilar scenes and conjurer of delightful summertime fantasies, will be sharing the Wonderbunker with him.
If I’ve got one complaint about Art Fair 14C, it’s this: there’s not enough photography. Many of the best artists in the Garden State use the camera as their primary tool. The inclusion of Hoboken painter Tim Daly (Showcase), meticulous painter of New Jersey landscapes, suggests that the Fair isn’t allergic to photorealism. They just don’t want it coming from a photo. They have made room for the town’s most intriguing camera experimentalist, albeit one who takes a painterly approach: Susan Evans Grove (Showcase), who assembles digital junk in combinations reminiscent of Old Masters, snaps shots, and calls it computer age still life.
Okay, I’ll extend the complaint a little bit further. I’d like to see more printmaking and fiber art at 14C. The Ohio-based multimedia artist Maria Alessandra Zanetta (C4) makes lovely cityscape monoprints and linoleum cuts. With her devotion to the specifics of space and the beauty of architecture, she fits right in.
Though most the artists at the Fair claim Garden State addresses, this is an international event. Fotovat Atelier (A31) represents Isfahan, an ancient city in the geographical center of Iran. The gallery specializes in Persian miniatures, which means sensuousness, unearthly delicacy, impeccable balance and composition, and sensitivity to the physical world.
I’ll leave you with another plug for the most mysterious figure in town. Paul Ching-Bor (Showcase) should, by all rights, be internationally renowned — his massive, melting watercolors of skyscrapers and bridges are the stuff that museum shows are made of. Once seen, his intensely emotional paintings are hard to shake. For some inexplicable reason, his work is never included in the group shows that make up the bulk of the exhibition schedule in Hudson County. He deserves a major solo turn. Until he gets one, Art Fair 14C will keep waving the flag for him. Championing undersung talents like Ching-Bor: that’s exactly what 14C does best, and why it’s indispensable.