Bill Leech Red Pattern Painting
Bill Leech Red Pattern Painting

Hurricanes and walking tours don’t tend to work too well together. The thirty-second annual JCAST may well be a wet one.  If the remnants of Ian tickle the Garden State, it might be plenty windy, too. Since the Jersey City Art and Studio Tour encompasses all six wards of Jersey City, that matters — there’ll be no blithe strolls from the Downtown to McGinley Square if it’s coming down in buckets.  

Maybe the forecasts of precipitation are overblown. Or maybe you’re just intrepid, and you’re determined to make the most out of our annual arts blowout, regardless of the weather.  If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re not about to let a few raindrops stand between you and excellent paintings, sculpture, and photographs. There’s too much good stuff on view in Jersey City this weekend to refrain from total immersion.  In art, I mean.  Not in water.

With fingers crossed and umbrellas out, here’s some stuff you don’t want to miss:

Felice Koenig
Felice Koenig

BEST INFERNAL CONTRAPTIONS

At Deep Space Gallery, BARC The Dog has installed a few sinister devices, including a time machine, a vintage monitor hooked up to a Geiger counter, and a chair that looks capable of delivering jolts of brain-frying energy. Maybe you don’t even need to take a seat. His brilliant paintings, rich with detail and color and executed with absolute confidence in the power of cartoons, are mind-scrambling enough.  Once you’re reprogrammed and in the mood, you can sit in the middle of the gallery and familiarize yourself with his comic books, and the menagerie of characters who populate his work, including the beleaguered BARC himself, a semi-divine and pleasantly diabolical crab, a ditzy reporter (played by the artist) and an array of buddies in outrageous costume. “We were stoned as fuck when Ghostshrimp leaned over to me with the information that launched our beloved CRAB Community,” reads one explanatory note.  Gee, I never would have guessed.  Delirious, wonderful, full of casual, zonked brilliance, Deep Space at its best — which means Jersey City at its best. (“Machines I Wish Existed,” Deep Space Gallery, 77 Cornelison Ave., Fri 6-8, Sat/Sun 3-8.)

A REVEALING PEEK BEHIND THE SCENES

The fearless Mustart and Clarence Rich give him a run for his money.  But no outdoor artist has placed his imprint on the cityscape quite as firmly as DISTORT, whose murals greet visitors on the way into the Downtown, wave goodbye to them from the walls of the Mecca Building as they sit in Holland Tunnel traffic, welcome animal lovers to the Liberty Humane Society, and provoke pedestrians in Bergen-Lafayette. His pieces suggest a deep awareness of street art as it’s practiced in Jersey City, but they’re also full of classical motifs, allusions to mythology and Garden State history, and subway stations and public works that assume the character of Renaissance cathedrals. There’s virtually no chance that his process is any less fascinating than his product, and we can glimpse it firsthand when he opens his studio gates to the public today. (“Tales From the Lab”, 430 Communipaw Ave., Fri 12-7:30.)

A BASE OF OPERATIONS

Some context for newcomers: the Studio Tour was once centered on the arts community at 111 First Street.  Many of the stars of that fissiparous scene are still burning; a few even have work in JCAST 22.  But the building, alas, is history. There’s no way to recapture the freewheeling, hive-like energy of 111, but the nearest approximation in town is the bustling second floor of 150 Bay Street — just a quick walk from where the old tobacco factory used to stand.  The spaces at 150 are too small to get lost in, but the artists there make up for that through sheer ingenuity and talent.  Some, but certainly not all, of the magicians tucked into these tight corridors: Guillermo Bublik, a mesmerist spinning sinuous lines of colored ink, Susan Evans Grove, experimental photographer (and Yankee fan), Mindy Gluck, dancer to the rhythms of architecture, Kim Bricker, printmaker and renderer of tiny, starkly wondrous landscapes, Paul Wirhun, assembler of eggshell fragments, Deb Sinha, rhapsodist of city light, Robert Policastro, channeler of the power of tigers, Josh Urso, listener to the voices within cracked cinderblocks, Tarik Mendes, fashioner of large, talkative, textured paintings well worth getting lost in. And don’t leave without checking in with the Outliers: four outstanding artists who don’t live in Jersey City anymore, but who conjure the spirit of Jersey City in everything they do. (150 Bay St., Fri/Sat/Sun, various hours.) 

Emmy Mikelson

A WELCOME RETURN, PART 1

If pandemic-era Jersey City can sometimes feel like an incurious place, that’s probably because we’ve suffered from a distinct shortage of curious matter lately. No longer, though. Curious Matter, the tiny jewel box of a gallery in a lovely Downtown row house, is back with an exhibition that reminds us of everything we’ve missed during its recent period of relative inactivity. “Where Is Here” is elegant, thoughtful, well theorized, and exquisitely sensitive to the nuances of landscape and geography.  Cozy this gallery is, but they’ve made room for the runes that emerge like an unearthed secret from Enrico Gomez’s diagonal lines, Emmy Mikelson’s delicate, beam-like planes of pigment, and Kirsten Nash’s softly emotional plays of pattern, color, and rhythm.  In an art scene filled with shouters, it’s the Curious Matter manner of address — even, quiet, persistent, and intelligent — that often leaves the lingering impression.  It’s great to hear that voice again, clear as a gently struck tuning fork amidst the clatter of modern life.  (“Where Is Here,” 272 5th St., Sat/Sun 12-6.)

A WELCOME RETURN, PART 2 

Drawing Rooms was one of the last galleries to close before the pandemic shut everything down. The curators have hardly been silent — instead, they mounted excellent shows at the now-shuttered Dvora Pop-Up Space in the Warehouse District.  For JCAST 22, they’re back home at the TOPPS Industrial Building, straight across the parking lot from MANA Contemporary.  Their remodeled space features canvases from married couple and Roosevelt, NJ natives Bill Leech and Ani Rosskam. Their playful, organic, earthy paintings spark up a lively dialogue at the beginning of the show, and don’t stop until they run out of wallspace. You are invited to eavesdrop. (“Ani Rosskam and Bill Leech: A Wonderful World,” Drawing Rooms, 926 Newark Ave., Fri., 2-7, Sat/Sun 12-6.)

(STILL) THE MOST WINSOME GALLERY IN TOWN

There are a few things you know for sure when you walk in the door of Novado Gallery. The show is going to be well lit and expertly hung, sightlines will be excellent, and all of the works on display will be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to artworks in museums.  Nothing slung in a corner or obscured by shadows; nothing stuck in a sub-optimal spot on a back wall.  No, Ann Novado wants you to see everything, and that’s because she’s thoroughly confident in her skills as a purveyor of top-drawer eye candy. Sometimes the work on view actually *looks* like candy: Felice Koenig’s dishlike sculptures in SweetTart pastels, studded with tiny bubbles that resemble Dippin’ Dots, are confectionaries so sweet they might actually make your mouth water. Koenig is one of the many highlights of “Surface Tension,” the latest array of elegant portraits, wry sculptures, and pure, glittering objets d’art (Jackie Pancari’s glass half-orbs, for instance, feel like crystal balls portending opulent futures) to fill this brick-walled Downtown space. It’s a refuge from the ugly and imbalanced, and a beautifully appointed temple to craft. (“Surface Tension,” Novado Gallery, 110 Morgan St., Fri 10-4, Sat/Sun 10-5.)

MOST HYPNOTIC USE OF BEADS

Imagine bucketfuls of little circles and tiny tubes, thousands upon thousands of them, arranged in rows and patterns, zig-zags and bright color fields, generating geometric images creamy as a textile and as visually arresting as a television test pattern. Alpana “Tejaswini” Mittal makes artworks to fall into — this is Perler beading done on the scale of a mainframe, with intricacy befitting sand sculpture and Hindu powder decorations and the enthusiasm of your niece’s arts and crafts camp. The Bayonne artist has pieces in numerous places around the New York metropolitan era this autumn, but if you want a wall of Tejaswini to fall into, the best place to direct yourself is EONTA in McGinley Square. The artist was part of this spring’s “Troublemakers” show; she’s back to make more beautiful trouble, amplified and expanded, and as pleasurable to behold and wrap around yourself as beads on a string. (“AF/FA,” EONTA Space, 34 Dekalb Ave., Fri 6-10, Sat 4-8, Sun 2-6.) 

A Moment of Happiness by Osmeli Delgado

TWO OF THE SMARTEST EXHIBITS AROUND

Art in Jersey City tends to lead with its intelligence. But if you’d really like to get your neurons firing, your best bet, naturally, is to go to school.  The galleries at New Jersey City University are hosting two shows designed to make you think — which is not to say that they aren’t both visually fascinating.  At the Lemmerman, the pretty little wood-walled gallery on the third floor of Hepburn Hall, video artists Andrew Demirjian and James Proctor wonder whether the stilted, self-conscious diction used in artist statements impedes communication between the creator and the audience. They’ve done this by creating neural nets made of linguistic connections, nesting painfully sad promotional phrases into spiderwebs of thin lines connecting nodes on a scatterplot. Across the street at the Visual Arts Gallery, a group of ceramicists, painters, and photographers update the still life for the twenty-first century, and in so doing, examine the relationship between assembled objects, comfort, waste, emotion, and identity. “Extraordinary Still Life” contains, among other things, a “blanket” made of fired clay, meticulously detailed oil paintings of thrown-away objects, and Jeremiah Teipen’s unsettling projection of virus-shaped particles, falling through blank space like evil snowflakes. (“The Artist’s Way,” Lemmerman Gallery, Hepburn Hall, NJCU, 2039 Kennedy Boulevard, Fri 11-5, Sat 12-6/“Extraordinary Still Life,” NJCU Visual Arts Gallery, 100 Culver Ave., Fri 11-5, Sat 12-6.) 

SOME LOVE FROM OUR NEIGHBOR TO THE SOUTH

It’d be pretty tough to include an arts space in Bayonne in a Jersey City walking tour. But the story of arts in Jersey City wouldn’t be complete without an acknowledgment of the Bridge Gallery, a crisp little space by the bridge to Staten Island that has provided a home away from home for excellent local African-American artists like Danielle Scott, Theda Sandiford, and Heather Williams. For JCAST ’22, the Bridge has come to us: “The Garden Renaissance” is a partnership between the Bayonne art space and Firmament, the gallery in the second floor lobby at Nimbus Arts Center. The show brings back Scott and Sandiford for deserved encores (for Williams’s audacious assemblies of paint and torn paper, you’ve got to go to Hamilton Square Condominiums), and it also throws a spotlight on, among others, Bryant Small, whose alcohol ink paintings achieve the glimmering quality of stained glass, Martryce Roach, sharp-eyed urban storyteller in pastel, and Anthony E. Boone, whose canvases pulse with inner power. (“The Garden Renaissance,” Nimbus Arts Center, 329 Warren St., Fri 3-8, Sat. 12-6, Sun 1-6.)

BEST USE OF A WINE SHOP WALL

One of the coolest things about the Studio Tour is just how many restaurants, cafes, and independent retailers participate. If you’ve got space in a back room, why not mount a little exhibition and get in on the action?  Even the Dosa Hut, purveyor of cheap and delicious Indian food, has made itself a stop on the tour: it’s showing work by the late fireman-painter John Ruddy.  The Art Wall to the right of the cash registers at the Warehouse District CoolVines is a different matter, though: there’s always a show up, and it’s always worth a look. For JCAST, CoolVines has turned its Wall over the understated but reliably impressive Eileen Ferara. “Biophilia” consists of modest-sized but passionately realized pieces that grapple with the irresistible force and fragility of the natural environment. Ferara balances materials like a top-flight chef mixes ingredients: a typical piece might incorporate paper, prints, colored pencil, pieces of plastic, and several types of paint, but she harmonizes it all so well that it speaks in a single voice. This is a small show — only a dozen or so pieces — but it’s one with plenty to say, and it rewards a trip to the store.  Go on, pick up some cheese and breadsticks while you’re there. (“Biophilia,” Art Wall @ CoolVines, 350 Warren St., Fri/Sat/Sun 12-9.)    

Distort: photo by Greg Pallante

WELL WORTH A TRIP TO A LESS-FASHIONABLE CORNER OF TOWN

Jim Fischer’s home studio is almost as impressive as the art he’s showing there — and that’s saying a lot, because the painter’s “Imagination” series was one of the most audacious, literate, and creative shows mounted anywhere in the Garden State in 2022. Those who thrilled to “Imagination” at Casa Colombo this spring are going to adore the version of the show viewable on the second floor of his magnificently preserved Beaux Arts house on the Western Slope of the Heights. Here’s Fischer’s strange magic and broad vision at its most potent: paint-shavings and errant marks turned, through minimal enhancement and shrewd captioning, into tiny, gripping scenes from Shakespeare, the Bible, Romantic poetry, and mythology.  Fischer sees what others don’t, and that perception extends to his portraits and his seascapes, hanging under the skylights and in the alcoves of a glorious interior that genuinely resembles Whistler’s Peacock Room.  He’s had the better part of a lifetime to work on it, and he’s made the most of it.  (Jim Fischer Gallery And Studio, 530 Liberty Ave., Sat 12-6, Sun 12-4.)

A PREVIEW OF GOOD THINGS TO COME

Technically, Art House Productions is still between homes.  Its new arts center and performances space remains under construction, as it has been all year. But  the gallery is ready for public appreciation — and it’ll be open for the first time tonight. All of the participants in “Timeless” are Jersey City residents, and they’ve all been part of the ongoing Art House story.  Cheryl Gross, illustrator of endangered animals and dangerous women alike, is in the show, as is the sculptor Megan Klim, whose works in encaustic and wire simultaneously evoke beehives and motherboards. Robert Koch, twister and temperer of steel, contributes to the inaugural exhibition, and Winifred McNeill, whose beautiful blue tiles and impassive figurine-heads look like artifacts unearthed from a Mediterranean ruin, will make her voice heard, too. Think of this as an Art House Gallery Greatest Hits package, and reserve your place: unlike many of the prominent shows at this year’s JCAST, this one is only up for a few days.  The contractors need to get back to work. (“Timeless,” Art House Gallery, 180 Morgan St., Fri 7-9, Sat/Sun 12-6.)

A POET OF THE POWERHOUSE

Some of Loura van der Meule’s oil pastels are enthusiastic embraces of the built environment — celebrations of large-scale industrial architecture, and appreciations of smokestacks, broad ceilings, and brickface. Others are a bit more ambivalent.  In one of her works, she presents the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse as a patchwork of calico cat colors, pert and pretty on a peach background.  In another, she gives us the building on fire. The Dixon Ticonderoga building is glimpsed through a rough aperture in a wall that looks more than a little like a gnashing jaw. The Whitlock Cordage building in Bergen-Lafayette appears to be tumbling under the pressure of glass-framed skyscrapers; the factories and office towers on the corner of Washington and Bay huddle together against a billowing grey-black sky.  The artist shows us structures that aren’t there anymore, like the old Manischewitz building, and others that have been transformed so completely that they may as well have been replaced. She casts her discerning eye on other places too, including Venice, Rotterdam, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But it’s her Jersey City images that hit hardest. (“Urban Landscapes,” Laura van der Meule, 17 Monitor St., Sat/Sun 12-6.)

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Last year, MANA Contemporary wasn’t even open during the Sunday of the Tour. Surely the pandemic was to blame for that, but it was still conspicuous. In 2022, our largest and best-resourced arts institution has taken its place at the center of the town’s most important cultural event.  The blocks around MANA will hum with activity over the next few days: the Tour kickoff party was held near the JCAST Dey St. headquarters on Thursday night, and two community galleries are open on the ground level of a nearby building. The westernmost of these spaces contained work from some of our most notable locals, including Paul Leibow, whose suggestive riffs on the figure of Felix the Cat become more outré with each engrossing canvas, concept-master (and cut-up) Katelyn Halpern, handy with a stitched joke about Oedipus, and curator Greg Brickey, longtime overseer of the excellent art series at City Hall’s Meagher Rotunda. Inside the MANA campus, artists and gallerists will be opening those huge grey obelisk-like doors, and exposing their treasures to public examination. That means the Scott Eder Comic Book Gallery will once again be viewable, which’ll be an absolute treat for fans of bizarre sequential art. If you can tear yourself away from the cartoons, search out Osmeli Delgado’s studio for gorgeous abstract work that suggests worlds microscopic and extraterrestrial, and Jodi Gerbi, who paints detailed, lovingly-rendered pictures of used candy wrappers, crushed soda cans, and graffiti-tagged bathrooms. That’s a very Jersey preoccupation, and MANA Contemporary is becoming, at long last, a very Jersey place.

trismccall@gmail.com 

Tris McCall

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...