Mana Contemporary Jersey City
Mana Contemporary Jersey City

It’s been three eventful years since the last time we catalogued visual arts venues in Jersey City. As you’d guess, our 2019 roster has been bent out of shape by circumstances.  Some of our most interesting spaces have turned out the lights. Art House Productions, arguably the biggest player in town, is still in between homes.

Yet it’s possible to look at this list as a portrait of perseverance and a study in threats averted. EONTA Space, for instance, seemed like a casualty of the pandemic. But after a hiatus, EONTA roared back to life this summer with a terrific show and a renewed sense of purpose. The directors of SMUSH Gallery, forced to turn to the community for funding, met their financial goals and announced their intention to stick around. The peripatetic Outlander Gallery has landed twelve blocks north of their original Monticello Avenue location.

This September, the alarm will go off for two more pandemic-era slumberers. Drawing Rooms, the Newark Avenue gallery that was one of the last places to close the doors before the original lockdown, rejoins the roster of Jersey City attractions next month. Curious Matter, a beautiful little space in a delicate Downtown row house, makes a non-holiday re-entry in mid-September, too. In 2020, it felt all too likely that these galleries might be gone for good, and that others would soon follow. Instead, we’re heading into Studio Tour ’22 in surprisingly healthy shape. Before we get there — and before the fall season begins in earnest — let’s stop, gather ourselves, and get the measure of what we’re working with.

ART150

The second floor of the big building on the corner of Bay and Provost is a honeycomb of art studios, and the closest thing to the fulfillment of the dream of the Powerhouse Arts District that we’ve yet managed. Some of the most exhibited artists in the city maintain their spaces at 150, and the building’s tenants participate in open studio events and contribute to the generous group shows regularly held in the central gallery. Of particular interest: Outliers, a joint project at 150 Bay Street created by four talented non-locals with deep ties to Jersey City. (150 Bay St., www.150baystreet.com, IG: @art150jc, TW: @proartsjc)

Casa Colombo

Yes, it’s the home of the Italian Educational and Cultural Center; you can tell by the stone carving of the old discoverer’s face right above the front door. But the museum of Jersey City Italian Heritage is on the third floor of the rowhouse. The second floor is a smart modern gallery with shiny wooden floors and a handsome brick wall in the back — which, in its way, makes it typical of the enthusiastically renovated Italian Village neighborhood. “F1 Legends,” a show of Grand Prix racing photographs pulled from the Italfoto archive, opens on September 9. But as Jim Fischer’s lyrical spring show demonstrated, there’s plenty of room here for non-Italian art, too. (380 Monmouth St., www.casacolombo.org, IG: @casa_colombo)

Commuter Gallery

Few people appreciate the brutalist concrete plazas of the Journal Square PATH Station, and there are very good reasons for that lack of affection. But we work with the transit hubs we’re given — and the city Office of Cultural Affairs has situated an arts space just across from the chain pharmacy and the Jollibee.  The pandemic-born Commuter Gallery has already hosted several impressive shows, and its specialization on room-sized works from muralists and taggers has helped add depth and dimension to those artists’ profiles. An exhibition by Catherine Hart, whose excellent canvases display nuance that isn’t always present in her outdoor work, will open on September 1. (Journal Square PATH Plaza, https://www.panynj.gov/path/en/community-events/art-in-transit/commuter-gallery.html, IG:@jcartculture)

Curious Matter

Of all the art scene losses over the past two years, few were as keenly felt as that caused by the relative inactivity of Curious Matter. The little room in the pretty row house near the pizzeria has a personality unlike any other in Hudson County. It promises quiet delights and gentle mysteries, and during its ten years in the Historic Downtown, Curious Matter has mounted witty, thoughtful, literary, subtle shows with works that consistently live up to the Gallery’s name. They’ll be coming back with another one like that: “Where Is Here,” a three-artist show that asks questions about geography, orientation, and the nature of location, opens on September 18.  (272 5th St., www.curiousmatter.org, IG: @curious_matter)

Deep Space

We don’t want to play favorites — at least not today.  But at Deep Space, a combination of adventurousness, ambition, and pure fun makes for an exemplary independent art space. The gallerists never take themselves too seriously, and the front room feels like a toy shop. But they’re dead serious about art, and their eye for talent is peerless in Hudson County (and maybe in New Jersey in general). They’ve managed to make their corner of an industrial zone in Bergen-Lafayette a genuine destination for collectors and a clubhouse for oddballs of all kinds. Their understanding of graffiti, and hip-hop in general, makes Deep Space feel like a liminal space and conduit between the streetcorner and the museum. Their appreciation of sci-fi, and the remoteness of the address, often makes the gallery feel like a Millennium Falcon for… well, for the new millennium. (77 Cornelison Ave., www.deepspacejc.com, IG: @deepspacejc)

Dineen Hull Gallery

Are Hudson County colleges and universities renowned for their art departments? They ought to be. Some of the best shows in town happen on campuses, and with the fall semester about to begin, that means you might like to direct yourself back to school — at least for a few hours. The Dineen Hull Gallery is on the top floor of the boxy HCCC building that houses the Gabert Library, and since it faces east, it’s worth a visit for the skyline views alone. While the curation always demonstrates a social conscience (“Your Home Is My Home,” a group show celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, opens on September 14), the people behind Dineen Hull often act in the spirit of play, too. Jeremiah Teipen, a teacher at the College, recently lit up the room with a synapse-scrambling video installation that felt like a waterslide for the human retina. He must teach some dynamite classes. (Hudson County Community College, 71 Sip Ave., https://www.hccc.edu/community/arts/bdj-dcs-gallery.html, IG: @dineenhullgallery)

Drawing Rooms

There’s brown paper up in the plate glass windows of the former Dvora Gallery, which is a shame — its closure deprived the Powerhouse Arts District of its only true street-level space.  Dvora was a home away from home for the curators at the pandemic-shuttered Drawing Rooms, a long-running arts enterprise with roots that go as deep in the local scene as anybody’s. They’ve been affiliated with Victory Hall, the Studio Tour, the Mothership at 111 First Street, and the Art Project that decorated the landings of P.A.D. condominium developments with works from local luminaries. Lately they’ve been fitting the public libraries with art and performance. Like homing pigeons, they’re returning to their digs in the Tops Industrial Building on the western edge of town. That’s as it should be. They’ll be across the parking lot from MANA Contemporary, keeping the big boys honest. (926 Newark Ave., www.drawingrooms.org, IG: @drawingrooms_jc)

Elevator

There’s no gallery space at the Elevator building — yet. But there doesn’t really need to be: the studio complex has been accessible to the public so frequently during open houses and Jersey City Fridays that it’s beginning to feel like an ongoing open showcase for its tenants. Notably, there are small businesses in the building as well as rooms for artistic production. The most impressive of these might be the Jersey City Print Shop, located on the top floor, operators of vintage presses, and affiliate of the Jersey City Art School, the Downtown organization that helped conceptualize the Elevator project and create the spaces. It used to be a medical building. Now it’s a different sort of laboratory. (135 Erie St., IG: @elevatorjc)

EONTA Space

The reopening of EONTA felt like the cracking of ice during a spring thaw. Many curators and local arts leaders participated in “Troublemakers,” the first show back after the pandemic hiatus, and the group exhibition doubled as a family reunion. Mischief-makers Bayard, Dan Peyton, and Lauren Farber run a fascinating, one-of-a-kind room: a former taxi depot at the tail end of an undistinguished cul-de-sac that leads to an old McGinley Square cemetery.  It’s a secret playground, a locus for hidden treasure (well, conceptually, anyway), and a place where experimentation and liveliness are the rule.  Hudson County without its artistic misfits would be an unrecognizable place.  Attention: troublemakers have their headquarters back.  (34 DeKalb Ave., www.eontaspacenj.com. IG: @eontaspace)

Fine Arts Gallery

The gallery space at Saint Peter’s University isn’t quite as spacious as the ones you’ll find at neighboring campuses. It occupies the walls of a wide corridor on the fifth floor of the Mac Mahon Student Center, which means you’ll pass student lounges, cafeterias, and recreation rooms on your way there. Yet the shows at the Fine Arts Gallery have packed a punch anyway. P.E. Pinkman’s life-logging chronicle of lockdown ennui, which ran at Saint Peter’s in winter ’22, felt like a total immersion in a tortured, but imaginative, psyche. Similarly, Fine Arts Gallery will kick off the fall term on September 9 with a show by graphic arts professor Trish Gianakis, whose works aim to pull you by the collar into her digitally augmented reality. (47 Glenwood Ave., www.saintpeters.edu/fineartsgallery, IG: @macmahoncenter)

Firmament Gallery

If you’ve ever waited on the landing outside the black box theater where the Nimbus Dance company does its kinetic shows, or, for that matter, attended services at Downtown Community Church, you know the Firmament Gallery. It’s the open second floor of the Lively, a residential building in the Powerhouse Arts District. Technically, Firmament is part of Nimbus, but so far, it’s had its own stubborn and slightly kitschy personality, shooting out the lights with a fantastic Pop Art exhibition and an “Exquisite Corpse” show in which one artist’s head was stuck onto other artists’ body parts. (Not literally, folks; representationally.) “Garden Renaissance,” a collaboration with The Bridge Gallery in Bayonne, brings work by eight acclaimed African American artists, including pastels wizard Martryce Roach, to the P.A.D. on September 8.  (329 Warren St., www.nimbusdance.org; IG: @nimbusartscenter)

Hamilton Square Condominiums & Majestic Theatre Condominiums

Technically, these aren’t galleries at all.  They’re first floor lobbies and atria of condominium buildings managed by the same developer.  But because they’re often open to the public during daytime hours, they’re two of the more accessible art spaces Downtown.  And because they’ve been scrupulously curated by Kristin DeAngelis, whose credits include Art Fair 14C and her own 107 Bowers Gallery, the shows in these rooms have been consistently thoughtful and frequently mesmerizing. DeAngelis has made the leap to MANA Contemporary, where she’s handling community outreach — something that, to be frank, the massive art center could really use a bit more of. But she’s got at least one more ace to play. “Transport,” a group show featuring Eunju Kang, Lana Abraham-Murawski, and the daring Heather Williams opens at Hamilton Square on September 9. (Hamilton Square Condominium, 232 Pavonia Ave, Majestic Theatre Condominium, 222 Montgomery St., www.silvermanbuilding.com)

IMUR

The newest kid on the block is also one of the prettiest: a transformed two-floor party room in the back of a Turkish restaurant in Paulus Hook. IMUR opened with a pair of shows by Turkish artists, including an exhibition of gorgeous miniatures inspired by Ottoman book illustration. The IMUR gallerists are determined to maintain their international focus, promising to bring in work from East Asia and South America. They’re also providing space for local artists, hosting flower arrangement workshops and face-painting — and they’re selling an afternoon English tea, which you can sip while experiencing the art, for thirty-five bucks. (67 Greene St., www.imurart.com, IG: @imur.art.us)

MANA Contemporary

You’d be perfectly within your rights to feel intimidated by the sprawling MANA Contemporary. A visitor could spend all day there and come away unsure about whether the building is a museum, an art storage facility, a real estate venture, a social experiment, a fortress, or an unprecedented amalgam of all those things. Yet it’s impossible to argue with results: when MANA mounts a show, the results are sensational. The confrontational, fearlessly political “Land of the Free,” which closes all too soon, compares favorably to any museum exhibition shown in any Garden State art museum this year. Alas, you’ll have to book a tour to see it — but I strongly recommend that you do. (888 Newark Ave., www.manacontemporary.com, IG: @manacontemporary)

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 stylish cousin, is in the most architecturally significant building on campus: austere Hepburn Hall. Curator Midori Yoshimoto has broad tastes, but she’s particularly drawn to elegance, balance, and tradition as it develops over time. “Extraordinary Still Life,” an exhibition of modern artists engaging with quotidian objects, opens at the Visual Arts Gallery on September 9. (100 Culver Ave., www.njcu.edu, @njcugalleries)

Novado Gallery

An art gallery doesn’t have to be a beautiful space to put on beautiful shows, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Novado Gallery is exquisitely appointed: the floor shines, the brick walls are solid and handsome, the lights are wisely angled, and each corner of the Powerhouse Arts District art space beckons you over for further investigation. Architectural features subtly link the modern space to the neighborhood’s industrial past, and although the Gallery works with talented artists, it never looks better than it does when Ann Novado hangs her own paintings on the wall.  Because Novado Gallery doubles as a frame shop, its hours are generous by anybody’s standards. This room may look like a million bucks (and some of the art is priced accordingly), but it couldn’t be more welcoming to those of us who love to look at pretty pictures. (110 Morgan St., www.novadogallery.com, IG: @novadogallery)

Outlander Gallery

By early spring, Charley Cano of Outlander Gallery had already decided he’d had enough of Monticello Avenue.  He’d move the space somewhere more accommodating to his audience; he had his eye on a building adjacent to MANA Contemporary, but there were other locations to consider, too. Yet Cano held on through the season, hosting a three-day festival of experimental, electronic, and ambient music, and showing surreal, suggestive, colorful works by the painter Vincent Zambrano. Then he closed up shop.  The latest version of Outlander is situated in a landmark: the twelve-story office building right on Journal Square. “Uncommon Juxtapositions,” which opens September 4, features the unsettling visions of Neal Korn and Victoria Allen-Hanks. The haunted outlands, it seems, aren’t that easy to escape. (35 Journal Square, www.facebook.com/outlanderartgallery, IG: @outlanderartgallery)

PRIME Gallery

A gallery space in a real estate office?  Well, why not?  Some of the foremost players in the Jersey City arts scene have doubled as realtors.  The PRIME Gallery in the Heights, then, is simply a recognition of the reality on the ground. In Jersey City, visual art (and just about everything else) is deeply connected to the business of moving and managing property.  PRIME has a few things going for it: the broad-walled room is a lovely place to encounter visual art, and their curator, Maria Kosdan, has a knack for visual storytelling and dramatic presentation. As befits a space built on enterprise and risk-taking, PRIME rewards the bold: the most recent exhibition, which featured the work of the audacious Raisa Nosova, is still resonating for me. (614 Palisade Ave., www.primegallery.art, IG: @primereggallery)

SMUSH

It’s hard to say how close we came to losing SMUSH.  The gallerists put out an S.O.S., and were unambivalent about the difficulties inherent in running an independent arts organization in a place as competitive as Jersey City.  If they hadn’t raised the money they did, we would have lost a vital multimedia space: a tiny little gallery with gigantic heart, and a community center that accommodates painting, photography, tarot card readings, activist community meetings, dance shows, electronic music, movies, an open mic hosted by a ghost, and at least one portal to another dimension. Well, that last one was only an art piece. I think. (340 Summit Ave., www.smushgallery.com, IG: @smushgallery)

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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,...