If you attended JC Fridays, you know: we’re currently in a time of riches. There are rewarding shows on view all over town. It won’t always be this way. So in the interest of getting you out on the town while the offerings are hot, I’m breaking this down as simply as I can. Why are these six exhibitions worthy of your time and attention? I’m glad you asked. Allow me to explain.
What is it? It’s a historical show that investigates the ways in which Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches continue to inspire and motivate people working for social change. That means newspaper clippings and artifacts of local political movements, bits of evidence of actualized rhetoric, and an unexpectedly exciting mini-exhibit that tells the story of Dr. King’s 1968 visit to Metropolitan AME Zion Church on Belmont Avenue, just days before his assassination.
Where is it? The show hangs at the Benjamin J. Dineen III and Dennis C. Hull Gallery at Hudson County Community College. That’s on the sixth floor of the big campus building at 71 Sip Avenue.
Why should I see it? As you may have noticed, Martin Luther King’s name has been widely (and sanctimoniously) thrown around by people who the Reverend would almost certainly have seen as an obstruction to his mission. “Contemporary Peacemakers” cuts trough the static and gives you the real deal: the text of his speeches, a record of the intemperate reaction to his reasonable demands, and a film shot at the March on Washington. It’s also a profound reminder that Reverend King’s rhetoric and delivery were rooted in the cadences of the African American church sermon and the searing language of the King James Version. The roots of modern progressivism are by no means secular.
How can I see it? The Dineen Hull Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. “Contemporary Peacemakers” will remain on view until April 6.
What is it? This is a small but highly successful expression of the complementary artistic ideas of a pair of artists who are also partners in life: monotype printmaker Kim Bricker and sculptor Josh Urso. Bricker’s prints are small, winsome landscapes with shimmering horizon lines and glorious washes of daybreak and sunset color. Urso is a practitioner of an urban Jersey form of kintsugi: he fractures cinderblocks and cement bricks, reassembles them, and fills the cracks with vibrant color.
Where is it? “Site: Fragment” occupies half of the exhibition space at Novado Gallery, which is still the prettiest art space in Jersey City. It’s at 350 Warren Street in the Warehouse District, right around the corner from Cool Vines. Technically, it isn’t street level: you’ll have to climb a few steps up from the sidewalk to get inside.
Why should I see it? For one thing, it’s closing this weekend, so this is your last chance for awhile to see the intriguing ways in which these two visions interact. Bricker’s prints are tiny and delicate, but they’ve got substantial visual heft. Sometimes her blue-grey skies and still waters mimic the placidity of a concrete surface. Meanwhile, Urso works in manly materials meant to be load-bearing. He reminds us of their fragility in the bluntest way imaginable: with a hammer. Then he demonstrates their resilience by putting them back together and calling attention to their flaws. Urso might not see this as a metaphor for the built environment in Hudson County. But I’m pretty sure you will.
How can I see it? “Site: Fragment” is open today from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and then on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. After that, you’ll have to visit their artist studios at 150 Bay Street to get your fix of artfully fractured cornerstones and radiant monotypes.
“Tall Tales” and Other Truths
What is it? This is an emotionally forthright and deeply human group show featuring pieces from six artists who’ve taken a few beatings, and who are unafraid to foreground their scars. That includes work by Aliza Augustine, whose dreamlike photographs engage with her family’s history with the Holocaust, the celebrated sculptor Willie Cole, who cauterizes his images with the hot press of an iron, and Francis Crisafio, who contributes a beautifully revealing series of snapshots of regular customers taken at his father’s barbershop in working-class Pittsburgh.
Where is it? The show occupies both galleries — the Terrarium Gallery and the Alcove Gallery — at Drawing Rooms, the reopened and remodeled art space in the Tops Industrial Building at 926 Newark Avenue. That’s right across the parking lot from Mana Contemporary.
Why should I see it? Jersey City doesn’t shake hands with Newark often enough. Leave it to the gallery in town that’s closest to our sister city to make a bridge across the Hackensack out of sculptures, photographs, and mixed-media pieces. Noelle Lorraine Williams’ work reanimates the civil rights history of the Garden State’s largest city in a series of affecting ghost landscapes that speak directly to the urban unconscious: superimpositions of buildings from the past on the tarmac-smothered present. It’s a project that Willie Cole, a graduate of Newark Arts High, would surely understand. I reckon that many of the weary souls in Crisafio’s barbershop chair would get it, too.
How can I see it? Drawing Rooms is open from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There’ll be artist talks at the space at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19.
Firoz Mahmoud: Early Episodes II
What is it? The framed mixed media works by Bangladeshi artist Firoz Mahmud look abstract at a distance. But the more you look at them, the more these assemblies of ballpoint pen, ink, halite and iridescent pearl pigment cohere and reveal their meaning. Mahmud fills his frames with animal symbols, depictions of South Asian architecture, and small portraits of historical figures, including Queen Victoria and the Turkish general Bahktiyar Khalji. Given the emotional depth of these pieces, it’s fair to say that “Early Episodes II” isn’t merely a historical investigation. It’s commentary, too.
Where is it? The Visual Arts Gallery at New Jersey City University is in the basement of the building that houses the Art Department. It’s at 100 Culver Street, across from the main body of the campus. It isn’t as pretty as the Lemmerman Gallery on the third floor of Hepburn Hall. But it’s bigger, and it can accommodate more complex installations.
Why should I see it? Most modern art shows are even-handed or downright equivocal about the dynamics of international politics. Not this one. Once your eyes adjust to Mahmoud’s visual language, you’ll discover that every frame in this show burns with Bangladeshi pride. Mahmoud’s pieces lower the boom on imperial forces: the British Raj, the Mughal Empire, the invading Turks. Through it all, the Bengal tiger keeps roaring. All those heavy lines of ink can’t hold the big cat down. Mahmoud’s show makes a statement, teaches a lesson (complete with words scribbled into the pieces) about a country that most Americans don’t think about very often.
How can I see it? Like “Site: Fragment,” this show won’t be up for very much longer. “Early Episodes II” closes on Thursday, March 16. Gallery hours at NJCU are 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. during weekdays, but there isn’t always somebody there to let a passerby in. It’s probably best to make an appointment.
What is it? “Quiet, Please” is an exhibition of new photographs by the Long Branch artist Dorie Dahlberg. Some of them were shot by the Jersey Shore — you’ll recognize a few landmarks if you know Asbury Park — and some were taken during a recent trip to Scandinavia. They’re mostly depopulated, certainly hushed, and maybe a little bit haunted, too. Dahlberg, a visual poet, plays with color, shape, shadow, and light, and exhibits an uncommon understanding of the rhythms of the built environment.
Where is it? Dahlberg is one of four artists involved in the Outliers Gallery, a small space on the second floor of 150 Bay Street. Get out of the elevator and keep going; straight; you can’t miss it.
Why should I see it? Many artists and filmmakers have struggled to peer behind the Shore myth and depict Monmouth County honestly. Dorie Dahlberg is the reporter who has gotten it right. Her Shore is a place of lonely, lonely views, eerie refractions, contemplation, and silent confrontations with the immensity and implacability of the ocean. Dahlberg’s Scandinavia has a similar quiet intensity, and she approaches all of her subjects with the same frankness. A shot of an aunt’s kitchen table in Sweden is full of precise domestic detail, and she’s managed to make every element in the photograph sing. An image of Long Branch is titled “The Minute Winter Arrived.” Can something like that really be captured on film? Dahlberg will have you believing it can.
How can I see it? Dahlberg will be opening the Outliers Gallery on Sundays from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. If you go, you’ll pass through a first floor lobby installation of miraculous works by Paul Wirhun, who creates pictures from cracked and stained eggshells.
What is it? All three gallerists behind EONTA Space present new work at a crazily immersive show that feels like three minds crayon-melting together. That means big, fluffy, huggable torn-textile sculptures from Bayard, silk-screened images on old wooden frames by Dan Peyton, and sheafs of paper of folded, spindled, and artfully mutilated books, arranged into towers, arches, and near-botanical arrays by Lauren Farber. They’ve even installed a “reading room”: a makeshift outhouse wallpapered with pages of prayerbooks, ledgers, and how-to manuals.
Where is it? EONTA Space is at 34 Dekalb Avenue in McGinley Square, at the leafy terminus of a dead-end street, in a handsome red building overlooking a cemetery — a thoroughly suitable place to discover a fantasy world, in other words.
Why should I see it? “Founders Day” brings the spiritual undercurrents common to shows at EONTA Space roaring to the foreground. Peyton’s photos and silk-screens confront mortality and obsolescence with dignity and wry humor. Bayard fashions celestial beings out of discarded fabrics and invites visitors to step into the embrace of angels’ wings. Farber carves so deeply into books of theology and Hebrew scripture that it’s like she’s trying to untether something chained up there. She cuts a cross into a vintage Bible (open to the Book of Daniel), a six-pointed star into a rabbinical psalter, and runs a pole straight through “Mankind’s Search for God.” A wall of books is scorched. A charmless stack of science texts strains under a padlocked metal chain. If you’ve got any feeling about books at all, or about angels, or about our numbered days on earth, here’s a show for you.
How can I see it? At the moment, EONTA is only open by appointment. But the Founders are rightfully proud of this installation, and if you ask, they’ll certainly show it to you. It’s the best we’ve got in town.
Featured work at top: Dorie Dahlberg, 16:41