There’s nothing inside Gallery number 265 at 150 Bay Street.  It’s still easy to see into the room — those doors are made of glass — but these days, the only things visible in there are white walls and a brown cement floor.  

The blank space is a reminder of one of the more unfortunate occurrences in Jersey City arts in 2022. Gallery 265 was a roomy, handsome, comfortable space, big enough to accommodate the monthly group shows that exhibited work by the many gallery occupants at 150 Bay. It was the site of many memorable events. But because the Powerhouse Arts District is a place where we simply can’t have nice things for very long, the large room was taken away from the tenant-artists. Recent shows have been stuffed into a small side space instead.  To add insult to injury, the new room at 150 Bay is right next to the old one.  In a metaphor for the Powerhouse Arts District in general, it’s impossible to see what we’ve got without meditating on the better thing that we once had.

Sedimentary Burn by Josh Urso

Despite this, curators continue to mount the same sort of group shows that used to light up the walls of Gallery 265: shows that survey of the strong work that’s done on the second floor of the repurposed warehouse. The trouble is that the new main space at 150 simply isn’t big enough for such overviews. Last year’s landmark exhibition “Impact!,” for instance, couldn’t have happened under current conditions.  That show required plenty of wallspace to accommodate works of substantial size and conceptual heft.  It also demanded breathing room — room for visitors to relax and make connections between the pieces they’re seeing.

“Breaking Patterns,” the current group exhibit at 150 Bay Street, is a good show that, given more space, could have been a great one. Curators Josh Urso, an excellent sculptor with a studio at 150, and Ben Fine, one of the city’s most sensitive painters and a tenant at the Elevator JC building in Hamilton Park, do their best to represent the buzzing arts incubators where they maintain their headquarters. They succeed, mostly. But just as they’re heating up, in a classic Jersey City predicament, they run out of real estate.

As is almost always the case at 150 Bay Street, the theme of the show is secondary to the act of gathering the tribe. Elevator JC and the second floor of 150 Bay have both been nodes on the Downtown Art Crawl, and “Breaking Patterns” foregrounds local notables and stresses the Garden State obsessions common to the two communities: fragmentation, rampant construction and demolition, the discontinuity of life in an enterprise zone, environmental peril and estrangement from the natural world, and the savage beauty of the built environment. Elevator director Shamona Stokes’s trayful of her lovingly arrayed dolls in shattered ceramic is answered in eggshell by 150 favorite Paul Wirhun, who assembles fragments from chicken and emu eggs into a lurid grimacing figure. Alexis Bingham (an Elevator artist) contributes one blue-hued illustrations of an old building on a canvas slashed in half; Urso gives us a pile of broken concrete columns with their ends painted the depleted red-black of matchsticks. Pieces by the ever-elegant Barbara Seddon and the demon-haunted Bruno Nadalin of the Jersey City Art School suggest that Elevator is the place to be for local printmaking (Elevator was not included in this Crawl, but will be back in the fold for future events). Kim Bricker of 150 offers a powerful counterpoint with a breathtaking night-meets-day printed piece in eight radiant, overlapping panels. Much of the show channels the turbulence of water: oil painter Stephen Wuensch presents a collision of earth and firmament, and, perhaps, a flock of determined migratory birds, in his dramatic “Fighter Jets Over the Hudson,” while the provocative Susan Evans Grove shows “Beaux Reves,” a close-up photograph of a ship hull so pockmarked and scarred by the sea that it takes on the character of a coastal cityscape at night. “Watching the 8:30 Show,” a mesmerizing monotype by Fine, is a portrait of demure, tuxedoed monster with a turbulent, aqueous head. It’s wildly expressive, funny, and maybe a little frightening, too.

City Lights by Deb Sinha

This show makes its points. It also practically bursts at its seams. Tight quarters invite spillover, and two nearby exhibitions feel like extensions of the tone and tenor of “Breaking Patterns.” “Night,” at the small, excellent Outliers Gallery a corridor away, carries the shattered spirit of the main space show further, with striking Shore photographs by Dorie Dahlberg, moody painted street scenes by Francisco Silva, and the witty, socially trenchant cut-outs of Brad Terhune. Edward Fausty, the fourth Outliers artist, has a cryptic, beautifully printed piece that alludes to the genetic sequence of the coronavirus included in “Breaking Patterns.” Many of the artists in the “8 Below” show in the 150 Bay Street lobby are also part of “Breaking Patterns,” including Guillermo Bublik, who shares a pair of his playful amalgams of shape and color in archival ink, painter Deb Sinha, whose canvases plunge viewers into the city after dark, and Wirhun, whose “Overlooking the Moors,” a long horizontal landscape in eggshell, conveys natural beauty and desolation in equal measure.

Sinha’s “City Lights: BQE” could have fit nicely in the Outliers “Night” show, just as Dalhberg’s photos would’ve worked well in the (slightly) bigger space currently occupied by “Breaking Patterns,” and Robyn Prezioso’s understated but engrossing acrylic painting “Cycle 1,” which hangs by the door of the main room, would’ve been a welcome addition to the lobby. All this overlap, cross-referencing, and consistency of approach at 150 Bay prompts an obvious question: why, exactly, were these three separate shows? “Night, “8 Below,” and “Breaking Patterns” are expressions of coherent visions, and differences between the exhibitions are discernible to those checking for such things. Nevertheless, I’m left with the feeling that the organizers of each show were short on sufficient space. Once 150 Bay Street had it; now it doesn’t. 

The repetition of names and styles also gives the impression that the Downtown art scene in Jersey City is smaller and more insular than it is. This is reinforced by “Site: Fragment” (review to come), a tight, smart, exciting exhibition of works by Urso and Bricker lurking a block to the east at Novado Gallery (110 Morgan St.)  All of these are worthy projects, and it’ll be well worth revisiting 150 Bay Street and the Powerhouse Art District over the next month.  But don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a secret wish to snip the chain on Gallery 265, put these puzzle pieces back together, and give these works the room, and the dignity, they deserve.

Work at top: Door in the Forest by Barbara Seddon

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,...