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Fifteen Places in Town to See an Art Show


We’ve arrived at the final JC Fridays of 2019, and that means it’s time for a revision of our gallery rundown. The landscape has shifted since the launch of Jersey City Times: 107 Bowers Gallery & ArtSpace has shut its doors, and its guiding spirit Kristin DeAngelis is now curating shows at a pair of Silverman properties (Hamilton Square at 232 Pavonia, which is open to the public, and the Majestic at 222 Montgomery, which isn’t). To our list, we welcome the Fine Arts Gallery at St. Peter’s, the pleasantly mysterious Eonta Space, and the gorgeous Village West Gallery on the ground floor of a private home in the shadow of the elevated pillars of the Turnpike Extension.

The JC Fridays calendar is another reminder that Jersey City is a visual arts town. It’s what we do well, and it’s a comparative advantage the city has over other municipalities in the Garden State (and beyond). We love to look at pictures, and sculptures, and photographs, and off-the-wall installations. The annual Jersey City Art and Studio Tour turns the entire town into a giant open gallery. While there are plenty of other cultural events on the calendar, JCAST feels like the anchor of local culture.

Funny, then, that we still don’t have a town museum to call our own. For a while we did, and the husk of the Jersey City Museum still squats, unloved, on the corner of Montgomery and Monmouth. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the arts in Jersey City that the closure of the museum — it shut its doors in 2010 — didn’t lay a glove on the local scene. (The loss of the Arts Center at 111 First Street is another story altogether and outside the scope of a roundup.) There are still many, many places to catch outstanding art shows; same as it ever was.

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. It’s a rundown of rooms where we’ve seen special things, but there are many others, and we’ll add to this page as exciting new places open. Launching an art gallery is easier than opening a restaurant or a music venue: All you really need is wall space, a source of light, and open-minded visitors. We expect that the gallery scene in Jersey City will remain in flux, and fans of the unpredictable that we are, that’s exactly how we like it.

Art House Productions

One of the adamantine institutions of Jersey City culture, Art House Productions has been entertaining and enlivening the city since 2001. Over the years, the location of the “house” itself has moved, but they’ve found a permanent home in the demilitarized zone between the Holland Tunnel and the Hoboken border. (They’re in the building with the Bowie mural on it, naturally.) While Art House is most closely associated with performances and festivals, they’ve got a lovely gallery there, too. The recent joint exhibition of works by Méïr Srebriansky, a painter in resin, and Geraldine Neuwirth, a provocative paper cutter, was a bold splash of color and kinetic energy.  (262 17th St., www.arthouseproductions.org)

Curious Matter

Some galleries announce their presence in a neighborhood with a bang and a shout, and some address passersby in an alluring whisper. Curious Matter has been on Fifth  Street between Coles and Jersey for more than a decade, but it still feels like a secret. Part of that is the building itself — one of those downtown row houses that’s pretty as a jewelry box. It promises delights inside, and again and again, Curious Matter has delivered with shows that are deeply intelligent, often beautiful, and entirely consistent with the gallery’s name. This spring’s “To Some Point True and Unproven” was a soft-spoken, physics-minded stunner. More like that one will surely follow. (272 5th St., www.curiousmatter.org)

Deep Space

Cornelison Avenue, the western limit of a large industrial zone tucked away in Bergen-Lafayette, doesn’t get too much foot traffic. But Deep Space Gallery is making Cornelison a destination: Their shows are audacious, vital, thought provoking, and pleasantly frequent. This artist-run space has been one of the most active in town, regularly hosting first-rate, world-class shows in relatively humble digs. This summer’s “Love Triangle” was a mesmerizing geometric delight that, quite frankly, blew most contemporaneous New York museum exhibitions away. Deep Space is a quintessential Hudson County gallery, and if you’re interested in local art at all, you owe it to yourself to visit. (77 Cornelison Ave., www.deepspacejc.com)

Drawing Rooms

Just down Newark Avenue from Mana is the Topps Industrial Building: a little grungier, a little greyer, a little less striking, a little easier to overlook. But the old warehouse contains a quietly impressive gallery with a long history of excellent shows. Like many institutions (and people!) in Jersey City, Drawing Rooms recently moved from downtown to the environs of Journal Square, and the gallery has made the most of its bigger space. Its most recent show, “Cosmic Love,” felt like a callback to the freewheeling days of the Arts Center at 111 First Streetand featured a dazzling suspended sculpture in string by Maggie Ens, one of 111’s leading lights. (926 Newark Ave., www.drawingrooms.org)

Eonta Space

At the tail end of a stubby and otherwise undistinguished cul-de-sac in McGinley Square squats an old taxi depot that has been seized by art imps and transformed into one of Jersey City’s genuine secret playgrounds. The gallery abuts an old cemetery, but there’s nothing funereal about what happens inside: Experimentation and liveliness is the rule. This autumn, local conjurer Bayard transformed Eonta into a Seussian fairylandpopulated by giant sculptures festooned with thousands of ribbons. He encouraged visitors to hug them. They really did seem to hug back. (34 DeKalb Ave., eontaspacenj.com)

Fine Arts Gallery

St. Peter’s University maintains its art gallery in a wide corridor on the fifth floor of the Mac Mahon Student Center, which means you’ll probably bypass several student lounges as well as cafeterias, rec rooms, and undergraduates in various states of study in order to get there. But since the Center is open nearly every afternoon, it’s actually one of the easier galleries in town to visit, and the incongruity of the setting will melt away once you sink into the show. The playful “Reprocess,” a recent sculptural exhibition featuring the works of local artists Jodie Fink and Robert Lach, made imaginative use of repurposed industrial materialsthat evoked Hudson County’s manufacturing past. (47 Glenwood Ave., saintpeters.edu/fineartsgallery)

Mana Contemporary

Mana feels like the big kid on the block: For all intents and purposes, it’s a contemporary arts museum even if it doesn’t call itself one. It’s huge, it’s multifaceted, it’s got its own parking lot, and it’s just about the only arts space in town where you’ll be able to see multiple exhibitions in a single visit. It’s also the rare local arts institution with branches in other cities: There’s a Mana Miami and a Mana in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. But the Jersey City Mana is the flagship, and it has certainly made an asset out of the giant former tobacco factory where it resides. Tip: An outstanding, perennially intriguing individual gallery within the huge Mana complex belongs to Scott Eder, who specializes in the art of comic books. (888 Newark Ave., www.manacontemporary.com)

Meagher Rotunda Gallery

Normally, we wouldn’t encourage art appreciators to visit City Hall. We’re not cruel like that. But 280 Grove Street is architecturally significant, both inside and outside, and its dedicated gallery in the Meagher Rotunda really does put on fine, community-centered shows. While it can be tough for the art to compete with the wrought iron balustrade, wooden wainscoting, and colored tile floor of the space, the curators have a long track record of making it work. Better yet, the Meagher Rotunda is one of the most active gallery spaces in town: They’ve got a new show nearly every month. Should you happen to see any politicians while you’re visiting, just avert your eyes and concentrate on the art. (280 Grove St., www.jerseycityculture.org)

MoRA

Once called the C.A.S.E., short for Committee for the Absorption of Soviet Emigres, the MoRA is a small but rigorously curated museum of offbeat Russian art. That means the emphasis here has always been on art that wasn’t sanctioned by the Soviet state and was, either implicitly or explicitly, critical of totalitarianism. But MoRA isn’t strictly Russian. An expansive summer show highlighted new works by Korean artists alongside their European and American counterparts. The MoRA is located in one of the prettiest buildings in Paulus Hook, and that’s saying something. Note: Members get in for free; there’s a recommended $10 donation for everybody else. (80 Grand St., www.moramuseum.org)

NJCU Visual Arts Gallery & Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery

The biggest educational institution in the city maintainstwo 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 kid cousin, is located in the most architecturally significant building on campus: austere Hepburn Hall. There is also a fine art space on the campus of Hudson County Community College: the Benjamin Dineen and Dennis Hull Gallery. Go back to school; there’ll be something to see. (100 Culver Ave., www.njcu.edu)

Novado Gallery

When activists first conceptualized the Powerhouse Arts District in the ’00s, it was spaces like Novado Gallery they were envisioning: roomy enough to host a yoga class, and friendly, active, imaginative and resplendent with architectural features that link the space to the neighborhood’s industrial past. The Gallery is one of the most active spaces in Hudson County, its monthly shows are always shrewdly curated, and its hours (open five days a week) are generous by anybody’s standards. (110 Morgan St.,www.novadogallery.com)

Panepinto Galleries

70 Hudson Street looks like a bank. A nice bank, mind you, but not exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find any artistic ferment. But hey, bankers have always supported the arts (well, some of them, anyway), and the Panepinto Galleries gives those who aren’t involved in the financial services industry a reason to hang out on the Paulus Hook waterfront. The favored style runs toward abstract expressionism and that which you might associate with hotel lobbies and corporate atriums, but there are definitely exceptions. The recent show “Something Blue” featured blue paintings in various styles, and the effect was enveloping indeed. (70 Hudson St., www.panepintogalleries.com)

PRIME Gallery

PRIME is a real estate company with residential listings in Hoboken and the Heights; if you’re renting in Jersey City, there’s a decent chance you’ve worked with them before. They’ve also dedicated enough space to artwork in their sharply-appointed, brick-walled office, too, that it’s more than fair of them to call it a gallery. Many of the shows at PRIME have focused on local favorites like Kayt Hester, Ricardo Roig, and Robert Piersanti, names that’ll be familiar to those who’ve followed visual art in Hudson County for the past two decades. “Up 4 Interpretation,” the current group show, contains nothing but work by Jersey City artists. (614 Palisade Ave., www.primegallery.art)

SMUSH Gallery

The SMUSH Gallery is owned and directed by a true multidisciplinary artist, and the bookings reflect her omnivorous tastes. The gallery in Journal Square has hosted dance ensembles, rock groups, comedians, a lesbian crafting circle, a weaving workshop, and probably many other things that have eluded our notice. But it’s also a really good, playful, and approachable space to see visual art, and it’s one that always seems to have something engaging going on. This summer, they even fulfilled every gallerygoer’s deepest wish: Alex Pergament’s “TouchTouch” show let visitors feel the art that was on exhibit. It’s not called SMUSH for nothing. (340 Summit Ave., www.smushgallery.com)

Village West Gallery

Just a few doors down from White Eagle Hall is a lesser known cultural institution, but one that is, in its quieter way, just as impressive. The Village West Gallery is the first floor of a private home, one that has been renovated, in part, with wood reclaimed from the Arts Center at 111 First Street. It’s a room that demands from its visitors a certain meditative and thoughtful pace — a mood that “Slow Art,” the most recent show at the space, did plenty to reinforce. (331 Newark Ave., villagewestgallery.com)

 

Are you regularly hosting art exhibitions in Jersey City? Have you got something to add to the local conversation? If so, we want to hear from you. Let us know, and we’ll visit your gallery and add it to the guide.

 

 

Anne Novado: New Queen of the Art Scene


“Would you like some organic tequila?” Anne Novado asks me as we settle into her gallery’s sitting area a few nights before her current show. Novado Gallery itself is like an aesthetic shot of tequila. Opened in late 2016 and tucked into Jersey City’s Powerhouse Arts District, the gallery hit the ground like a stylish Cessna. The space is elegantly appointed with exposed wood beams, lofty ceilings, and a carefully designed layout. But what’s notable about Novado openings is a slightly older crowd of art patrons and New Yorkers.

Novado’s own artwork “Stranger than Friction”, graphite on vellum, 38″ x 31″

Anne Novado is no newcomer to the art world. As a practicing artist herself with an MFA from Syracuse University she knows a thing or two about art — and about how to make a gallery stand out. While teaching at Syracuse and at Onondaga Community College she sat on the board of the nonprofit arts group ThINC (The Institution of a Now Culture). The group put together exhibitions “that went beyond the average landscape and figurative work,” Novato explains. “They were adventurous, fun shows, shows that elevated the arts scene in Syracuse.”

The same could be said of  Novado Gallery’s local impact. Like other Jersey City gallerists, Novado (along with business partner Steve Pearlman) wanted to create a dedicated space for art shows as opposed to a café or hair salon that also happened to exhibit art. Business owners and real estate developers often persuade artists to hang works in their spaces for “exposure,” adding much-needed decor to their ventures for free, This bartering was exactly what Anne didn’t want to see. After all, “does a lawyer set up a booth for free advice just for exposure?” she asks.

At any group or solo exhibition you will find a diverse range of artists who have established some degree of recognition yet have likely not been given a solo show at a similar mid-level gallery in New York City. When asked what drives her curatorial process, Novado explains, “I have to be excited about the artists that I show. That may be based on their humor or materials or perhaps the social commentary in the work.”

Cue Dutch artist Lex Heilijgers, whose work currently on exhibit at Novado is a seduction of color, form, and emotion. Figures, landscapes, and architecture are reduced to their essence in a style reminiscent of Matisse or Picasso.

“I really wanted to show Lex’s work here in Jersey City,” says Anne. “He didn’t have the greatest experience at his New York gallery, and I felt that we could improve upon that plus give our community a chance to appreciate his work.”

She notes that since Jersey City is championed as one of the most diverse cities in the country, that diversity should carry over to the artists represented here.

“As a gallery we can celebrate diversity in the artists we show; through something as humble as the materials they use as well as the ethnic or political diversity they bring into focus through their work.”

What does Novado see for the gallery moving into 2020?

“We feel invigorated and are gathering momentum to bring more two-person and solo shows to the space so we can champion and focus more on the artist’s body of work. For my own growth — I live and breathe art, but I’m also a business person — I want to see how I can bring more people in and get them excited without overwhelming them, give them nuggets of information if they’re not used to accessing art on their own.”

Could offering an art appreciation program of some kind be next on Novado’s agenda?  This professor-of-art-turned gallerist wouldn’t rule it out (or simply “She wouldn’t rule it out.”)

Novado Gallery: 110 Morgan St., Jersey City, NJ. 07302, 201-744-6713, NovadoGallery.com, Facebook.com/NovadoGallery.

Header: Novado photo in gallery, by Jayne Freeman. Painting behind her is by Azarez.art.

 

Art Review: The Hudson County Post-Industrial Style


The rough places have been made smooth. Most of our old factories are long gone: ringed with cyclone fences or converted into condominiums or grocery stores or artist’s studios. Yet we all know that Jersey City was once major manufacturing territory. We know our forerunners made stuff here and that that stuff was rock solid and consequential, loud during and after its assembly and sometimes even beautiful. And we know that this version of the city — the city that was — can’t be erased entirely no matter how many smokestacks succumb to the bulldozers and no matter how many tall brick walls are tattooed with murals.

Artists are well attuned to this, better attuned, I believe, than the politicians who’ve occasionally made preservation a part of their platform.  Art shows in Hudson County are frequently repositories for our cultural memory — places where a visitor can catch the echoes of the Jersey City that was and hear some of the tales that the bricks and stones and dirty strands of fiber tell. It’s meaningful that MANA, the town’s largest arts institution, is located inside a warehouse built in the 1920s. It’s doubly meaningful that the city chose the disused Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse as the visual anchor of its designated arts district. We can turn our faces to the gleaming towers on the other side of the river and call ourselves a sixth borough, but we’ll never get away from who we really are.

All of the art shows I’ve seen lately bear the firm and grimy imprint of Hudson County’s industrial history. It was visible in the resin paintings now hanging at the Art House, the fabric webs and bunched cloth flowers at Drawing Rooms, and the hollow stump made of glued books at Mapping Life at the Lemmerman in NJCU. But nowhere have I caught the echoes any louder than at a pair of exhibitions in a part of town where the developer’s hammer hasn’t fallen quite as hard as elsewhere: McGinley Square.

‘‘Reprocess,” which is curated by Beatrice Mady and will be up at the Fine Arts Gallery at Saint Peter’s University until Dec. 13, and Bayard’s enveloping installation “Theme M Purr Purse Knew Close Or He Nay Kid Mother Far Curr” at Eonta Space, different as they are, both feel like strong examples of what I’ve come to understand as a specifically Hudson County post-industrial style. I think it’s the dominant style in town, and it’s one in which history keeps bubbling through the surface of the contemporary.

What do pieces in our local post-industrial style look like? Usually, they’re large. They impress with scale, and energy, and brightness, and they wear their ideas without intent to conceal. Even when the artists don’t operate on a grand scale, there’s a rough-hewn quality to the objects they’ve made. There’s a sense of chaos and kinetic energy bordering on clutter — collage, tangles, clumps. Materials are made manifest, and often, they’re ones with industrial applications: glue, grit, fibers, resins, threads. Post-industrial art isn’t always pretty; in fact, it’s sometimes downright dirty.

What truly characterizes the Hudson County post-industrial style, though, is a particular mood. This kind of art is playful, open handed, thoroughly comfortable with the occasionally soiled stuff it’s composed of. It challenges the viewer to locate the whimsy inside the heavy metal — and that challenge carries a message of quiet defiance. Our post-industrial art insists on the dignity of these materials, and, by extension, the people who’ve handled them. Theses object might be obsolete; they might even be, if viewed from a certain perspective, garbage. It doesn’t matter. From this trash, we can assemble a different world.

Eonta Space as outfitted by Bayard

I doubt Bayard was thinking about local history when he transformed the Eonta Space (34 DeKalb Ave.) into a Seussian playground.  Nevertheless, this great bear hug of an art show might be the quintessential Hudson County post-industrial exhibition. Out of humble materials, Bayard has fashioned friendly giants. He’s made massive sculptures — some twice the size of a person — out of linked frames festooned with thousands upon thousands of strips of fabric. Some of these have the quality of the business end of a janitor’s mop, others are reminiscent of the fuzz atop McDonald’s fry guy characters, others look as if they’d been torn from your great aunt’s frumpiest dress, others look like they’ve been snipped from the ribbon on an unloved Christmas present.

Swatches hang in great drapes, textile fronds trail on the floor and tickle the walls, they’re matted down to form a comfy bed for the gallery cat, they fray and twist like tangles of angel hair on the fork.  More than a dozen of these stand at strategic spots on the Eonta Space floor, overlapping, commenting on each other, poised to come shambling toward you. You’re encouraged to touch these sculptures: You can run your fingers across dangling orange strands in the same way you might set a wind chime in motion, or you can rough them up a bit. Everything about this show is meant to be tactile and fully sensory. Entering the space gives the same thrill as the approach of the giant soapy pom-poms of the car wash do.

‘‘Theme M Purr Purse Knew Close Or He Nay Kid Mother Far Curr” spills out into the backyard of the gallery where a lone statue stands sentinel against any incursion from the graveyard next door and across the street, where a clique of three vertical cloth sculptures cut a mischievous figure against the backdrop of a brick building. They’re a burst of color, a visual insurrection on a shrouded stretch of DeKalb Avenue. They’re polite neighbors, too — they weather the winds and rains cheerfully. In a statement about impermanence and in a refusal to be too precious about the art he’s made, Bayard leaves them to the mercy of the elements. He’s also managed to reaffirm the sturdiness and resilience of cloth. These scraps, cut roughly, have their own gravity, their own weight, their own specific beauty, and their own stories of perseverance to tell.

Tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac, Eonta Space seems like a secret; by contrast, the Fine Arts Gallery at Saint Peter’s University (47 Glenwood Ave.) feels as public as a train station. The gallery is located in a wide corridor on the fifth floor of the Mac Mahon Student Center, a big, square, modern building with campus foot traffic on all of its floors. Yet the spell cast by the “Reprocess” installation isn’t so different from the one at Eonta, and I reckon that Bayard would consider Robert Lach and Jodie Fink fellow travelers. They’re singing a similar tune, albeit in a lower key.

“Nest Colony II” by Robert Lach

Much like Bayard, Lach and Fink take industrial materials that might have been cast into the dumpster and give them new life. Lach uses the foam rings from packing tape, cardboard, glue, and wire to create sculptures that mimic biological forms. These honeycombs, shells, aggregations of barnacles, and broken wings hang on the student center wall like a beachcomber’s collection. The colors evoke the shore; the tone is hushed and maybe even reverent. He’s presented these manufactured fossils alongside photographs of cars abandoned deep in the woods — doors loose amidst the bramble, leaves blown on to floor, chassis exposed, windows long gone.

Jodie Fink’s assemblage of artifacts feels like a specimen drawer, too. Her small mixed-media sculptures are made from long-unused tools and kitchen implements, many heavy with oxidation, some broken altogether, others functional but bearing the damage of heavy use. Yet Fink manages to find the joke underneath the patina of rust. She’s turned these junked objects into expressive, downright talkative little fellows: A sawblade, for instance, when turned at a particular angle and slotted into a flattened can, becomes a shy but determined turtle. An old potato ricer is given cold-water buttons for eyes, and the ringed pattern of holes in the object’s ‘‘face” positively smiles back at the viewer. A protractor and a wooden clothespin becomes a “Pregnant Woman Walking;” a horseshoe affixed to a metal plate becomes the upraised arms of a “Strong Woman.” These are object-narrators in the truest sense.

These pieces go beyond personification. It’s more accurate to call them a sort of revivification and maybe even a resurrection. There was a bright and freshly minted spirit in these materials, this art suggests, and although that spirit can’t find expression in the same manner it once did, it can still be located, redirected, and honored. Objects carry the tales of the people who may have handled and possessed them, and in Hudson County, industrial materials whisper tales of our shared heritage. Bayard, Fink, and Lach are playing with ghosts, channeling spirits that lurk just beneath the Jersey topsoil, engaging in quiet, playful protest against amnesia, insisting on the dignity of labor, and reminding us of a town that’s disappearing from sight but which still hangs like smoke in the air around us.

Header: “Turtle” by Jodie Fink

Art Review: Slow Art


So how long does it take you to see an art show, anyway? Do you linger in front of each canvas, or do you jet through the exhibition with a tail wind? Since there’s no clock at a gallery presentation, you’re free to set your own pace. But if it’s a really engaging experience, the art has a way of establishing its own rhythm—and if you listen carefully, you may slip into time with the beat.

The participants in the “Slow Art” show at the Village West Gallery (331 Newark Avenue) have done quite a bit of thinking about time and speed and the peculiar velocity of perception. This lovely, temperate, occasionally apprehensive show introduces those reflections politely. That stands to reason: Slow art ought to be soft-spoken.

The artists approach the theme with the quiet reverence it deserves. Painter Anki King represents time as a dark substance, something slippery as oil, seeping through interlaced fingers at the end of a pair of frail and ghostly arms. In “Gather,” the painting that welcomes visitors to the gallery, time threatens to escape from the clutches of its possessor in a great black rush. Other works in the show cushion that same anxiety through repetition. Megan Klim’s dense folds of gauze, Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Salerme’s shaded, near-oceanic waves of blue ink, Jimbo Blachly’s strata of thin horizonal lines in watercolor, and co-curator and gallery owner Robinson Holloway’s elaborately decorated sofa: These artworks radiate diligence, accomplishment, time logged, a tough job well done. Meticulousness, they seem to suggest, is a response to the tick of the clock. If the artist can get properly lost in her task, she might be able to still those hands.

“Slow Art” asks the viewer to pause and reflect, respect the inner rhythms of the works on view, and indulge in the luxury of contemplation. But if you want to follow the call of these works and others like them, you’ll have to make an appointment to see the exhibition. The Village West Gallery—which is itself an elegant space and one that prompts quiet reflection—doubles as the ground floor of Robinson Holloway’s home. (Ms. Holloway’s cats are part of the permanent collection here.) It’s as big and bright as many of the dedicated exhibition spaces downtown, and it demonstrates again that anybody with the taste, a coherent aesthetic sensibility, and a few wide, white walls can put on a show worth seeing.

Holloway and her co-curator Diana Schmertz have attracted twenty artists to the “Slow Art” show, which will be on view until December 6. That’s a “JC Friday,” and the gallery will be open for a reception that night.

If you’re a Downtown resident or a rock fan, there’s a decent chance you’ve stumbled upon a bit of this exhibition already. Village West is just a stone’s throw from White Eagle Hall, and concertgoers waiting in line may have noticed David Baskin’s assortment of 160 oval-shaped containers in the gallery’s street-facing window. “Dove Bottles” turns the front of the house into a great abacus: The bottles are candy colored and easy to count, and if you surrender to the piece (recommended), you’re likely to find some intriguing patterns amidst the plastic. Like much of “Slow Art,” Baskin’s installation is a quiet charmer—it’s quirky and homespun, but it isn’t overly ingratiating, and it doesn’t lead with cleverness. The same might be said for Sharela Bonfield’s hand-embroidered “selfies” rendered on ten inch pieces of felt. These images of the artist, assembled stitch by sedulous stitch, glow with quotidian beauty.

Selfie by Sharela Bonfield

Dove Bottles by David Baskin

They’re also a commentary on the immediacy of digital reproduction and a challenge to those who might call art-making a waste of time and energy. Yes, says Ms. Bonfield, I will indeed take three months to a year to capture my image in thread; you go ahead and settle for your crude and cold assembly of pixels. The artist’s subtle defiance is a figure for the entire show and a shorthand version of its theme. Some worthwhile effects can only be produced slowly, and certain powerfully expressive mediums should not be overlooked in the rush to make an immediate impression.

Other works in the show practically demand close reading. A painting like Alexis Duque’s stuffed and teetering “Truck” can’t be appreciated at a single glance. The artist has simply loaded too much detail onto the canvas: rooms upon rooms and houses upon houses like a trash-compacted Santorini. He’s given the viewer twisting staircases to navigate and windows to peer into and objects crammed into every corner, and he’s put the whole thing on a pair of wheels. Where is this rolling citadel headed, and who are its inhabitants? How fast is it traveling? Does it move at the speed of the viewer’s apprehension?

Slow art, by definition, lacks the urgency we’ve come to expect from modern visual entertainment, and it does run the risk of offering comfort at a time in history when nobody ought to be comfortable. Joshua Mintz’s “Untitled (Bunker),” a piece that’s simultaneously adorable and terrifying, plays with ideas of ease, intimacy, welcome, and the all-too-seductive power of relaxation. This sculpture is a tiny replica of a rumpled couch in suburban-den green, with cushions in a slept-on mess, and the seat sagging treacherously in the middle. There’s even a pair of well-worn miniature sneakers on the floor. Here is the sofa as the hungry eater of hours: a dangerous place, a lure to the tired and unwary.

My favorite piece in the show confronts the notion of misspent time head on. On a rough sheet of cotton and wool paper, Jeanne Heifetz has drawn a partial globe of small interlocking quadrilateral shapes, each one distinguished from its immediate neighbors by minute differences in ink color and shading. It’s all gorgeous and painstaking and viewed from one uncharitable angle completely purposeless. She’s named her work Mottainai after the famous Japanese admonition against waste. Certainly it is impractical to spend our time like this—brightening the patterns on the sofa upholstery in house paint, folding and gluing gauze, crosshatching little squares on canvases, assembling hundreds of colored plastic bottles in a Newark Avenue window. But as Anki King’s painting demonstrates, the minutes are going to slip through our fingers no matter how tightly we try to hold them. How better to spend them than in the pursuit of beauty?

Header: Untitled (Bunker) by Joshua Mintz

Art Review: Mindshapes


Just as realism is frequently touched by the fantastic, abstraction is rarely total. Even non-figurative art is made from materials, and those materials often have strong connotations. Art House Productions is calling its new abstract show Mindshapes, which suggests a private, insular experience, something quiet, untethered to the rhythms of the practical world. Yet this exhibition, which runs through December 1 at the Art House’s small but handsome gallery, is anything but.

The two artists in Mindshapes make work that gestures emphatically toward the audience—work that, while abstract, feels deeply engaged with external forces. This is art that takes the viewer by the arm; it has things to show you, and once it grabs you, it doesn’t let go easily. Should you feel the need for a dash of hot pink to liven up the cold November days, direct yourself to 262 17th Street between Jersey and Coles. (The opening reception for Mindshapes is on Saturday, November 2, from 7-9 p.m.)

Srebriansky

While their pieces would never be confused with each other’s, Méïr Srebriansky and Geraldine Neuwirth do share certain crowd-pleasing proclivities: bold use of color, impressive scale, swirling lines, layering of materials, and a driving determination to break the flat, two-dimensional plane. If these are mindshapes, the minds that birthed them are fevered indeed. The work constantly threatens to leave the frame behind—and sometimes does achieve that weightless quality of wall art that defies rectangularity and insists on its own boundaries.

Neuwirth achieves this effect by stacking layers of cut-out paper, some of it painted, some of it scribbled upon, and creates distance between the sheets with the help of tiny glued supports that you won’t notice until you’ve stared at her pieces for a minute or two. Srebriansky uses resin, that shiny, plasticky, Koons-y favorite of modern sculptors, as if it were paint, slathering it on in thick washes. Sometimes the blobs of resin seem to have been extruded from the pieces themselves, or perhaps from a resin-pumping machine hidden behind their flattish surfaces. Neuwirth’s art feels humble and home-spun, even when it’s huge; Srebriansky’s feels industrial, tailored, and precise, even when he’s trying to make a mess. These works want to leap from the walls and meet, and shake hands, or dance together, in the middle of the gallery.

Both artists identify as New Yorkers, but Neuwirth maintains studio space in the huge MANA Contemporary complex at the western end of Newark Avenue. Unlike Srebriansky, whose paintings often have the skyscraper-glass shimmer of the Big Apple, Neuwirth works in a style that I associate deeply with Jersey City: busy, bold-colored collages, artfully imbalanced, tactile, daring the mischievous viewer to paw the art. Neuwirth, in the crammed Jersey City tradition, leaves very little blank space—her collages push hard against the corners of their frames. The top layer of paper hovers above the others as if it’s suspended there by sheer belief, and if it’s not exactly accurate to call these works sculptures, it is right to say that they’re built rather than painted. Abstract they may be, but their assembly suggests many things: threaded underpasses and overpasses, the sun high above a chaotic landscape, an architect’s most provocative model. Like many other artists who have worked in Hudson County, Neuwirth seems to be responding to the never-ending network of roads, the adaptive reuse of buildings, the overwritten neighborhoods, the constant, hungry, on-the-fly reconstruction that dominates public life. These are mind-scapes for sure, but ones that resonate strongly with the post-industrial zone that the Art House, and MANA, are currently located in.

Neuwirth’s work doesn’t advertise its constructed quality; Srebriansky’s work leads with it. In one of his most arresting contributions to the show, a roughly-shaped six pointed star outlined in bright red resin crouches over a part of the rectangular artwork that appears to have been ripped away. The rest of the painting (and this is, indeed, painting) consists of bright, overlapping splashes of resin that cover each other and ripple over contours like melted wax. Like Neuwirth, he’s attracted to arresting, near-dayglo colors: the pinks, magentas, and chartreuses of finger-paints or Play-Doh cylinders. He drafts figures on the chilly skin of his pieces: cartoon characters, greenery, a benign-looking pink pattern that, upon closer examination, resembles bomb detonations. The handling of resin here borders on the virtuosic, but he’s made room in his works for ordinary spray paint and acrylic, too; combined with the metallic, near-reflective quality of the resin, this strongly suggests the fronts of buildings on Downtown streets, impassive, yet decorated enthusiastically by graffiti artists. This is art that could only have been created in an urban context—in particular, in a city experiencing the kinetic forces of upheaval and rapid redevelopment.

The big pieces in Mindshapes are the ones most likely to get attention, but some of this show’s deepest rewards come from their modest-sized cousins. On an overhanging wall next to Neuwirth’s biggest contributions, six interrelated images are stacked vertically, from the floor to the ceiling. In their lighter wooden frames, these breathe a little easier, and feel a little more survivable, than Neuwirth’s more explosive pieces. Srebriansky’s style, too, scales well to a smaller size. My favorite work in this entire show was a simple study in blue resin, with a wave of dripping white threatening to swamp it from beneath. Its immediate neighbor is a flattish rectangle sporting layer after layer of resin in different colors. We know this because Srebriansky has pockmarked the piece, revealing a rainbow of gobstopper colors beneath the white surface. It has some of the quality of a dented car door, and it has an emotional intensity that many of Srebriansky’s larger, more imposing paintings lack.

These smaller Srebriansky pieces hang near the large gallery windows that overlook 17th Street. Across the street is a vacant lot on which a new building is sure to sprout soon; across the lot, a banner welcomes prospective buyers to the Cast Iron Lofts. There’s no great discontinuity in feel between the work of Srebriansky and Neuwirth and the scene on the other side of the glass, and this can’t entirely be attributed to this show’s occasional resemblance to street art. It’s also because, abstract as these artists’ works are, they’re also responding to volcanic forces that are remaking urban space on both sides of the Hudson. Transformation on this scale is liable to seep into your dreams, mold your mindshapes, and find expression in big, anxious, lurid pieces that speak volumes.

Art Review: Maps Everywhere


Maps tell lies.  Oh, they may get you where you want to go, but they’ll whisper distortions in your ear as you travel. The Mercator Projection of the earth — perhaps the most famous map in history — has misled millions by exaggerating the size of land masses at polar latitudes and diminishing the tropics. Many of us deal daily with Mercator’s local cousin: the New York City subway map on which an artificially fattened Manhattan lords over the shrunken outer boroughs. Artist Jacob Ford is a man attuned to the political implications of cartography, and his MTA Peutingeriana redraws one of the most ancient maps of the Roman Empire in the unmistakable colors and fonts of the Big Apple underground. The Romans, too, warped space in the name of clarity and put their capital at the center of the world.

Monkeying with maps, it seems, is an ancient pastime, and Ford’s pointed, persuasive piece is representative of a new pair of shows running concurrently at two galleries on the NJCU campus.  Maps Everywhere (curated by Donna David and on view at the Visual Arts Gallery until Nov. 26) and Mapping Life (curated by Midori Yoshimoto and on view at the Lemmerman Gallery on the third floor of Hepburn Hall until Nov. 26) ask and answer questions in slightly different tones, but they’re best understood as a single continuous exhibition. In order to catch both halves, you’ll have to navigate the campus — and yes, that trip across the quad and Culver Street does feel like part of the show.

It’s an exhibition with salience to Jersey City. Our town has been aggressively mapped over the last few decades. Much of this activity has been benign: Signage has improved, there’s been an increasing amount of crosstalk between neighborhoods, and public policymakers, some of whom are affiliated with NJCU, have sought insight into how our town functions. But maps have also been the faithful tools of developers and planners who have redrawn the lines and zones in an effort to squeeze every penny out of land that has rapidly appreciated in value. Walking the streets of Jersey City means engaging with the practical consequences of mapping. In 2019, maps are, as the show suggests, everywhere – and for those who require or prefer hiding places, this is downright problematic.

Under the Big Tree by Noriko Ambe

The omnipresence of cartography is a recurring theme of the show. It’s expressed in visual and tactile language that’s sometimes humble, like Vivian Rombaldi Seppey’s homey slippers made of maps, and sometimes striking and invasive, like David Nuttall’s Human Terrain photographs of naked bodies illustrated with roads and grids. Noriko Ambe’s Under the Big Tree crafts a great hollow stump from history books; Adrienne Ottenberg’s painting A Walk in Algiers is so warmly ornamented that its map of the African city could double as an image of a quilt. Her Algiers is a cloak — a repository of the elements of local culture, a long weave in the making and a comfort on a cold night.

Other contributions to the exhibition are stark, minutely observed, hyper-local, captured with the probing eye of the social scientist. Brooklyn artist Jennifer Maravillas, a specialist in creative cartography, gleans the contours of JERSEY CITY: 1841, 1976, 2013, 2019 from four historic maps and highlights their similarities with bright washes of color. The piece borders on an infographic: It’s as informative as any wordless work of art can be, and it suits a show held on a college campus. Dominique Paul traveled New York City in an electronic dress that doubled as a data visualizer: Wherever she went, her outfit would light up in a hue that corresponded to the street’s median income level (the dress and a video documentary of her trip are both on view at the Lemmerman).

A performance art piece like this wouldn’t be possible without thorough census records, and it shrewdly exposes the benefits and problems that accompany scrupulous mapping.  From one perspective, Paul is demonstrating the remarkable unevenness of wealth in our region, and, in so doing, she’s raising awareness of income inequality. Yet she’s also poking fun at the social-scientific tendency to color code and classify a place as complicated as New York City. What happens to a neighborhood when it’s stigmatized and consigned to the troubled regions of the map? Is it really helpful for the government to know what everybody is making, or is all of this cartography simply an extension of surveillance culture?

At least one of her documentary interview subjects has a strong opinion on the subject. He believes that it’s only the taxman who is interested in his low-rent neighborhood, and he stands to be counted only so he can be shaken down by the authorities for the little he’s got.  Whether he knows it or not, he’s echoing a popular argument against mapping and census taking that goes back at least as far as the Bible. It’s a perspective that Nyugen Smith would probably understand. His beautiful wall hanging of a reimagined Hispaniola echoes motifs common among the maps used by colonizers and juxtaposes them with more alarming images: a skull, dry bones, a snake warning away intruders. It’s an effective critique and a reminder that cartographers were indispensable to the Columbian exchange.

Ironically, it’s also a reminder that the tools of the oppressor could also be beautiful. Nyugen’s Bundlehouse Borderlines No 6 (emembe) really does communicate that sense of curiosity, play, and new discovery that is often visible in maps from the colonial era. Some of these explorers did actually believe in magic, but even those who didn’t had their imaginations fired by the encounter with the not-yet-known. Their maps were unions between the realized and the purely theoretical; they were documentaries, yes, but in another way they were speculative fiction.

It is hard for modern maps to cast the same spell although contemporary artists do like to recapture some of the mystery by blurring those state-sanctioned lines. Abby Goldstein’s Reimagining Brooklyn paintings begin with historic city grids, which she then smothers in her own colored ink — and the artist’s defiant glee as she smooths over artificial divides and mashes neighborhoods together is pleasantly palpable. The full wall of her work at the back of the Maps Everywhere gallery feels gently impudent: a kiss-off to the developers currently dominating her borough. Kingsley Parker’s Atlas takes this desire for a personal and alternative brand of city planning to its logical extreme. His maps look authentic, right down to the book he’s bound them in, but they’re entirely fictitious. This is escapism, pure and simple, and it’s wonderful.

So, it’s more than a little surprising that Maps Everywhere closes with an entreaty to viewers to participate in the collective manufacture of a large wall map of Jersey City. After viewing art that is unmistakably ambivalent about the implications of exhaustive mapping, you’re invited to plot your home and businesses you frequent on the grid. Surely most of the artists featured in these two concurrent exhibitions would agree that such a map would be a very cool thing aesthetically, and practically, too. They also might tell you about the real benefits of getting, and staying, lost.

 

Art Review: Cosmic Love


Cosmic Love 3 by Bill Stamos

The shape of the cosmos is curved. Its lines are soft, its dimensions are mutable, and its character is defiantly feminine. That’s the message — one of them, anyway — of the Cosmic Love show at Drawing Rooms in the Topps Industrial Building at the western tail end of Newark Avenue. Nothing about this uncommonly welcoming group exhibition feels rigid or cold: These seven artists might have their minds on the distant skies, but their collective version of space is nothing like a void.

And if that sounds a little hippie-ish to you, well, yes, Cosmic Love is as eager to embrace the viewer as any flower child might be. This is an exhibition that greets visitors with cloth vines bearing bright fiber blossoms. The piece grows out of the main space and penetrates the entry hall, and Jill Scipione, the fabricator of these flowers, does intend to get you knotted up and drawn toward the rest of the show. But the exhibition that waits within — one that covers a substantial amount of ground despite its modest size — isn’t particularly starry-eyed or blissed out. Many of these works radiate impermanence. As Douglas Adams (and countless physicists) assured us, the universe is a big, daunting, overwhelming place to navigate.

Two large works on paper by Bill Stamos grapple with this sense of immensity: Cosmic Love  Cosmic Love and Cosmic Love 3 greet the visitor to Drawing Rooms with twin slices of night sky. Technically, these are abstractions — colored streaks and constellations of glitter set against deep black backgrounds. Non-figurative though they may be, they definitely suggest astral phenomena; stare at them for a while, and they may lift you well beyond the roof of the factory.

Paintings from the deft brush of Sky Kim simultaneously evoke the grand and the microscopic. Her watercolors are so precisely rendered that they take on the meticulous quality of pen-and-ink drawings. Two works in her “Multiverse Series” hang on the southern wall of the main room — one may put you in mind of star charts, the other of furry, anemone-like undersea animals. Spheres, circles, and curves recur throughout the exhibit: Across from Kim’s illustrations of jeweled discs and hairy balls is a wall installation by Anne Trauben that includes clusters of round objects (including lightbulbs) in a steady and sinuous progression. Across from the Stamos pieces, a raft of Scipione’s cloth roses — the same kind that beckon visitors in the hallway — are arranged in a colorful clutch. It’s a humble, terrestrial counterpoint to the rest of the art in the show, and its tactility is a foretaste of the show’s wild, wigged-out centerpiece.

skykim-untitled-watercolor

Untitled by Sky Kim

Save a colorful scrawl by Jim Pustorino in pencil and paint, the second of the two Drawing Rooms is devoted to fiber art. Mollie Thonneson‘s strips of fabric and torn and repurposed bras underscore the pervasive femininity of Cosmic Love — the sense of the universe as a kind of vast womb, dark, mysterious but ultimately self contained and nurturing — but these pieces are upstaged by GYPSY KOOMBYEYAH, a massive tangle of colored thread, wire, torn sheets, hula hoops, and hidden nests for found objects. (This includes Spiderman himself, who peers out from a perch within the web.) Maggie Ens, the creator of this installation, strung it high across the back wall, where it hangs like a net waiting to fall on the unwary. Like all of Ens’s work, it’s chaotic but deeply warm: It feels like a ball of yarn any curious cat could get pleasantly tangled in, and it rewards close engagement.

 GYPSY KOOMBYEYAH is, indisputably, the Big Bang of this show.  But this star plays well with its supporting cast.  Ens’s view of the cosmos as a bright and bewildering net of associations and connections — one that contains joy and confusion in equal measure — one that’s shared in varying degrees by the other artists in Cosmic Love. The installation by Ens is big and bossy enough and contains enough fissile material to shine some golden light on everything else in the exhibition. These days, the cosmos is often imagined as an airless, unyielding place; this show is a pleasant reminder that it just might possess a beating heart.

(Cosmic Love is on display until November 10 at Drawing Rooms, Topps Industrial Building, 926 Newark Avenue, Thursday and Friday 5-8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1-6 p.m.)

 

Tip from Tris: If you’re making the trip to Drawing Rooms on this Friday and Saturday and you’re in the mood for some mind-altering sensory deprivation, take the elevator to the basement of the Mana Contemporary complex (it’s just across the street) and check out Kurt Hentschläger’s “SUB.” The installation plunges the viewer into absolute darkness broken only by occasional flashes from a giant light fixture. The combination of the pitch-black surroundings, the ominous soundtrack, and the sudden, spooky erruptions of illumination combine to create an experience of great intensity; to be frank, it’s more than a little terrifying, and it’s a crying shame that it’s open only until October 19. It may not have been the artist’s intent, but this mini show is perfect for the Halloween season.

Art Review: Deep Space Gallery, 77 Cornelison Ave. 


Deep Space Gallery. Jenna Geiger and partner Keith Van Pelt

Photo by Jayne Freeman

“Creating a collector culture”

It’s Friday night, one week before the next opening at Deep Space Gallery. Jenna Geiger and partner Keith VanPelt are hunched over a macquete, or miniature model, of the gallery as they hang the show with tiny cut-outs of the paintings included. “Jenna is very particular about how the show is hung,” says Keith. “We redo this a dozen times before we settle on the flow.”

Deep Space Gallery remains off the beaten-track in Jersey City in an unfrequented section of Bergen-Lafayette used more as a short-cut for frantic morning traffic than as a route for strolling art purveyors. Still, each opening reception packs the house with an eclectic group of patrons who come for the social scene as much as the dynamic artwork. This is a common lament amongst gallerists exhibiting hip, young artists who attract an enthusiastic crowd: All that’s been emptied from the gallery at the end of the night are the hummus bowls.

Deep Space aspires to change all that by presenting top-notch artists with a wide range of prices for their work. “Everybody can be an art collector,” says Jenna. “I especially love when we’ve inspired someone to buy their first piece of art.”

Jenna and Keith started Deep Space in 2016 with a particular vision in mind: a place to showcase under-acknowledged artists in the best light possible. The gallery quickly established a reputation as a home for works by graffiti and public murals artists as well as for art by ascending painters and sculptors. Artists shown here have been about 50 percent local, residing in Jersey City, Newark, and New York, while the remaining half have traveled from other parts of the country or abroad. Jenna goes on to explain their mission, “We wanted this to be a place to properly curate monthly shows, not a real estate endeavor or a restaurant or an office. This is a gallery, something we felt Jersey City had scant too few of.” As such, Deep Space became not only a place to see a show and gobble a few hors d’oeuvres but to linger and actually talk about art, to invite discourse and celebrate the outsider world existing within the gallery’s walls.

One of the many noteworthy observations about Deep Space Gallery is that it is  successfully cultivating a collector culture with their young patrons. “The act of buying and owning original art is one we pride ourselves on. This is a meaningful, life-affirming, culturally relevant transaction,” says Jenna. “For people to be a part of the creative atmosphere by supporting local artists, not simply to hang something on their walls but to be a true participant in the creative culture, that can be life changing.”

This is why every show has a wide price range, so there are pieces within reach for everyone. The gallery is gradually changing the paradigm from an often exclusive, possibly intimidating world to something that feels inclusive and collaborative. Keith continues, “The collector becomes part of the artist’s evolution. It’s not a financial thing necessarily, it’s affirming to the artist to see that the audience spurs the artist’s creative world.”

Currently on exhibition at the venue, Ru8icon1 is an American who lives full time in Barcelona. He came to Keith and Jenna’s attention from the program Mural Arts Philadelphia and was uniquely able to translate what he did on walls to canvas. He’s been in several group shows at Deep Space, and this current installation is his second solo show. Ru8icon1 is an example of the genre of artists who are attracted to the Deep Space ethos: strong voice with cutting-edge aesthetic. The focus of a typical Deep Space artist is never predictable. He or she could work in stained glass, relief collage, abstract, figurative or street art and graffiti—sometimes with a hidden identity a la the artist Banksy. Yet the common thread is a young and talented creator whose voice is distinct and specific, like an oboe whose notes rises out of the symphony yet is still cohesive with the overall orchestration.

 “Fish Tank” by Ru8icon1, 2019