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Art Review: Ibou Ndoye and Adebunmi Gbadebo at NJCU


Painting on glass is tricky. Glass is not as forgiving as canvas or paper, and it stubbornly resists attempts by artists to convey texture. Yet when glass painting is done right, it shimmers like the surface of a lake — or the probing front of a camera lens. In Senegal, painting on glass is a science as well as a tradition: Masters turn out portraits on the backs of clear sheets, swivel them around, expose them to light, and generate an unearthly gloss and inner radiance that paintings with opaque backgrounds can’t match.

“The Wrestler” by Ibou Ndoye

Ibou Ndoye has plenty of experience painting on glass. In some of his works, the glass is broken, and fitted into the openings in wooden frames, like a ladder or a film strip. “Neighbors Near and Far,” his show at the Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University, doesn’t actually contain all that much glass painting. It mainly consists of huge, boisterous, enveloping canvases hung like tapestries; one of these is so long and broad that it spills down the wall and rolls, carpet-like, on to the floor. But all of these giant images possess the fiercely illuminated, sun-blasted quality of Senegalese glass painting. Glass is a major part of Ndoye’s artistic identity, and the translucent spirits of Dakar animate everything this artist does. Ndoye, who lives and works in Hudson County, doesn’t need to tell us that he was inspired to make these grand canvases after a trip to Africa. He doesn’t need to give us much background at all. The work speaks, eloquently, about his passions and his perspective.

Glass painting in West Africa has roots in a lower-tech era. Yet its modern resonances are undeniable. When done properly, a glass painting is seen through a thin, shiny transparent layer. It’s not unlike the way we modern viewers apprehend most of the images we encounter: through the backlit flat-panel screens of laptops and phones. The people on the seven glass plates in “Neighbors Near and Far” have the candid, shocked-awake, slightly distorted expressions that FaceTime imposes on those who use it. One man, depicted in sandals and a kufi, has his hands up and an entreaty on his worried face; another, a woman, carries an accusation in her eyes and a barbed threat in her hair, which leaps in black spikes from her head and scrapes the rim of the dish. Some of these glass vessels are circles, others are octagonal like a stop sign; all are, like iPhone screens, too small for the lively faces they trap and pin behind glass.

The characters in the wall-hangings play to the audience, too. A group of women sit around a mancala, and though they’re mid-game, they’re not looking at the pits and the pebbles. Instead, they’re staring outward, with smiles on the verge of grimaces, as if they’ve been posed there by an annoying photographer. The “Young Brothers” peer out between the skinny trunks of trees as if to challenge a voyeur treading on their turf. “The Wrestler,” the grey-faced star of a kinetic mixed-media canvas of paint and collage, performs his feats of strength and balance for two crowds — an arc of dispassionate dashiki-clad viewers who stand behind him and the real-life art appreciators on the gallery floor, who will be, I reckon, quite a bit more engaged.

In these scenes, there’s no place to hide: Sun and clear sightlines make every gesture apparent. Ndoye’s characters act like they know it. They’re all onstage or on camera, and their awareness of the viewer is inscribed in the pieces. And it’s this, more than the patterned backgrounds or brilliant colors or interplay of figures or even the facial features of the subjects, that marks this work as unmistakably West African in tone if not in origin. On glass and on canvas, Ndoye paints people who know you’re looking at them. They’re being watched, and they recognize it, and they pull you in to the performance.

“Uprooted” by Adebunmi Gbadebo

“Uprooted,” the other Black History Month exhibition currently on view at NJCU (this one is at the Visual Arts Gallery) addresses visitors in a thinner and sterner voice. The show features work by Newark-based sculptor and fiber artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, who works in a style that will be familiar to anybody who has seen recent avant-garde fiber art installations at area museums. Gbadebo makes large three-dimensional frames out of chicken wire and affixes massive amounts of fiber to the structure until it takes on the appearance of a huge fuzzy boulder or block. The boulder is suspended from a string and appears to float; the blocks are stacked into a great furry monolith of heft and subtle menace. Fingers of fiber climb a far wall as if they’re trying to escape the confines of the gallery. A long, thick rope snakes across the floor, daring visitors to pull it (don’t).

What’s really striking about these works, though, isn’t what they look like. It’s what they’re made of. All of Gbadebo’s artifacts are comprised of human hair — hair, specifically, from people of African ancestry. The artist does some amazing, gravity-defying things with the locks she’s collected: She masses it and hangs it in great bunches like animal pelts, she balls it up and stacks it, she pounds it flat until it has the consistency of paper and prints on it. So complete is her transformation of black hair that it often doesn’t look like hair at all. It’s possible to encounter, and even appreciate, Gbadebo’s work without ever realizing that the fibers she’s weaving, teasing, and flattening contain human DNA.

That is part of Gbadebo’s point, one that’s driven home further by her use of indigo dye, a substance associated with the slave trade. We don’t always notice the extent to which the manmade environment that surrounds us was built on the backs of black bodies. Yet to apprehend the full conceptual scope of “Uprooted,” the viewer needs to step back from the pieces and understand the backstory, the artist’s motivations and materials, and the conditions of the work’s creation. The show requires more than the basic transaction between the gallerygoer and the creator: It demands attention to something that can be missed if you aren’t in the know.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Museums in New York City have been mounting shows of that sort for years, and “Uprooted” does feel more like a Manhattan-style exhibition than anything I’ve yet seen in Jersey City. It’s hard not to contrast the Gbadebo exhibition with the tropical wave rippling at the Lemmerman. Ndoye’s figures establish an immediate relationship with the viewer. Gbadebo is quite a bit more parsimonious with her affections and with her energy, too. Instead of a rough neighborly handshake, she offers hard-won beauty. You’re welcome to observe it. Look at it long enough, and you might even get comfortable with it. But she’s certainly not going to do all the work for you.

Neighbors Near And Far: Ibou Ndoye
The Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery
Hepburn Hall
New Jersey City University
Showing Until March 3

Uprooted: Adebunmi Gbadebo
The Visual Arts Gallery
Visual Arts Building
New Jersey City University
Showing Until March 5
Artist Reception: February 19, 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Header: Ibou Ndoye

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Art Review: Cheryl Gross and Andrea McKenna at the Eonta Space


It’s difficult to be a human being on a planet in ecological distress. It’s far tougher to be anything else. Plants and animals have been hit hard by the Holocene—they’ve suffered from widespread habitat degradation and general disrespect from the dominant species (us). Some scientists argue that we humans have driven the biosphere into its sixth global extinction event. Others say we’re merely cutting a swath of unprecedented devastation. All agree: It’s bad out there.

Exterior conditions eventually seep into our interior worlds. Most thoughtful human beings are haunted by what we’re doing and how we’re living, and artists, for whom sensitivity is part of the calling, are particularly susceptible to guilt feelings. Yet expressing those reservations about our poor stewardship of the planet is a challenge. If an artist’s commentary is too subtle, she risks soft-pedaling something that demands immediate action. If her commentary is too blatant, she risks coming off as a scold.

An existential crisis requires an aesthetic response more forceful than the creeping unease present in many modern gallery shows. In a moment as fraught as the one we inhabit, we shouldn’t be put off by a firm guiding hand or even a wagging finger. “Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction,” an arresting two-artist show that opens at Eonta Space (34 DeKalb Ave., eontaspacenj.com) at 6 p.m. tonight and runs through the end of March, makes a passionate case for the animals.  It can be blunt.  At times, it’s downright angry.  But it’s never less than articulate, and if it prompts viewers to chuck fewer bottles into the ocean, it’s wall space well used.

Not that all of it is on the walls. Some of the pieces in the show hang on a gauzy black curtain—a veil, really—that cuts Eonta Space in half. The rest of the gallery is inhabited by Cheryl Gross’s creatures drawn on paper in bright, lurid colors. Almost all of them are single images of animals that are either extinct or endangered.  A few of these tributes to the beasts in the crosshairs have been framed. Others feel like they were torn from the sketchbook and hung in the raw, which imparts some added urgency to a show that already rings like an alarm clock. Some of this work was indeed recently completed: A multi-panel image of an owl, its white wings fluttering across a hot yellow background, bears a 2020 date. Gross is feeling the press of time. She expects you to feel it, too.

Those familiar with the artist might remember prior work that possessed the fantastic quality of storybook illustrations. These drawings aren’t dissimilar: Her animals are patchworks of colors and textures, and the scenes they inhabit often contain splatters of ink, frantic crosshatches, waves and dots that reveal a world untethered and in motion. Yet the whimsy associated with Gross’s prior pictures isn’t always present. Instead, there’s peril, and unwelcome restraint—frogs hemmed in by black lines that bunch and scratch like barbed wire, red ink that drips suggestively over the determined face of a tortoise, a penguin with a bullseye in its belly. A flying squirrel, soaring from a blue sky into a nebulous field of gray, appears to be coming apart. Others blend in as best as they can, but camouflage isn’t easy to find. Many of the animals bump against the limits of the page, their  presence too large for the paper to contain—goldfish that have outgrown their tiny bowls to which they’ve been consigned by humans. The message is clear: There’s nowhere to hide.

To her credit, Gross resists the urge to anthropomorphize her beasts. She’s preserved their alterity and with it their dignity. The artist demands that the viewer confront these animals in all their animality and see them as creatures with the same right to inhabit the planet that humans have. The violence of habitat loss is not always left implicit. One fish is trapped in a bottle like a mariner’s model of a ship, while another confronts a row of plastic containers (and another blood-red splatter) with a look of extreme agitation. This sort of literalism would swamp an artist with lesser skills. But her experience handling fantasy material helps her out—she’s able to draw an allegory with a point so fine that you don’t mind cutting your fingers on it.

Gross supplements the drawings with a fifteen-minute animated film that features some of the same characters you’ll recognize from the walls. That penguin, for instance, has a starring role, although notably she’s given a near-human personality and a near-human set of concerns. This elicits sympathy for the character, but it doesn’t address the viewer with the same straightforward, impersonal honestly that the drawings do.

“Undercurrent” by Andrea McKenna. Photo courtesy Eonta Space

A better counterpoint to Gross’s images of animals is provided by a series of devastated paintings by Andrea McKenna, who is also the curator of the gallery at Art House Productions. These hang like scrolls from rough wooden rods affixed to both sides of the black curtain in the middle of the gallery.  Each image is of a single spectral human figure whose face and body is dissolving into the gloom that surrounds her. Some of the paintings are so distressed that they’re practically translucent—like a threadbare coat that’s no longer up to the task of stopping the wind. Gross’s color palette runs marvelously, unreasonably hot; McKenna works in steel gray, rust red, and institution blue. Gross’s work speaks of a fiery, vivid present where the animals are in peril. McKenna’s paintings whisper of a cold future after the animals are gone.

Both artists do have their antecedents in the canon. McKenna’s images, for instance, echo the modern dislocation and emotional fraying that Francis Bacon captures in his canvases. Nevertheless, their styles remind me more of pop-album art than museum art, and as a huge appreciator of record sleeves and covers, I don’t mean that as an insult. McKenna’s scraped and slathered paint and ghostly figures are evocative of industrial music and the art that surrounds it—images from the catalog of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, and similar groups. Likewise, the furiously colored animals in Gross’s drawings bear more than a passing resemblance to the menagerie of Roger Dean, the imaginary-landscape artist who designed the covers to many of the classic Yes sets of the 1970s. Yes was one of the first rock groups to take environmental threats seriously, and Dean’s images, fragile and fantastic as they are, are visual analogues of lyrics about a world spiraling close to the edge. Yes’s message was timely then, just as Eonta Space’s message is timely now. But eventually, time runs out.

“Commit to Memory” series by Cheryl Gross. Photo courtesy Eonta Space

Commit to Memory: On the Precipice of Extinction
Eonta Space (www.eontaspacenj.com)
34 DeKalb Ave.
February 7 — March 31
Artist Reception Weekend Hours: Friday 6-10 p.m., Saturday 4-8 p.m., Sunday 2-6 p.m.
Header: “Commit to Memory” series by Cheryl Gross. Photo by Tris McCall

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Art Review: Works by Nathan Sullivan, Diana Godfrey and Robert Glisson at the Novado Gallery


In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis’s third Chronicle of Narnia, the characters step out of dull reality and enter a fantasy world through a portrait on the wall.  The seascape acts as a conduit between dimensions and a spur for adventure: It grows larger and larger until the characters fall through the frame and plunge into the water. Dawn Treader is a story for kids, but the magic that Lewis describes isn’t entirely imaginary. It’s a fair, albeit poetic, description of the transporting power of landscape painting. Paintings by a skilled landscape artist really do feel like portals into another time and place. A true master of the style—Hasegawa Tōhaku, say, or Breughel the Elder, or Jersey’s own George Inness—can pull the viewer into a parallel universe.

Hudson County is a place defined by spectacular views. Nothing impedes our apprehension of Midtown Manhattan—there it is, right across the river, monumental and breathtaking. Seen from the top of the Palisade, our own tall buildings and tidy downtown neighborhoods are pretty impressive, too. The broad carpet of the Meadowlands, the weird, crumbling post-industrial zones on the fringes of the city, the great iron bridges that arch over the Hackensack: These are all eyefuls. Because our scenery is so gorgeous, we’re inclined to appreciate vistas. The most engrossing art exhibitions mounted in Jersey City over the past few months have taken advantage of this taste. Candy LeSeuer’s seaside daydreams and Ricardo Roig’s urbane, detailed prints of Hudson County landmarks open windows in otherwise blank walls. The three artists who contributed to the latest show at Novado Gallery (110 Morgan St.) are up to something similar. You’d never mistake a painting by Diana Godfrey for one by Nathan Sullivan or Robert Glisson: Their moods, techniques, and approaches are distinctly different. Yet they’ve all got that knack for pulling you in to the picture.

“Eyeful” by Robert Glisson

Glisson’s work offers the most conventional ride. His country landscapes are blurred, bucolic, rich with representations of abundant daylight, and perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Edgar Degas. The strokes of oil paint on his canvases are so gooey-thick and hypnotic that it might take a second or two to catch precisely what he’s representing. Nevertheless, the heat comes off these pictures immediately. It’s summer in Glisson’s world, trees are overburdened with foliage, and the cows take refuge from the sun under the canopy of leaves. Summertime means life, life has weight and mass, and Glisson’s canvases convey that pleasant, comforting heaviness. The bodies of beachgoers in “Provincetown in June” bend with the day like the sail of the boat in the distance. They move with the elements—the wind, the sunshine, and the placid sea. There is no sense of menace. Everything is in its proper place.

Nathan Sullivan paints plant life, too, and he also uses oils to create his immersive landscapes. Similarities to Robert Glisson end there. Glisson’s paint is thick, swirled, rich as the icing atop a cookie; Sullivan’s oils approach the flatness of a photograph. The Novado Gallery presents five large panel paintings in his “Space Series,” each of which imagines an otherworldly scene in which the proportions of organic materials are altered. Fronds sprout to the size of trees, seed pods tower like monuments over a glassy marsh, pine-cone-like structures are tucked beneath a massive spray of grass under a yolk-yellow sky. All of these hallucinations are rendered with sci-fi precision. Lines are sharp, color contrast is striking, and the shadows correspond to the position of a strange and distant sun. These may indeed be vistas on planets where the flora, with no small amount of aggressiveness, has claimed control of the biosphere. But Sullivan is also playing with the notion of “space” itself: our collective understanding of the territories that familiar terrestrial objects like plants and leaves are meant to occupy. By changing the dimensions, he’s upended our expectations, and created provocative landscapes that work like dislocations.

For sheer transportive power, Sullivan and Glisson are outdone by Diana Godfrey, who contributes a pair of “Water’s Edge” panels to the show. These are the two simplest pieces in the gallery; they’re also the smallest. The “Water’s Edge” paintings, which were created with a combination of acrylics and oils, are pure landscapes: horizontal fields of color denoting grass, sky, and water. There isn’t much detail, there’s not much sign of activity, and there are no people present to trouble or complicate the view. Yet the texture of Godfrey’s paints is as soft as upturned earth, and her colors are deep and mysterious as those of a spring night. These small squares speak eloquently, and maybe even conspiratorially, but they don’t give away their secrets; instead, they beckon you close and solicit an immediate emotional response. Notably, Godfrey’s other pieces in the show aren’t landscapes: They’re a play of overlapping rectangles in near-pastel colors, some roughly striped, some distressed, some scribbled over, all fading a little. Their proximity to the “Water’s Edge” paintings bestows a sense of place on them. They’re redolent of country houses, old wallpaper, farmed fields from a crow’s perspective. Empty horizons always connote longing. Coupled with the rustic feel of the other pieces, Godfrey’s works in this exhibition suggest the deep country, land passed by and largely forgotten, but still possessing quiet dignity, still waiting to be appreciated.

Godfrey frames her work in rough wooden boxes, which gives them the feel of heirlooms tucked under a bed or locked in an attic. Glisson’s oil paintings radiate their heat from within classic gold frames (many of Degas’s also did), which reinforces their hot-weather quality, and their museum-ish conservatism, too. Sullivan doesn’t bother with borders at all. Instead, his panels are slices in space, images viewed through the flat windows of the arriving lander of a starship. But the will to lead the viewer into a netherworld of the artist’s creation is the same, regardless of the technique. The joint show, which opened on January 2 and closes February 8, offers seventeen fleeting trips into the yonder, some of which might even have an ameliorating effect on the harshness of the season. The Novado Gallery remains one of the most generous art spaces in town: It’s open five days a week, and it’s very pretty inside.

Header: “Space Series #12” by Nathan Sullivan

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Updated: 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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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