Crawling implies slow and deliberate movement.  Babies crawl, caterpillars crawl, traffic crawls when you’re stuck in a jam.  The designers of the Downtown Art Crawl — the same people behind Art Fair 14C and the upcoming October Jersey City Art Week — are believers in careful appraisal.  They don’t want you blazing through their event.  They’d like you to bring your sense of discernment with you.

But in the way of seeds planted in the Garden State soil, the Downtown Art Crawl has put down roots and sprouted new branches in a hurry.  If the inaugural quarterly Crawl, which took place in July 2022, was loaded with action (it was), the latest one raised the stakes considerably.  The May 2023 Crawl added shows at Gallerie Hudson, the Art House, Novado Gallery, the Art Wall at CoolVines, the BOX Gallery, and the Canopy Hotel lobby to the open studio experiences at ART150 and the Elevator JC building on the southeastern edge of Hamilton Park.  Within 150, there were no fewer than four exhibits to see. Could all this really be done at a crawler’s pace? Or must we be mayflies, fluttering from show to show, alighting only for a moment before taking off again?  

I decided to find out.  I was determined to cover as much of the Crawl as I could within its own parameters: 5 p.m. through 9 p.m.  The weather was ideal, and your correspondent was in reasonably good health and spirits.  If my experience felt hurried, fragmented, or desultory, I might conclude that another Jersey City event had gotten too big too soon.  I would not cheat by riding my bicycle: this was a pedestrian happening in the heart of our pedestrian Downtown, and bicyclists, as a rule, do not crawl.  I left my wheels in the basement, plotted the most efficient course I could, and set out, on foot, at 4:50 p.m.

"Golden" by Pat Marino
“Golden” by Pat Marino

5:00 sharp — 5:06.  My first stop was Gallerie Hudson (197 Newark), a frame shop at the Western edge of the pedestrian mall that often hosts surprisingly good shows. Tidy, coherent ones, too, since they haven’t got a lot of space and they need to fit paintings into tight corners.  That didn’t stop Pat Marino from hanging some big ones: colorful, talkative ones crammed to the corners with symbols and visual events. Several of these canvases suggested cities grown out of control — the sort of cities that fill your entire field of vision and engender a sense of dislocation and confinement. His paintings were full of overlapping colored squares and pendulous figures that looked a bit like torpedoes, a bit like inverted shop windows, and a bit like a jeering section of long, grim faces. Gallerie Hudson is open every day (but Tuesday) from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

5:12 — 5:18.  It took about six minutes to walk from Gallery Hudson to the still-new Art House Gallery (345 Marin), where I was positively knocked flat by a small but wonderfully righteous series of pieces by the conceptual artist and painter Diana Schmertz. In “Don’t Say Other,” the artist paints the covers of books that have recently been banned, cut the text of censorious legislation into the frame letter by tiny letter, and let the wood shavings collect at the bottoms of the frames. It’s simultaneously a commentary on the corrosive power of closed-mindedness and the irreducibility of the literature. No matter how many letter-shaped holes Schmertz knocks out of the images, the world-famous book jackets are still instantly identifiable. If you’re outraged by book banning and philistinism in general, you owe it to yourself to see this show.  You’ll leave cheering.  It’s on view during the Art House’s usual weekend hours: 12 through 5. 

5:19 — 5:26. Right across the street from the Art House and the Bourke Street Bakery is the Canopy (159 Morgan), a Hilton that has always attempted to distinguish itself from other area hotels by highlighting its presence in the arts district. It’s a tricky place to mount a public show, though.  Visitors have to ride an elevator up to a second floor lobby that also accommodates a bar, a lounge, and a gift shop.  An exhibition has to shout pretty loudly to be heard over all of that, and so far, Canopy has not selected work that’s sufficiently pushy.  In “Studies of Chaos,” Chinny Bond gives us circular black and white abstract images of ink lines and thick clusters that resemble nebulae and other astral phenomenon seen through a telescope. It’s very pretty, but it assimilates too easily to its anodyne surroundings. Since the bar is public, the art show is on view whenever the lounge is open, which is generous of Canopy, and I’m certainly grateful for that.

"Nocturne for Olympia and Becuna" by Brooke Lanier
“Nocturne for Olympia and Becuna” by Brooke Lanier

5:30 — 5:45.  The current main attraction at Novado Gallery (110 Morgan) is “Berths and Ghosts,” an engrossing exhibition of oil paintings of the hulls of boats by Philadelphia artist Brooke Lanier. She’s plainly fascinated by her subjects, but she resists romanticizing them; instead she renders her old ships down to the the rust-streaks and watermarks.  Her vessels feel imperturbable, dominating her frames and barely displacing the sea around them. They’re just there, tall, stately, and occasionally lyrical, and worth memorializing. Lanier is just as good at capturing the play of light on the surface of the water, the reflections of sea-blue and oxidized red in the eddies, and the playful swirl of gentle waves against buoyant steel. The Novado Gallery is open on weekends from 11 until 5 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 11 until 7 p.m., Friday from 11 until 4 p.m., and Monday and Tuesday by appointment.

5:46 — 5:52.  Technically, the Powerhouse CoolVines (350 Warren) is in the same building as Novado Gallery.  Five masterful watercolors by Newark painter Kevin Darmanie hang on the ArtWall, a dedicated space for exhibitions in the southeastern chamber of the store. I’d already seen “Apartment Therapy” and written about it, but for the sake of this exercise, I stopped in again, and I’m glad I did. Darmanie’s scenarios are so cleverly presented and rich with descriptive detail that they reward repeat viewing. This time, I noticed things that eluded my eyes on my last trip to the ArtWall: a tipped-over bottle of alcohol in the closet of a selfie snapper, the weariness in the eyes of a masked woman painted during home confinement, the strange slope of the floor of a deserted flat. These are brightly lit scenes, but they’re awfully eerie anyway. They’re on view whenever CoolVines is open. 

5:55 — 5:59.  There’s art on the walls of the juice bar attached to the boxing gym in the Powerhouse District.  That’s not a Billy Joel lyric; that’s true.  They’re calling it the BOX Gallery (150 Bay), and if you don’t mind pugilists sparring in the next room over (Billy wouldn’t), it’s a bright and relaxed place to view pictures and sculptures. The inaugural exhibition at the BOX closed on the night of the Art Crawl, so there’ll be nothing to see there for now.  I’m looking forward to the next show.

New from deb Sinha
New from Deb Sinha

6:00 — 7:20.  As the clock struck six, I embarked upon a thorough examination of the open studios on the second floor of ART150 (150 Bay).  I was pleased to see how many of the cornerstone members of the art community had new work to show: radiant small landscape prints in novel arrangements by Kim Bricker, a tall, thin spire of fractured marble by her partner Josh Urso, a rewarding turn toward the cheerful and anthropomorphic by the imaginative Guillermo Bublik, portraits of brooding young men from by Deb Sinha, and a roomful of odd, unsettling, and occasionally hilarious paintings by the trickster Kirkland Bray

"Still Life with Opened Door" by Robert Kogge
“Still Life with Opened Door” by Robert Kogge

Yet the standalone exhibitions were the main thrill of the visit, including small but appetizing paintings of food by the playful (and presumably hungry) Francisco Silva at Outliers, a gauzy installation of AI generated projections complete with a brainwave harvester, and “Chaos & Clarity | Light & Shadow,” a group show featuring many of the state’s most accomplished artists. Among the highlights there: another unsettling colored-thumbtack fabrication by Valerie Huhn, a striking photo-realist approach to a pair of Jersey bridges by Hoboken artist Tim Daly, and a pair of gorgeous, somber still life paintings with ink wash and colored pencil by the late Robert Kogge. The show, curated by Kristine Go of MK Apothecary, felt like a teaser for the upcoming 14C Art Fair. The exhibition occupies the big space on the second floor of the building that has recently been closed to foot traffic. It’s great to see it filled with art and art appreciators again, and it’ll be open for an encore on Saturday and Sunday

7:33 — 8:25. The walk from 150 Bay to Elevator JC (135 Erie) was the longest of the evening, but the evening was so balmy that it was hard to object.  Elevator, unlike the other nodes on the Crawl, isn’t regularly open to the public, so I did my best to take in as much as I could. That included peeks into the studios of artists whose work I admire, including ceramicist Shamona Stokes, the pleasantly incendiary John Tokar and BARC the Dog at their clubby Wonderbunker Studio, printmaker Barbara Seddon, oil painter Stephen Wuensch, and Carly Silverman, visual storyteller and fashioner of fruit-shaped jewelry. But I was particularly struck by the work of two artists I didn’t know anything about. Photographer Lori Perbeck gave us a peek inside the austere and time-haunted home of a 108-year-old woman. Other images were just as empathetic, and just as spooky — rife with long, slashing shadows, translucence, refractions of light, and an interplay of female bodies and fresh fruit that seemed to tumble straight out of a dream state. Then there were the iconoclastic stained-glass hangings and mirrors made by Sarah Ordway, who found most of her materials on her own, and fitted them together in a manner that harmonized their rough and jagged edges.  In classic Jersey style, she’s found the beauty in the disused, and amplified the voice of the discarded. 

8:33. Back home and typing this article.  Tired, but not knocked out. 

The entire trip took me a little over three and a half hours. I didn’t skip anything open to the public, and I paid scrupulous attention to the work in every studio and gallery I visited. Between studios, I thought about what I saw.  I did not rush: I spent time talking to the artists about what they were trying to achieve. There were times when I was so enthralled by what I was seeing that my movement did indeed slow to a crawl.

I don’t expect that gallery-goers will bother to walk the entire distance or check out every open studio. But my experience demonstrates that it can be done, and done without cutting corners. The Art Crawl probably shouldn’t get any bigger than it is right now: if it grows any further, it’ll probably begin to feel like it’s comprised of simultaneous events held on the same night.  That’s been a persistent problem with recent Studio Tours, and one that the Crawl, relatively compact as it is, feels designed to address. It’s gotten a little bigger and busier. But it’s still coherent, still intellectually edifying, and still welcoming to intrepid pedestrians. Just wear your comfortable shoes.

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...