This year’s roster of Studio Tour attractions is so impressive that a visitor could drop the needle anywhere and find a rocker. With the acknowledgement that you won’t be able to see everything, here are a few recommendations for places to start.
Greg Brickey has spent so many years supporting other artists — as an original member of ProArts, a leader in the Office of Cultural Affairs, and as curator of the recently (and regrettably) silent Meagher Rotunda gallery at City Hall — that it can be easy to forget that he’s a sensitive, imaginative painter in his own right. His recent work is full of city rhythms, jagged geometric shapes, and volcanic emotions. “Under the Thousand Stars” opens at IMUR Gallery (67 Greene St.) during the Studio Tour, and it’ll hang there until mid-November.
Similarly, the artist calling herself HAMEWS has been a pivotal figure in Jersey City arts over the last few years. I’m not here to blow her cover, if a cover it even is. I’m just telling you that her colorful, ceiling-scraping skeletal figures, assembled with love and humor from rags, wire, buttons, and patches are a highlight of the marvelously earthy “Is/Is Not” show at Eonta Space (34 DeKalb Ave.) Those cloth golems of hers manage to be cuddly and scary at the same time. In other words, they suit the season.
Fans of Herman Melville take note: MANA Contemporary artistic director Kele McComsey’s latest show is inspired by the literary master’s best known short story. McComsey’s outstanding curation at MANA has always been politically engaged, so it’s a cinch that “I Would Prefer Not To” foregrounds the nonconformist, anti-establishment themes of “Bartleby, The Scrivener.” Literary critics see Bartleby’s meek demurral and refusal to work as a protest of the meaninglessness and impersonality of corporate culture. Is it a mirror for McComsey’s own feelings, too? Perhaps. It seems notable that he’s mounting this deep, varied, and challenging show at 150 Bay Street rather than his own place of employment. Regardless, this is certain to be one of the centerpieces of the Art Week, and as close to a can’t-miss as there is on the packed schedule.
Over at her own SMUSH Gallery (340 Summit), the conceptual artist Katelyn Halpern is engaged in her own act of protest. “Disaster Place,” an immersive installation that transmutes the little art space into a portrait of the artist’s mind, uses scrolls, charcoal scribbles on posters, a clutch of surrender flags, a coiled rope, a deck of cards, a tea service, a dresser, and votive candles to generate the impression of a devastated interior world.
A feeling of deep loneliness radiates from the canvases of painter Keith Garcia, too. He’s a portrayer of congregations, sometimes at concerts, sometimes bathing together, sometimes doing who knows what in the middle of a desert or a parking lot. Yet the human beings in his images are always dwarfed by enormous, surreal geographical features or great, flat, blank walls. He’ll pull you into his stark, eerie, mesmerizing world at his solo show at Deep Space Gallery (77 Cornelison), a well-known landing place for unidentified flying objects of all kinds.
Both Clarence Rich and DISTORT have shown work at solo Deep Space shows of their own. But the odds are that you’re more likely to have seen their work on the sides of buildings. They’re two of New Jersey’s most accomplished homegrown muralists, and their signature styles are part of the visual language of the city. For Rich, that’s overlapping grids that look a bit like mineral crystals and a bit like tenement hallways, and riveting portraits of wide-eyed young men and women. For DISTORT, it’s sweeping, lyrical paintings that draw from American mythology while alluding to Renaissance art. They’re both in the Showcase at Art Fair 14C, but they’ve got separate showings, too: Rich at 902 Brewing (101 Pacific) and DISTORT at his own spacious studio in the old Tenmarc building (430 Communipaw, #3A).
One of the best stories in Jersey City arts in 2023 has been the emergence of Evening Star Studios (13 Monitor), a playground for creative ceramics right around the corner from Pinwheel Garden. “Opposites Attract,” the latest in a series of delightful group shows, features work from the shapeshifter Doris Cacoilo and Beth DiCara, whose kiln in the backyard has been a womb for works in clay by many of our town’s best sculptors.
Any opening at Curious Matter (272 Fifth) is a reason for celebration. “Returning” feels particularly noteworthy. Multimedia artist Arthur Bruso, one of the Gallery’s founders, has made no secret of his health challenges. But along with curator and partner Raymond Mingst, he’s rallied and mounted an exhibit of recent works — and it promises to be a doozy. Bruso has started with photographs of abandoned buildings and added layers of pastel and acrylic heavy with graphite. This act of overwriting is a commentary on decay, memory, and urban history. It’s as stark and seductive as a slide into oblivion.
On the subject of abandoned spaces, urban explorer and chronicler of disuse Alex Gulino is back with a photograph in “Tickled Pink,” a group show in the central court at the Newport Mall united by its use of every flamingo’s favorite shade. The pink-themed conceit might seem gimmicky, but some of the most reliably pleasing artists in the state are in this exhibition, including tree-whisperer Kat Block, haunted landscape artist Jennifer Krause Chapeau, clever alchemist of color Louise Wheeler, and Tejaswini, who fashions glorious designs that mimic the patterns of textiles out of plastic beads.
On the other side of town, another group show has a more serious unifying premise. “Artistas de Latinoamérica Sueños y Posibilidades,” curated by Atim Annette Oton, gathers twenty Latin American artists for a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Visual Arts Building at New Jersey City University (100 Culver). Oton, recently seen squeezing an illuminating show into an auditorium at the Beacon, knows how to generate drama, and she’s attracted Josué Morales Urbina, a practiced hand at teasing the otherworldly qualities out of ordinary plastic, to NJCU.
The Art Fair 14C at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal Building at Liberty State Park is comprehensive, shrewdly conceived, and it demands its own separate preview post. I’ll get to that in the coming days. Though there’ll be exhibitors at the CRRNJ from all over the country, most of the artists represented at the Fair have either shown in Jersey City or are affiliated in Jersey City in some non-trivial way. Many of them are headquartered here. The Showcase, a juried event, consists entirely of work from Garden State artists. For one weekend, all our stars will be out. My best advice to you: step out and see.