Garden State Art Weekend preview: 11 must-see exhibitions

arts weekend nj preview

“Words Have Weight,” by Kate Dodd, can be seen at The Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton.

One of the nicest things about Garden State Art Weekend (April 19-21): It is a reminder of just how many fabulous, undersung art spaces there are in New Jersey. Galleries, studios, creative complexes in almost every county are participating in the event, so it is virtually certain that wherever you are, you are not going to be far from the festivities. More than 100 venues have pitched in programming to the inaugural GSAW, and the wide geographic distribution of the attractions is a testament to the scope and outreach of the organizers.

Some events wear the Garden State name but only cater to one part of a varied state. That’s not what we’ve got here. This is a pan-Jersey happening done with great energy, inclusiveness and quite a bit of ‘tude. We’re telling anybody who still needs to know: we’ve got it going on.ea

The headquarters for the Weekend is Manufacturers Village at 340-365 Glenwood Ave., East Orange, a former industrial park now occupied by dozens of creators, including Christine Romanell, the sculptor and designer who founded GSAW. It is possible to familiarize yourself with many of the players and aesthetic trends in New Jersey art without ever leaving the Village. But you’re not going to want to stay in East Orange all weekend — not when there is so much to see elsewhere.

There is no way to absorb everything on view this weekend (visit the website at for a comprehensive list and a map); even catching a substantial fraction of it would be an endeavor. But if you are looking to hit the road and check out an art space you’ve never seen before (or return to an old favorite), here are 11 suggestions:

• “Kate Dodd: New Work” at The Hunterdon Museum, 7 Lower Center St., Clinton

If I’ve got one recommendation to give you for Art Weekend, it’s this: Catch Kate Dodd’s show. Dodd is not merely one of the most audacious and imaginative artists currently working in the Garden State. As her “New Work” exhibition on the ground floor of the Hunterdon Museum demonstrates, she also is a woman who knows how to put together an installation. With an eye for visual mischief and a playful sense of humor, Dodd wrings meaning from the disused. Cut-up pieces of an old atlas become a sea-blue helmet festooned with foreign coins, sentences from a science book are molded and fashioned in the shape of a duck, thousands of paper strips become the ground on which silos of words rise, each one crowned with a tiny house or factory. The most thrilling — and unsettling — piece is an inhabitable booth made from discarded cosmetic cases that, strung together in rows, reach out and wrap around the rafters of the gallery like ivy or mycelium, and join together in the lobby in a great heap that’s simultaneously hilarious and menacing. If you can’t get enough Kate Dodd (we can’t), she’s got a studio on the ground floor of Manufacturer’s Village, too. But “New Work” is the best opportunity yet to engage with her provocative vision.

“JB in Veil,” by Nan Ring.

• “Nan Ring: These Almost Lost Pieces” at BrassWorks Gallery, 105 Grove St., Montclair

Nan Ring is another Manufacturer’s Village denizen, and her studio (across the courtyard from Dodd’s) contains paintings of uncommon narrative intensity. Even if you know it well, though, it won’t prepare you for the storytelling complexity of “These Almost Lost Pieces,” a devilishly smart, subtly sexy and consistently literary show that has taken over the halls of an arts-friendly office building in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Montclair. In “Pieces,” Ring hangs prints of her poetry next to her painted portraits and object studies, and draws connections between the two forms of expression. What sounds as though it could be a multimedia muddle is harmonized by Ring’s unerring sense of grace — and her command of history, too. She has been inspired by female figures adjacent to the wider world of art — or who were artists themselves, but never enjoyed the recognition or attention that their male counterparts got. She is writing about them and painting about them, but most of all, she is thinking about them. Feminist inquiry drives this exhibit and, at times, it’s stinging. But it’s also about memory, and longing, and what happens to people when desire is left unfulfilled. In short, it’s exactly the sort of art show you’d expect to get from a fearless writer, which is exactly what Ring is.

• “Raphael Ogoe: The Unveiling” at Akwaaba Gallery, 509 S. Orange Ave., Newark

Many of the most innovative visual artists in the Garden State have a background in architecture. Newark’s Raphael Ogoe has worked on buildings all over the world, but on his own with museum board in front of him, he is drawn to create on a smaller and more intimate scale. Yet that feeling of structure and balance beloved by architects is present in all of his striking pen-and-paint representations of preternaturally poised ballerinas, warriors in tribal headdresses, and ordinary people who have armed themselves against misfortune with floral masks. These are people with tensile strength: They won’t topple easily. The stares of Ogoe’s subjects are sometimes searing, sometimes scathing, and sometimes begging for deeper understanding. They peer out from faces composed of hundreds upon hundreds of individual lines; they’re stressed, but they never seem to be unraveling. In almost all of his pieces, the artist draws equally from his West African heritage and his own fertile imagination. His work is a perfect fit for Akwaaba, one of the most elegant galleries in the state and a showroom for adventurous African-inspired art.

Ruth Borgenicht’s mixed-media sculpture “Spoon Branches” is currently on view at The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit.

• “Gallery Aferro: Dignity & Beauty” at The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, 68 Elm St., Summit

Roughly 30 blocks east of Akwaaba Gallery — right where Market Street meets Springfield Avenue — the headquarters of another distinguished arts institution once stood. For two decades, Gallery Aferro set the pace for independent art exhibitions in the Garden State’s biggest city and beyond, and turned curators and founders Evonne Davis and Emma Wilcox into two of New Jersey’s most consequential tastemakers. The gallery shut its doors this winter, but The Visual Arts Center in Summit wasn’t going to let Aferro go without a final love letter. “Dignity and Beauty” brings back a squad of nine Aferro favorites for a victory lap, including Ruth Borgenicht, a sculptor and specialist in uncanny juxtapositions of elements; Lisette Morel, a generator of barbed-wire painted scrawls and kinetic abstraction; Katrina Bello, whose prints and drawings channel the vastness of the sky and the undulations of the earth; and Krystle Lemonias, who has shredded and reassembled children’s clothing and couch upholstery into stunning textile pieces that examine racial identity, immigration, and the dynamics of child care. Great they are, and it’s exciting to see them all together. But mostly, this show is an opportunity to say a last, lingering goodbye to one of the cornerstones of the scene: a gallery that is going to be remembered, and discussed, and missed, for a very long time.

• “Christine Sauerteig-Pilaar: To Bare Witness” at The Center for Contemporary Art, 2020 Burnt Mills Road, Bedminster

Over the past few decades, artists have seized upon elements of everyday life and altered and recontextualized them to make statements about the limits of domesticity and the role of women in the suburban American home. Sometimes these aesthetic acts have been blurts of fury — shoulders thrown against the restrictions of the customary. Sometimes they tease out the beauty of the everyday, and the elegance of things overlooked and forgotten. Sometimes they’re both. Christine Sauerteig-Pilaar paints and draws female figures on sheets of sewing pattern forms. She shrouds these women in translucent fabric and stitches gold and coffee-brown thread into a little tapestry made from the sort of old doilies that might have once protected your grandmother’s prize table. Sauerteig-Pilaar’s women have their legs folded and their hands clasped; they hug their knees and grab their ankles defensively. Nevertheless, even when their faces are blurred, they’re looking back your way. “To Bare Witness” is an assured amalgam of loveliness and pain. It is also her first solo show. We’ll be seeing more of her work in the not-so-distant future.

Ji Young Yoon’s “5th Ave & 31st St” is currently on display at MK Apothecary in Collingswood.

• “Environment” at MK Apothecary, 330 Haddon Ave., Collingswood

MK Apothecary is barely 5 years old, but it already feels like a Jersey institution. In that time, gallerist Kristine Go has established relationships with artists all over the state and served as the director of exhibitions for Art Fair 14C, the state’s largest visual arts event. She is the curator behind “Static Motion,” the sweeping, energetic marathon-inspired group show currently hanging in the rechristened 14C Gallery at 150 Bay Street in Jersey City. “Environment,” the exhibition in her home gallery, is smaller-scale but no less ambitious. She is showing the luminous, otherworldly cityscapes of Ji Young Yoon; the small, whispering paintings on wood by Martin Dull; the painted hallucinations, hanging questions and cleverly posed riddles by the trickster Kirkland Bray; and the sandstorms summoned by Franki DeSaro, who uses red Sedona earth in her desert-radiant pieces. As is always true about Kristine Go shows, she has teased out connections between artists who do not, at first glance, seem like they’ve got much in common, and guided the visual conversation in a manner that enhances the viewer’s understanding of all of the work. Maybe the vibe of the old Collingswood pharmacy that she and her partner Michael Aguirre have converted into an art space helps, too.

• “Artist Tree” at EONTA Space, 34 DeKalb Ave., Jersey City and “Flow State” at IMUR, 67 Greene St., Jersey City

No city in the Garden State is quite as art-saturated as Jersey City. The proximity of New York is a contributing factor, but it’s not the whole story. Artists in Hudson County are not mere aspirants, and don’t work in the Empire State’s shadow: they’ve got their own peculiar aesthetic, and they sing in their own idiosyncratic voices. There will be strong work viewable all over town during Art Weekend (as there is every weekend). Greg Brickey, a veteran curator who threw art shows in the rotunda of City Hall, will work some of that transformational magic at IMUR, a gorgeous jewel box of a gallery in the restored back room of Rumi, a Turkish restaurant in the Paulus Hook neighborhood. “Flow State” contains work by Nicole Basilone, a painter whose dripping pictures of flowers burst with chaotic spring energy, the queer satyr-scapes of Daniel Morowitz, and the strange menageries of Sue Eldridge Ward — balls of plants, animals, faces and suggestive shapes. April seeds are blooming at EONTA Space in McGinley Square, too, where displayed artist Athena Toledo has selected work by two creators, who have, in turn, chosen works by two more. You don’t have to listen closely to hear the members of a creative community talking to each other, influencing each other, pushing each other. In Jersey City, you’ll get it immediately.

Works by Trish Gianakis are currently on display at The Watchung Arts Center.

• “Remains” by Andrea McKenna and “Indelible” by Trish Gianakis at Watchung Arts Center, 18 Stirling Road, Watchung

And while we’re on the subject of dialogues, there is a deep and rewarding exchange going on in the eastern Somerset hills. At Watchung Arts Center, curator Paul Pinkman has gotten awfully good at pairing artists who speak to each others’ concerns in unexpected ways, and in Andrea McKenna and Trish Gianakis, he has found superficial opposites who approach similar themes from radically different angles. McKenna, who paints faces in rusts, grays and depleted institutional greens on burlap and hangs these doleful banners on found wood, captures her subjects in a transitory state between life and death. Gianakis, champion of the bold gesture, creates portraits of adamantine characters and invites audiences to approach these near-superheroic figures through XR codes and other digital tricks. McKenna’s work is solemn but full of spiritual motion; Gianakis’ is forceful but also curiously still. They’re both pushing towards the transhuman experience — a state that awaits us all in an uncertain future where our identities are absorbed into the mechanical and the digital, or into the long blur of time itself.

1978 Arts Center, 1978 Springfield Ave., Maplewood

Some regional arts centers have taken the advent of GSAW as a prompt to create mini-festivals of their own. At the 1978 Arts Center in Maplewood, organizers have already demonstrated an ample ability to throw a party. They have combined openings and arts talks with jazz shows that draw from the deep pool of accomplished musicians who make their homes in Essex County. It’s a creative outlet for a community that is full of artists and, over the weekend, they will be showing off what they’ve got. They’re promising an open reception on Friday night, a party on Saturday with live music and food vendors, and discussions with the organizers and artists on Saturday. If the past is any guide, it’ll be lively: Maplewood is an opinionated place.

Gardenship, 205 Campus Drive Building, Kearny

Then there is the Gardenship, a massive facility in the part of Hudson County visible from the Pulaski Skyway — that bend in the Hackensack River full of smokestack factories, warehouses, truck depots and unbroken stretches of black macadam. The artists who have made their studios there have leaned into the industrial and post-industrial character of the landscape and given us a view from street and swamp level that ought to be familiar to anybody who has lived or worked or passed through Northeast Jersey. In so doing, they have reminded us that everything in the built environment is the residue of design, and as rough-hewn as it may sometimes be, everything has an aesthetic. This weekend (10 a.m. on Friday and 8 p.m. on Sunday), they are offering workshops on casting molten metal into resin bonded sand molds, which is a skill as useful to an architect as it is to a sculptor. If that sounds a little brawny and masculine to you, that it is. Gardenship is aware of this and, later this spring, they will be compensating for the muscularity of their activities with “Woman Heavy Exhibition,” a female-centric show at a new space at Kearny Point’s Building 78. In the meantime, their facility remains unique, and a crucial counterweight on the delicately calibrated scales of Garden State art.

Didier William’s “What We Will Make Together” can be seen at The Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick.

• “Repossession: Didier William and Paul Gardère” at Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick

Didier William is a master of lightning. The subjects of his paintings are shot through with electricity, illuminated and glowing, hovering above couches, upended, gyrating in space, or floating on the surface of turbulent water. Their bodies are made of hundreds of eyes, painted in white on blue-black skin, jolted awake by inspiration, or ordeal, or some combination of both. Paul Gardère, his fellow Haitian-American artist, laid on paint so thick that it takes on the quality of tilled and fertile topsoil. Both William and Gardère are portraitists at heart, and their mysterious subjects are caught up in the dynamics of colonial history, cultural exchange and intercontinental transit. Their pieces allude to religious imagery and historical happenstance, but they’re elusive, too — they seem to belong to no nation in particular, but they’re unmistakably modern New World stories. William teaches at Mason Gross; Gardère, alas, is no longer with us. They are astutely paired here, and the magnetic resonances between their work light up the spaces between the canvases.

The Zimmerli has put this small but potent show right in the middle of their European galleries to serve as a reminder and a riposte. It is, if you’ll forgive me, eye-opening: an encounter with unique ways of seeing that are nonetheless rooted in our collective experience as Garden Staters and Americans.


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