Visiting the Jersey City Art & Studio Tour (JCAST) this past weekend was a daunting experience, with an expansive map including 150 art spaces. Doing my best to visit as many as possible, I spent a full day in Jersey City and never made it past the vicinity of the Grove Street and Newport PATH stations. Discussing the influx of new artists, the challenges of rising rents, and the rebrand from show to tour, event manager Sophie Penkrat told Hyperallergic, “As JCAST heads into its 30th year, my hope is that this burgeoning creative community collaborates even more to develop unique and exciting immersive and visual experiences.” Despite the challenges, including time, geography, and a glut of commercial work, six artists covering everything from protest signs to installation art, brought the event to life for me.
A long-time Jersey City artist and resident, the studio of Karen Leo stood out from the saleable and décor-driven spaces around her. Showing sketches of robots, her “art pantry,” where cans of Goya products were relabeled with film stills and cutouts, and looped video shorts, the space felt like a play on bad daytime TV. In her videos, monologuing characters in the form of mangled puppets missing body parts and teeth, express views on everything from making salads — “salad is just a fancy word for stuff in a bowl” — to job hunting — “jobs are for pussies. Just make a viral video.” The whole studio felt like a performance space where visitor interactions became her new ironic characters.
In the watercolors and gestural oil paintings of Carly Silverman, pop culture is reinterpreted — from the awkward humor of three women in pink bikinis falling out of their pink pool float, to that self-aware strut “fashionistas” cultivate during Fashion Week and never quite forget. In one painting, a faceless woman carrying a large bouquet of flowers and wearing a sweeping pink coat is aptly titled #gigihadid, referring to the fashion model and Instagram celebrity. Capturing the minimum amount of detail needed for her portraits, she gives consumer culture unexpected gravitas, as her paintings walk the line between Insta culture, fashion illustration, and painterly portraiture.
In the wake of Greta Thunberg’s hydrofoil trip to the United Nations, the feeling of activism is in the air, making the studio of Eric Magnuson feel like the right place to be. With an MFA from CalArts, the a former head preparator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, he has an eclectic studio full of Magritte-inspired protest signs, redacted newspapers, and monochromatic paintings. Everything felt topical, even if the political rhetoric during his studio visits was at times more captivating than the artwork. Discussions around art, political art, and activism were front and center, as the argument for artist activism grows.
Inside the serene studio of Hadieh Afshani, small oil paintings of dreamy interiors caught my eye. Isolated from the canvas like architectural blueprints, simple bedrooms are painted in watery shades of blue and green, taking cues from de Chirico-like Surrealism. Born in Iran before traveling to Australia and the US after art school, her paintings consider ideas of displacement and identity. Small embroidery pieces combine the architecture of Tehran with the interiors found in her paintings, while ceramic bowls and plates, intentionally broken and carefully pieced back together, are painted with fragmented portraits. Discussing her past, Afshani said she grew up as a “nomadic woman,” meditating on the uncertainty, nostalgia, and fantasy of the places she’s lived.
Like one of those empty houses on Halloween that leaves out a candy bowl with a “Please Take One” sign, the studio of Jinkee Choi, a Korean-born sculptor, was full of art and totally abandoned. His installation, also a departure from most open studio experiences, consisted of a single spotlight shining directly on 7 plastic cups of water, tilted at different intervals and attached seamlessly to the wall with wooden mechanisms. The entire experience, from the unattended studio to the conceptual installation, felt like it was designed to question our expectations of both art objects and art viewing. Playful rather than heavy-handed, it was a refreshing disruption.
Ending my JCAST tour with the serene work of Loura van der Meule, a Dutch artist who explores the landscape and architecture of her native Netherlands, I was drawn to a series of cabanas she painted on a vacation to Miami. Shifting away from the more traditional work on view, her small-scale cabanas showed the buildings shuttered after hours, casting long shadows on a sea of sand, framed by a dark sky and even darker water. Like flash photography, only the buildings are illuminated and rendered in careful detail. Isolated from beach-goers and kitschy wares, she laughingly told me the discordant buildings looked like they were dropped from space.
The Jersey City Art and Studio Tour took place from October 3–6, 2019, in various locations around Jersey City, New Jersey.