Sunday, September 30, 2018

Farewell, Victory Hall/Drawing Rooms on Grand Street

The sign outside Drawing Rooms' former site
Note: Originally I had planned to post this in June, but life intervened, so better late than never, no?

One aspect of Jersey City that particularly has interested since moving here over two decades ago is the small but vibrant arts communities that has managed to thrive in the shadow of New York City's far larger global art-industrial-complex world just across the Hudson. Jersey City's downtown, part of which was once dubbed the Powerhouse Arts District, once was full of warehouses and lofts where artists could and did live and work quite affordably, particularly compared to Manhattan and even Brooklyn. Many of the older buildings have been razed for new towers, which began rising in the lead up to the 2007-9 financial crisis, and once again began rising in 2011-12, or they were repurposed for rich condo buyers, as the downtown has steadily gentrified, scattering artists to nearby districts and cities, like Newark. A few organizations and a good number of artists have managed to hang on.

One, Victory Hall Inc., began hosting a series of programs in 2011 under the rubric of Drawing Rooms, a contemporary arts center in what was a former convent next to the campus of St. Peter's Preparatory High School, near the Paulus Hook neighborhood of Jersey City. Drawing Rooms hosted a range of shows of "two and three-dimensional works"--drawings, paintings, mix-media works, sculptures of various kinds--as well as performances by emerging and mid-career artists based in the metro area Its focus on local artists, especially those from Jersey City, Hudson County and northern New Jersey, has been heartening. Some have gone on to shows a bigger galleries in New York and elsewhere, but Drawing Rooms never lost the intimacy of its exhibition spaces, the informality and friendliness of the staff, or the affordability of works on display, for those interested in buying it. All of these set it apart even from most smaller galleries in the City.

What I learned once I started dropping by Drawings Rooms's shows, which run regularly throughout the year, was that its parent organization, Victory Hall, comprises more than Drawing Rooms, however; its other programs include Rainbow Thursdays Artists, art classes for local developmentally disabled adults; Artist Workspaces, hosted in Drawing Rooms and other sites in Jersey City; Victory Hall Press, which published original catalogues of work by Victory Hall-affiliated artists; Victory Arts Public Projects, which have included partnering efforts with other local organizations; and The Art Project, shows and gallery tours organized for four new condo developments, in conjunction with Shuster Development, in downtown Jersey City: Art House, The Oakman, Hamilton House and Gallery at 109 Columbus. (I have to say that while I understand how politics and economics have changed the equation for not-for-profit arts organizations, pushing all but the wealthiest to the brink, it still pains me a bit to witness the very institutions squeezed out or suffocated by gentrification partnering with gentrifiers in order to stay alive and keep a foothold in the very spaces and places they alone once brought to life. Neoliberal capitalism is something else, and this pattern has repeated itself over and over, I know.)

As of June 15, however, Drawing Rooms will no longer occupy its ex-convent home; it had previously announced that it would be moving to the Topps Building/Mana Campus in the Journal Square neighborhood of Jersey City. (The Mana Campus is part of Mana Contemporarythe contemporary arts powerhouse in Chicago and Miami. In preparation for its move, Drawing Rooms held a two-day final celebration and fundraiser, titled "Somewhere Over the Rainbow & Prospero's Grand St. Masque," which included an art sale, so I headed over during the second day's Brunch session to spend a little time with the artworks and artists, including James Pustorino, the Executive Director, and Anne Trauben, Exhibitions Director/Curator, who work I featured on here back in 2013, when I read poems based on them as part of a Halloween event. For the Masque, Drawing Rooms had taken its aesthetic design from Edgar Allan Poe's famous 1842 story "The Masque of the Red Death," and decorated the rooms in the colors delineated in the tale, with two additional ones, yellow for an eighth room, and red for the hallway, signifying not death and morbidity, but a rainbow's promise and ephemerality.

It was encouraging to see how many people were there that Sunday, and to later learn that a number of the artworks did sell. Below are some photos from the event; you can find the names and titles on the Masque link above. if you are in Jersey City and want to see some of the artists whose work has been featured at Drawing Rooms, Drawing Rooms' new exhibits, "Now Ya See It, Now Ya Don't" and will open this upcoming weekend at the new gallery in the Topps Building, and there will also be an Artists' Studio Tour, including Art Project exhibits at the Art Project sites listed above.

The sandwich board out front
Some of the artwork (I can't remember which color
designated this room)
Artworks by (l-r) an unknown artist,
Cathy Diamond, Gregory Stone, and Brian Hallas

Patrons and supporters of Victory Hall
& Drawing Rooms
More artwork, at left by Robyn Feld
and Andrew B. Cohen, two at
right by god@daddy borja
Conversations amid the art 
 Works in the Yellow Room (I think), by Barbara Lubliner
(fourth from left), an unknown artist,
and  Joan Mellon (at far right), 
Works by Anne Trauben (left) and Joan Mellon (right) 
Conversations in one of the galleries 
The Black Room
Some of the art in it 
Viewing the art up close
The now former home of Drawing Rooms

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