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.
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 recent 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: 1 through 4.