Monday, March 8, 2010

Alley Cat Gallery = Art + Space

I found my favorite Jersey City Art Gallery. Tell the other galleries not to worry, I won’t be exclusive. I didn’t even know I was searching for a favorite, but I found it anyway—Alley Cat Gallery.

I think it’s once a month that our fair city hosts J.C. Fridays, giving the galleries and the stores and bars with gallery aspects a reason to highlight locally made artwork and the artists that make it. The program is worthy of support and a good enough reason to check up on the scene.

When it comes to seeing what is being produced by Jersey City Artists, I sometimes think that maybe I’m looking for the wrong thing, but nonetheless one thing I’m looking for is a Jersey City theme. Not precisely mind you—I don’t expect anyone to distill the meaning of place for those of us who live here that will enable better explanations of ourselves to the world—not that—but I am looking for similarities, for commonly held points of view that might distinguish the art made here and maybe make the art universally identifiable as being of... here. I haven’t found it. In fact, I haven’t found anything close to it. What I have found is talent, a DIY aesthetic, many compelling ideas and a refreshing sense of humor. And originality, a lot of originality, a heap of it. That’s the coolest thing about Jersey City art. I’ve noticed a compulsion for originality in these parts. With the Alley Cat Gallery, I found all those things—talent, DIY, ideas, humor and originality—not just in the art, but in the gallery, in the use of space and how the exhibit was curated.

Signs are good material for blogs, I like signs because they often mean something other than what is intended. They want to simplify logical directions, but in the right context, they accomplish either the complete opposite or at least, a completely unintended notion. Hence, the description of the Alley Cat Gallery’s show grabbed my attention – “More Than One Way.” “For one night only, three local Jersey City Artists, Joanne Simmons, Beth Achenbach and Leigh More, share in a visual exploration into the multiple meanings of signs. My way, your way, their way – there’s MORE THAN ONE WAY. What does your mind’s eye see in our signs?”

I loved the phrase, mind’s eye. You don’t hear that much anymore.

Don’t be surprised if you can’t recall where Alley Cat Gallery is located. I had a print out of the J.C. Fridays flier, but had only glanced at it while wandering home after a grueling day at the day job. On Jersey Avenue, I didn’t see anything that said, Art Gallery. Under a street lamp I read closer – Alley Way between 4th and 5th St (Jersey Ave/Coles St). I stared at the parenthetical information, Jersey Ave/Coles and the preceding, 4th and 5th – two pairs of parallel streets. Alley Way. That was the key. I was confused, momentarily astounded. I actually walked around the 4th & 5th street block looking for a storefront before wondering, could they mean, Alley, the actual alley. I saw a sign mid-street on Jersey. It had a J.C. logo marker on it. It was in front of the alley. I had never been down one of these passages. Mainly because it’s private property and also I imagine pit bulls and rats ready to attack strangers. Even with the sign, I had trepidation, I hesitated. There didn’t seem to be any evidence of activity, just shadows. A young man with a beard turned down the alley. He didn’t look like a mugger or a home owner, figured he was going to the same place I was and if he went first, the pit bulls and rats would attack him giving me enough time for escape. Both of us had to move to the side and stand in a garage door doorway when a mini Van pulled out of its garage, made a three point turn in the cramped space then headed towards the street.

As I meandered through the shadows, gradually an oasis of light appeared from the only opened door along the row of garages. I saw a cluster of folks, and a small stand with vegetables, crackers, dip, cheese, plastic glasses and bottles of wine—like a hunter recognizing tracks and droppings, I know all too well the unmistakable signs of a Gallery opening night.

Alley Cat Gallery is a garage repurposed as an art event space. The opened door is of course as wide as the entire front wall.

“Is this the Alley Cat Gallery,” I asked the dark haired woman behind the spread.

“Yes.” she smiled. “Red or White.”

“I could go for a water.”

She was Jolene Skrzysowki, who is co-proprietor with Kelly Saint Patrick of Alley Cat Gallery. Kelly, who has bright blonde hair, seemed to do most of the talking about the gallery.

It opened in October, and in addition to art they have hosted charitable events, such as a Halloween adopt a pet day that had only black cats.

“We look at this as the beginning of our first full season, which will probably last until September, depending on the weather, which is obviously a factor,” said Kelly.

Alley Cat Gallery events are one-shot deals, occasional happenings. Kelly said that the events would now take place with more frequency and the gallery will be a participating in other city-wide events, like J.C. Fridays and the Studio Tour held in October.

There was no heat in the garage. It had been a warm winter day but by now the sun was gone and the night’s chill was mounting. I had to pull my hat over my ears and button the top button my coat. I found the need to endure a little hardship to experience the gallery well worth it.

The two women transformed the garage into a gallery. Flood lights attached to the new wooden beams on the ceiling illuminated the framed photographs on the walls, made of white painted cinderblocks. The art was actually hung between thin link chains that ran from the ceiling to the floor. “We wanted an industrial feel,” said Kelly.

I realized what I liked so much about this garage gallery, there was no pretending it was not what it was, there was no attempt to pretend it was something other than a garage in a city. It may be grungy, but it wasn’t grimy; in fact it was very clean, an unadorned space, minimalist in a loft-space, urban downtown, soho-esque kind of way. A nice contemporary setting for exhibiting art. An industrial feel was certainly achieved, also a nice dollop of steam-punk.

A doorway in the back led to a narrow passage way between the houses. Plastic chairs and tables were placed there, small candles flickered in glasses on the table. It was a little too cold for outdoor lingering but one could imagine the potential of this unique space being a funky, fun enclave during the warmer months of the year.

The atmosphere was casual and hip, but thoroughly lacking pretension. Who could be pretentious in a garage? Besides, the Jersey City Art Scene is still in its local-centric phase. About a dozen or so people wandered by, some were friends and neighbors, a few had their dogs on leashes.

The exhibiting photographers seemed to have somewhat of a following. Not a bad turnout for Art at what was essentially an open air event held during a late winter evening.

The exhibit, with its provocative title, “More Than One Way,” was fun. The spontaneous feel was due to some innovative curating decisions. According to Kelly, once the medium—photography, the theme—signs, and the three artists, all Jersey City-based Female artists/photographers—Joanne Simmons, Beth Achenbach and Leigh More—selected—the artists didn’t purposely didn’t speak to each other about the project until a couple of days before the event. The result seemed to be an improvisational form of curating. The decisions on what to place which art where was made right before the opening of the show; in other words, going against accepted practice by most Art Galleries. By the same token, the curating decisions were made in the moment, in keeping with the spontaneous connections between the art of a mini-group show centered around a common theme.

The image of a sign is so commonplace it is up to the artist to add the necessary nuance that sparks the meaning a viewer of the art gives the work. Several of the individual images were striking. There was a picture of the word Peace nearby a woman holding up a peace sign. I didn’t take any notes on the pictures. I particularly liked this one image entitled Time Square Reflections (or something like that) which seemed to be signs but reflected in a curbside puddle. But it was the overall show and how it utilized the garage space that was the most successful part of the exhibit.

On the surface, the theme was pedestrian—signs—yet manifested in a various ways—images of actual signs, images of different lettering on a surface forming words like peace or love—and images of people holding signs. A simple notion enriched by an interpretation that functioned on a subconscious level. You made associations between images and the styles of the artists even though they too, on the surface, were disparate.

Walls made of white-painted cinderblocks, the opened garage door resting above, along the ceiling—the pictures suspended on chains, all the light for the show came from over-head—the culmination of the experience of this exhibit was an effective interplay, however unintended, between space and art. By unifying both—or maybe, more to the point—by the curator considering the space to be as much a part of the exhibit as the art—the exhibit achieved the mission suggested by the tagline—you wondered what you’re mind’s eye was seeing. It reinforced everything that the idea of signs entailed.

Compared to other gallery experiences in Jersey City, this felt nearly exhilarating. I thought about the exhibit afterwards for a longer time than usual for other J.C. exhibits. We all know the main purpose of most galleries in our (or any other) town is to sell art. The framed photographs at the More Than One Way exhibit were for sale. I’m not suggesting I know anything about what’s the best method of retailing art, because I do not. I have no idea. I don’t really care how well the photographs sold that Friday night. But it was a genuine pleasure to see as much imagination given to the curating of an exhibit as the artists used to create the work displayed.

Alley Cat Gallery may be limited—a garage, part of a private residence and without heat—it cannot keep regular hours or have long term shows. Jolene and Kelly made those limitations work for the More than One Way exhibit. They said they have several different events planned. I suspect they will be as special as the space.

The artists (left-to-right) Joanne Simmons, Beth Achenbach and Leigh More, whose photographs were on display at the More Than One Way exhibit at Alley Cat Gallery.

Visit their websites:

Joanne Simmons –
Beth Achenbach –
Leigh More –

Jolene Skrzysowki (left) and Kelly Saint Patrick own, operate and curate Alley Cat Gallery.

Visit their Facebook Page:


  1. Here are the photographer's websites.
    Thanks for a great review of the gallery Tim.

    Joanne Simmons –

    Beth Achenbach –

    Leigh More –

  2. I fixed it before I saw this comment. I commedn your sharp eye. Posting this stuff with the formating can be a pain, and takes a couple of tries, especially when it is longer than a paragraph and has more than one pix.

  3. Hi Tim, Thanks for the wonderful write up. Look forward to seeing you at the next Alley Cat Gallery event.