An Asbury park husband and wife gallery team specializes in cutting-edge, often experimental works, combined with museum-quality print-making

By Laura D.C. Kolnoski

As Asbury Park continues its renaissance into a funky, urbane seaside epicenter of arts, culture, and entertainment, the Exhibit No. 9 contemporary art gallery finds itself in the right place at the right time. That’s not by coincidence. Owners Tom and Lois White have kept a summer home in the city since 1999 and have monitored Asbury’s return to prominence. Tom, an award-winning designer and illustrator in New York City for 25 years, permanently moved to Ocean Grove with Lois in 2008 and began running his business out of an Asbury studio doing archival printing for himself and other artists.

“I had the idea to start the gallery for a while, but the timing wasn’t right,” Tom said. “Asbury has an arts and museum culture that draws from Philadelphia, New York, and around the world. People like to come here…those from New York think they are in Chelsea.” The property owner knew Tom wanted to start a gallery and offered him a space.

“I signed the lease two months prior to Superstorm Sandy,” Tom recalled. While the location escaped damage, its renovation was slowed. Exhibit No. 9 opened last summer and so far business has been good, and growing.

“Every show invites new interest; all of our opening receptions are well-attended,” he noted.

Décor contributes to the gallery’s popularity. The pair completely renovated its 2,200 square-feet, dedicating 1,200 of it to the gallery, 650 to a comprehensive in-house studio.

Cellini Spread

“The original space was a vanilla box,” Tom said. “We wanted to keep the presentation simple. We put up wing walls and a center wall increasing the footage for display and creating more intimate viewing spaces. With our 16-foot ceilings, we can display large works. Passersby can only see a tease of what’s inside from the street. Our ground level is a cool place for special events.” Exhibit No. 9 has already been rented by groups including the Jewish Federation, which held a catered affair there.

Contemporary art aficionados and collectors are attracted to the established and emerging international artists the business represents, as well as its focus on experimental photography and urban/street art. For editions, it employs a dedicated in-house master printmaker, 9 Surf Editions, to ensure museum quality for artists and collectors, and also offers art placement options for homes, designers, corporate spaces, and installations. Full framing and mounting services for clients are available through the gallery’s production studio. Services include consultations, procurement, leasing, art and photography research and placement, installation and exhibition planning, and curating. A web shop will be launched this summer, too, so clients can purchase prints and originals.

“Exhibit No. 9 merges traditional perceptions of photography and fine art,” Tom explained. “Unlike other companies and services, we do not draw from large libraries of aging, irrelevant, or overused imagery to develop solutions for our clients. We meet, talk about, and review spaces, build a mission statement, research work from artists and photographers who meet the criteria, and produce captivating work.”

The gallery’s curator, resident artist, and associate director— photographer/author Rune Egenes, of Norway—earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in photography at the Film and TV Academy of the Performing Arts in Prague. His work, surreal and startling, has been exhibited and acclaimed internationally. He offers four-week seminars designed to present basic insight into photography’s history, culture, and art to increase awareness in the use of the medium. Participating students show their own works during class and participate in an exhibition at the gallery.

An exhibit entitled “Face It” by Luis Bivar is running through July 26, followed by “Dead Ringer,” a group experimental portrait photography exhibition scheduled for August 2 through to the end of the month. Six artists will participate from Canada, Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, and the U.S., the last represented by renowned New York photographer Ming Murray Smith, who has work in permanent collections in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and elsewhere.

“Fire/Works,” by To Lo, September 6 through 27, will showcase an experimental form of multiple-exposure photography. Lois, a fashion designer and visual artist, does much of the shooting, while Tom produces the images. The photo-visual artists use a combined eye to reinterpret everyday surroundings, travels, and experiences—bridging the gap between the medium itself and fine art, Tom explained, who called the work “unconventional conceptually, and in technique.”

“We bring the artists to Asbury Park and bring Asbury Park back to the world,” he said with a smile. “Not a bad reason to get up in the morning.” •

Exhibit No.9 Gallery
550-102 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park