J. Johnson hosts final exhibit

Community bids farewell to beloved art gallery


First Coast art enthusiasts gravitated to the J. Johnson Gallery in Jacksonville Beach last week for the opening reception of its new exhibition of works by noted Miami artist Carlos Betancourt.

For many of those present, however, the reception was a bittersweet affair, as the evening marked the start of the gallery’s final exhibition. After 15 years of presenting a myriad of modern and contemporary artists – many with Caribbean and Latin American roots – owner Jennifer Johnson is retiring and the gallery that bears her name will close.

“It’s the passing of a tradition,” said Mick Shea of Neptune Beach. “The art was always interesting – you may not have loved every single piece, but there was always something wonderful and the exhibits generated really good conversations.”

During its time in Jacksonville Beach, exhibition guests said, J. Johnson became a beloved gathering place for the local arts community.

“It was a great place to run into all your friends who enjoyed art,” said Lorraine Adams of Jacksonville Beach. “People here at the beach are really going to miss it.”

Mary Neal and Jane Quinby came from Amelia Island to attend the gallery’s final exhibition.

“It’s just the best gallery,” Quinby said. “There’s really no other gallery around here that’s like it. It’s like a gallery you’d find in New York City. I’m going to miss it.”

Also present for the reception was the artist himself. Betancourt mingled with guests as they viewed his photographs and installations and later signed copies of a newly released book on his works. Wesley Gibbon, J. Johnson’s associate director, noted that Betancourt was one of the first artists to be exhibited at the gallery when it opened in 2001.

“Carlos Betancourt is a dear friend of Mrs. Johnson’s and the gallery,” she said. “We’ve done four solo shows with him, so it was really a conscious decision to make him our final show.”

Betancourt’s vivid, colorful style also complemented the mood that gallery staff wanted to create for its final opening reception, which served as a benefit for Friends of Jacksonville Animals.

“Carlos’s work is so vibrant and ebullient, we thought it would be perfect for our final exhibit,” Gibbon said. “This is our last show after 15 wonderful years, and we just want to thank all of our artists, clients and friends for their support.”

That sentiment was echoed by reception guests who, despite expressing disappointment at the gallery’s closing, praised Johnson and her gallery for their contributions to the Beaches’ cultural scene.

“It’s a wonderful space,” Lynn Thompson said. “It’s been a great asset to the community.”

Added Clyde Rader: “I just told Jennifer, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’”

J. Johnson Gallery is located at 177 4th Ave. North in Jacksonville Beach. The Carlos Betancourt exhibit runs through May 19.