It’s not easy to restructure social and cultural concepts that have been shaping Western thought for centuries but a major exhibition that just opened at Mason Gross School of the Arts Galleries in New Brunswick makes the point that when it comes to women’s bodies, the time has come. In “Eccentric Bodies, The Body as Site for the Imprint of Age, Race, and Identity,” on view through Friday, August 3, the artistic voices of seven nationally distinguished artists join to form a graphic chorus that speaks out loud and clear against the conventional “male gaze” — a centuries-old point of view that has defined “woman” as largely ornamental, sexually passive, and available.
In its place we are presented with a multi-media portrait of life’s imprint on women’s bodies; a rich and varied collection of often-surprising images that makes a strong case for everywoman — fat or thin, young or old — as the proper subject for serious and pleasurable artistic contemplation. The exhibition is organized by the Feminist Art Project, a Rutgers-based national initiative under the direction of Judith K. Brodsky, a Princeton resident, and Ferris Olin. The Feminist Art Project describes itself as “a strategic intervention against the ongoing erasure of women from the cultural record.” To that end, it organizes programs, exhibitions, classes, and other art-related activities to focus on the current trends and accomplishments of women.
“Eccentric Bodies” addresses the issues in a new way, according to Olin. “These artists collectively say something that has not been said before. This is a different take on contravening the (male) ‘gaze.’ They are bringing a new idea of beauty. Their works speak of life’s impact on women’s bodies and how they change over time. This is about bodies that have experienced life over the long haul.”
In the timeline of the art world, redressing fall-out from “the gaze” and the recognition of the importance of women in the world of art is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was only in the 1970s that the feminist art movement gathered sufficient momentum to become a loud and clear advocate for the correction of the historical neglect of woman as artist, teacher, and honestly rendered subject. Within a relatively short time, as art history goes, women have become a significant, multi-dimensional presence as subject, artist, and critical force.
In “Eccentric Bodies,” the artists often use heroic scale as a potent weapon to shoot down long-standing gender and cultural stereotypes. Larger-than-life paintings, photographs, drawings, holograms, sculpture, and a video function collectively as a stunning array of imagery that documents the impact of life and time on the female body. In the process, the combination of subject and scale fills the visual space to create an environment that is informed by idea-laden art.
The larger-than-life photographs (some as large as 4x6 feet) of Ernestine Ruben, an internationally renowned photographer and Princeton resident, leave little doubt that it is the details that count. Heroically scaled close-up views of selected body parts serve nicely as subject for intricately composed works rendered using a rich tonal vocabulary; imposing images that state without question that “the body is serious food for artistic thought.”
Size also figures importantly in Bailey Doogan’s six-foot-tall charcoal drawings — virtuoso demonstrations of an innovative technique in which the artist uses sandpaper to create tone and volume on a charcoal-covered surface. Here the aging female form is rendered in a straightforward, expressive manner to capture the poetry of past and present as it shapes and reshapes the female body.
Although all the work addresses larger issues, the statement is personal for many of the artists. Brenda Goodman’s paintings, for example, focus on her struggle with obesity. In the process she employs often faceless figures, and uses mysterious heads and faces in her work as a metaphor to make graphic note the impact of society’s expectations on woman’s self-image.
Notions of identity and race shape Berni Searle’s self-portraits. In an enclosure created by the installation she creates an environment in which the imagery deals, symbolically, with her experience as a person of mixed ethnic heritage in South Africa.
The most personal narration can be found in the video by Orlan (yes, just Orlan), a French artist who uses her body as her medium. “Successful Operation” is a record of a series of plastic surgery procedures — nose, neck, liposuction, and more — that, according to the artist’s statement, “question the stereotypes of beauty in European and American culture.” In recent years, she says, she has been using surgery to blur racial and ethnic distinctions, giving herself a “Mayan nose,” or a longer neck like the stretched necks considered beautiful by some African cultures. A lot here to think about for those who don’t mind the sight of blood.
In a collection of imagery that often comes as a surprise, Harriet Casdin-Silver’s combination of life-sized holograms and photographs are, perhaps, the most surprising. To begin with, the juxtaposition of two- and three-dimensional related images is, at times, shocking, and the rest of the time, stunning. The contrast between the flatness of the photograph and the locked-behind-glass aspect of the hologram heightens the affect of the aging body, a combination that makes the viewer especially aware of the fact that this is art and this is life. Linda Stein’s three-dimensional, wall-hung, Wonder Women present woman as warrior. Using a variety of techniques including collage, metal sculpture and assemblage, often set against a muted flat background of hero-women, Stein’s remarkable and pleasing abstracted works satisfy intensely as both art and political statement.
The timing of this exhibition makes a statement as well. “Eccentric Bodies” is on view concurrently with two other major feminist exhibitions, “WACK” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and “Global Feminisms” at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. The three have been staged concurrently, according to Brodsky, to capture and summarize the international feminist art movement from its beginnings while keeping an eye on the future as well. “This exhibition is part of a larger statement,” she says, noting that “WACK” is historical, “Global Feminisms” looks at the work of emerging artists, and “Eccentric Bodies” is concerned with aging and works by older, long established artists.
She notes that this is an especially propitious time to reflect on the scope of feminist art. “These exhibitions celebrate a lot of anniversaries. We are looking back at an historic moment.” She points out that other landmark feminist anniversaries include the founding Women’s Caucus for Art; the 35th anniversary of the publication of Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” a treatise that set the art world on its ear; and the establishment of the Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series at Rutgers, the oldest and one of the few such series still in business.
— Helen Schwartz
“Eccentric Bodies,” on view through Friday, August 3, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Civic Square Galleries, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. A group exhibition that explores new visions of the female nude created by seven women artists. 732-932-2222.
Army National Guard Armory, 151 Eggerts Crossing Road, Lawrenceville, 609-530-6802. “Field Artillery Annex” features pictures, vehicles, weapons, equipment, and uniforms used by New Jersey artillery soldiers from the Revolution to the ongoing conflict in Iraq. The curator is Retired Colonel Donald Kale. Open Tuesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call to schedule groups.
A.R.T. Space Gallery, 53 Hulfish Street, Princeton, 609-924-0143. www.artrealization.org. “Golden Tears,” featuring new paintings, large scale sculpture, and revolutionary new music composed using the A.R.T. technologies. Working with A.R.T. for more than five years, Isabell Villacis is the first artist to work with the new music program. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 1 to 7 p.m.
Arts Council of Princeton, Contemporary Gallery, Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, 609-924-8777. www.artscouncilofprinceton.org. “Apostle’s 13” featuring paintings by Gregory Perkel’s students. Exhibit on view through July 21. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dynasty Arts, 20 Nassau Street, Unit F, 609-688-9388. “Last Dynasty,” oil and watercolor, and limited edition prints. Artist and owner, Lu Zuogeng, combines Chinese brushwork with Western watercolor. Also, Chinese antique furniture of Ming and Qing dynasties. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. www.photosgallery14.com. Two complimentary exhibits representing the urban and the rural. “Wall to Wall” featuring Barbara K. Suomi’s urban wall art focuses on photos of graffiti, bulletin boards, and posters. “Delaware at Dusk” is an exhibit of John Blackford’s photographs of the Delaware. On view through July 13. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Gourgaud Gallery, 13 North Main Street, Cranbury, 609-395-0900. www.gourgaudhist.htm. “Garden State Watercolor Society 2007 Associate Members Exhibit.” On view through June 30. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Grounds For Sculpture, Toad Hall Shop and Gallery, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. “Infusion,” an exhibition of glass works by Martin Kremer. More than 30 pieces, including glass wall quilts, bowls from the Ventana series, and several ellipses, will be on view through July 15. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. www.princetonhistory.org. “U.S. Presidents: Famous Faces in Princeton Places,” documenting presidents who lived in or visited Princeton. “Princeton’s Civil War,” an exhibition featuring images and newspaper accounts documenting the town and university’s response to the outbreak of the war. Through July 15. “School Days in Princeton,” a new exhibit of photographs and postcards depicting school buildings and students in Princeton from the late 19th through mid-20th century. On view through June 30. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Free admission.
Hopewell Frame Shop Gallery, 24 West Broad Street, 609-466-0817. www.hopewellframeshop.com. Exhibit of pastels by Grace Previty Johnston. On view through June 30. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Morpeth Gallery, 43 West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-333-9393. www.ruthmorpeth.com. “Painterly Vessels,” an orchestration of clay, glaze, surface, and form by Jim Jansma that combines his interests in painting, drawing, sculpture, and pottery. Through June 30. Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Princeton Jewish Center, 435 Nassau Street, 609-921-0100. “Jews of Color: In Color!” features more than 50 photographs of Jewish people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is the first time the traveling exhibition is shown in New Jersey. On view through June 30. Open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-4377. www.smallworldcoffee.com. “Letters from Antiterra,” a show of collages by Samantha Nguyen. On view through July 3. Cafe hours are Monday to Thursay, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Mason Gross School of the Arts, Civic Square Galleries, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-932-2222. www.masongross.rutgers.edu. “Eccentric Bodies,” a group exhibition that explores new visions of the female nude created by seven women artists. On view through August 3. See review page 28.
Princeton Day School, The Great Road, Princeton, 609-924-6700. www.pds.org. Outdoor art gallery featuring “Skye Group” by Gunnar Theel; “Three Faces,” “Shield,” and “Rising” by Kevin Forest; “Passage” by Harry Gordon; three marble sculptures by Andrew Logan; and “Venus Vessel” by Rory Mahon. On view through Saturday, June 30. Open daily.
Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Gallery, 609-497-7990. www.ptsem.edu. “The Twelve Labors of Hercules,” featuring woodblock prints created by Princeton resident Idaherma Williams. The exhibit includes works depicting the Hercules myth focusing on the signs of the zodiac. On view through July 13. Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 2:30 to 9 p.m.
Princeton University Office of Informational Technology, Lucas Gallery, 185 Nassau Street, Princeton, 609-258-7200. www.princeton.edu. First exhibit featuring 108 pieces by 27 staff members. On view through June 30. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Princeton University Art Museum, 609-258-3788, www.PrincetonArtMuseum.org. Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque galleries are open. The museum’s galleries are open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Tours are given on Saturdays at 2 p.m. “Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised,” a new exhibition. Through Sunday, August 12.
Rutgers University, Ruth Adams Building, 131 George Street, New Brunswick, 732-932-9493. www.masongross.rutgers.edu. “The Iliad and the Odyssey,” a sculpture series created by Evelyn Wilson. Open weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m.
Art by the River
Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-4588. www.lambertvillearts.com. “Natural Expressions In Landscapes and Portraiture” featuring new works by landscape artist Taylor Oughton and portrait artist J. Stacy Rogers. Through July 1. Open Fridays to Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bucks Gallery of Fine Art, 201 South State Street, Newtown, PA, 215-479-0050. www.bucksgalleryoffineart.com. “Deep Paint,” featuring the art of Jennifer Hansen Rolli. Show on view through July 11.
Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. “Summer Exhibition.” on view through August 27. Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Haas Muth Gallery, 30 West Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-1750. www.haasmuth.com. Exhibit featuring new plein air paintings by Lambertville artist Gordon Haas. He recently returned from a six-week oil painting trip to Italy. Through July 15. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Howard Gallery of Fine Art, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-5272. www.howard-gallery.com. “From His Mind’s Eye,” an exhibit featuring oil paintings by Berc Ketchian. On view through June 30. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
The Frame Shop, 39 North Main Street, Lambertville, 609-397-8939. “Sock Monkeys Rule,” an exhibit inspired by a character named Ralphy the Sock Monkey. Through July 31. Gallery is open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Art In Trenton
Gallery 125, 125 South Warren Street, Trenton, 609-393-8998. “Sizzle: The Summer Show” featuring works by artists including Jan Applebaum, Ruth Brown, Brian Cassally, Maurice Counts, and Jenna Wetmore. On view through August 4. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday noon to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
New Jersey State Museum, 225 West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. www.newjerseystatemuseum.org. “Foliage and Flowers: Botanical Illustrations of the Mid-Atlantic Region,” an exhibition featuring artists representing the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators depicting the native, invasive, and cultivated plants of New Jersey and surrounding states. Also, “Plant Adaptation up Close: A Biologic and Artistic Interpretation.” Through September 1.