You have to believe an exhibition is noteworthy when its curator, wounded in installation-action, proceeds matter-of-factly with the interview, his purply-swollen hand submerged in a bag of ice. Injured while hefting a large canvas stretched over wood at the Gallery at Rider University last week, James Dickinson, a sociology professor and exhibition curator, ignored the hand, focused on the art, and completed both jobs with aplomb. Or should we say he gave literal meaning to "sang-froid"?
While Dickinson walked a visitor around the installation of "Material Life," a show of paintings and sculpture by Michael Frechette, on view in the university’s art gallery through March 3, the artist Frechette continued "roughing stuff out."
Frechette is a city boy: buzzed hair, Drew Carey glasses, sleeveless tee, workmanlike manner — initial blue-collar look, eventual white-collar talk — and he is also a city artist, whose work has segued from large sculptures to monochromatic paintings on found materials to big paintings of familiar subjects, like birds, buckets, horses, and sinks, all handled in unfamiliar ways.
Born in Detroit in 1965, Frechette moved to Philadelphia when he was 19, and stayed. For some time, home was a warehouse in the city’s northwest section, a burnt-out industrial area. His background can sound anti-establishment — underground this and that, industrial-band member, disdain for art school, chaotic loft-life in the gritty city.
"Any dad worth his salt would smack you in the head if you said you wanted to be an artist," he says. No one in his family had known any artists — they were something you read about in books. "Till I was 16 or 17, I didn’t know anybody who made art. When I started meeting people in the Detroit art scene, they were not effete art creeps, but like hillbillies, thugs."
In Philadelphia, as he had also done in Detroit, Frechette attended art school for a brief time. But, "I learned a lot more building houses and working in the world than I ever did there," he says. "I blame art school a lot for bad art. Very few people are told that they just should not be there. It’s really not about a calling, but whether you can make the tuition.
"If you asked the seniors in any undergraduate painting program what they want to do when they get out, they’d say they want to go to grad school and become a teacher — which is like the weirdest thing in the world — teachers teaching teachers to teach teachers, and nobody f-ing does it! There are exceptions like the Academy of Fine Art. I respect a lot about the Academy, but I’m just not institutionally oriented."
His early lifestyle in Philly can be summed up as the "cold, dank warehouse period," when he lived and partied with "a bunch of smelly, drunk boys," played bass and percussion in Sink Manhattan, a noise metal band — and made large-scale sculpture. "I can afford not to live like that anymore," he says, noting there are still "tons of places like that in the city, totally illegal, under the radar."
Represented in recent years by a string of establishment galleries in Philadelphia — currently Pentimenti, in Old City — Frechette was a founding member of Vox Populi. The artists’ collective was formed in the late ’80s "because we didn’t have a place to show, not because of a socialist ideal." By the time of the group’s retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in the ’90s, other peoples’ voices had taken over, "doing what they should do, trying to move up and topple us," Frechette says.
Now 37, he has become the kind of non-judgmental uncle that he remembers having while he was growing up: "I’m the person in my family teenage nieces and nephews are sent to because I had a kind of wild stretch myself." Frechette’s five siblings, scattered all over the country, are "engineers and moms," he says, and they’re happy that he’s happy.
Frechette’s "Dead Horse for Detroit," a large-scale work of forged steel, lies in the middle of Rider’s art gallery, one of four metal sculptures in the show. Putting a face on Frechette’s feelings for Detroit, a city he says experienced remarkable transition over a 70-year period, the sculpture was an early work that he made during his "loft period." He used his truck to bend some of the rib-like parts, and hand-built the wheel element. Brought out of retirement for this exhibition, the horse "lives" near his parents’ house, on a lake in northern Michigan.
On the walls surrounding "Dead Horse," nearly 25 paintings trace the evolution of Frechette’s art. In the smaller of the gallery’s two rooms hang his earliest two-dimensional work, painted on pieces of conveyor belt — stark minimalist building silhouettes. "I’m very, very, very careful about painting on the things I’ve found," he says. "An object has an inherent dignity to it, and doing something to it is a pretty heavy responsibility. I always think about what it was, who worked on it. You have to be careful because you could make something trivial out of it."
In the same area, and also monochrome, are Frechette’s image of black birds and a bed, and of a rabbit’s body, in silhouette, hanging from a gigantic shark hook: thought-provoking juxtapositions, if not outright surreal.
To make a living in the mid-’90s, Frechette took two years off from art "when I did my building." He had bought a big coffee factory in Philadelphia’s Kensington section, and laboriously converted it into apartments. During this period, he didn’t sculp, paint, or even sketch, and remembers thinking, "One day I’ll have a real thought again, besides `I want to sleep, I want to eat.’" He has also worked as a set carpenter and special effects man for the movies, learning from the scenic painters he encountered there.
The horse image at the beginning of the long, inside wall is a harbinger of Frechette’s newer work. Curator Dickinson calls this work "painterly," pointing out they’re neither still lifes nor portraits, even though they portray familiar things like horses, birds, sinks, and buckets. Instead of contextualizing his subjects, the artist has suspended his highly realistic images over multi-layered and abstractly lovely backgrounds that can look speckled, or marbled but never representational.
For instance, in "Model Worker," the large, white horse sadly regarding the viewer is not on a street or in a field, but wholly independent of its remarkable background. The same is true of "Strippers off A.C.," "Scalping Wolf Tickets," "Big Fat Goose," and others in this series. Although somewhat muted, Frechette’s palette involves rich, luminous hues, while his backgrounds result from varied combinations of underpainting and paint layers, sanding, glazes, and washes.
"It’s a long way from the kind of painting I used to do, which was one color," he says. "I still like to think of them as a sculptor’s painting. They have a kind of weight to them — a sculptor’s sensibility, rather than a painter’s."
He describes his current subject matter as "what’s outside my window, things I like and find useful." That explains the purple finches and house finches and even the bucket, if not the Canada goose featured in one painting. "The thing I’m interested in right now is that it works as a whole. When you stand back and look at it, it’s what it wants to be, and when you look at it close up, it works that way too; it’s beautiful."
"Material Life" also includes a series of Frechette’s seashore paintings. Even though he frequents the Jersey shore, the pictures aren’t done on site, he says. For one thing, he’s modest about his drawing ability. "There’s so little draftsmanship involved that I can do it from memory," he adds. "The only thing you have to get right there is a straight line." At one end of this series is the poignant "Dead Goose Floating in Sea at Night," whose bubbly greenish background, this time, seems perfectly integrated with the central image.
Two years ago, Frechette contributed to Philadelphia’s much vaunted mural program with a 100-foot long swan on the side of a "gorgeous old building" in Kensington — a place he says is filled with such buildings. Bigger than four tractor trailers, the mural is simple and stark, and the stripped-down image with silver tones works well at night too. In contrast to the "social realism bent" of the program, he "just wanted to do something that was beautiful."
Guest-curator Dickinson came by his stiff upper lip honestly, as a native of Ludlow, in Shropshire. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Kent, in England, and his graduate degrees at American University, Washington, and the University of Toronto. He used to live in Trenton, now lives in Philadelphia, and acknowledges a synergy between his professional interest in the ruins of the American city and how artists view the city as subject matter.
He first curated an exhibition at Rider in 1995, with "Entropic Zones: Buildings and Structures of the Contemporary City," a group show that included Frechette’s early paintings. That was followed by two solo shows, for a painter and a maker of animated sculptures. "Material Life" marks both Dickinson’s return to the city as theme and Frechette’s return to Rider as exhibiting artist.
Affiliated with Rider since 1982, Dickinson has said he enjoys the variety of things to be done in putting a show together: planning, working with people all over campus, preparing flyers, producing a catalog (with the financial support of the university’s student government finance board), installing the art, and seeing to publicity, even ordering the food. Pleasure and variety notwithstanding, he surely hadn’t counted on smashing his hand while mounting this exhibition — an injury in the service of his gallery for which he should be awarded a very artistic purple heart.
— Pat Summers
Michael Frechette, Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5589. "Material Life: The Painting and Sculpture of Michael Frechette." Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. Show that continues to March 3.
#h#Art in Town#/h#
Medical Center at Princeton, 253 Witherspoon Street, 609-497-4192. In the dining room, works by Deborah Paglione, graphic designer, interior designer, and freelance artist who is president of the Garden State Watercolor Society. Watercolors, photographs, and hand-painted prints. Show may be viewed daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. To March 13.
Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street, 609-924-0103. "Reflections of Lent," an exhibit of painting by Kevin Patrick Kelly from a year-long project in which he documented daily readings from the Gospel. The paintings were created between Easter Monday, 1999, and East Sunday, 2000. There are 387 paintings with accompanying texts from scripture. "My spiritual and artistic life find union in what is both contemporary and eternal," says Kelly. On view to April 1.
Princeton Jewish Center, 435 Nassau Street, 609-921-0100. Paintings by Marc Malberg whose interest in Jewish history is reflected in many of his works. The Princeton resident is an associate clinical professor in orthopedic surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Saturdays. To March 20.
Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street, 609-924-7855. "Artista Cuba," contemporary Cuban folk art from the collection of Jorge Armenteros who has been studying and collecting Cuban art since 1996. Works from the fine art world as well as rustic art made of found materials. "At its best, Cuban folk art is vivid, symbolic, sensual, and inspiring. In it, you will find a purity of appreciation for light, color, and life’s simple pleasures," says Armenteros.
Williams Gallery, 6 Olden Lane, 609-921-1142. "An International Flavor," computer art, etchings, and mixed media works on paper presented by artists from Australia, Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. By appointment only. To March 9.
Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788. "New German Photography" features 15 works by such artists as Dieter Appelt, Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, and Thomas Struth; to March 24. "Anxious Omniscience: Surveillance in Contemporary Cultural Practice," to April 1. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection every Saturday at 2 p.m.
Also "Klinger to Kollwitz: German Art in the Age of Expressionism," an exhibit of prints and drawings that comprises an overview of late 19th and early 20th century German art, addressing the variety of innovative and avant-garde styles that transformed the German artistic landscape between 1871 and 1933. Other artists include Kandinsky, Bunter, Kirchner, Heckel, and Schmidt-Rottluff; to June 9. Also "Guardians of the Tomb: Spirit Beasts in Tang Dynasty China;" to August 31.
Firestone Library, Milberg Gallery, Princeton University, 609-258-3184. "Not for Myself Alone: A Celebration of Jewish-American Writers," the debut show for the Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Collection of Jewish-American Writers that ranges from the early 19th century to the present day and includes Yiddish-language writers as well as writers in English. A two-volume catalog accompanies the exhibition. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To April 21.
The exhibit includes manuscripts, such as a draft of a poem by Stanley Kunitz, letters by Hannah Arendt, Nathanael West, Clifford Odets, Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag, and photographic portraits of the writers.
Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, 609-620-6026. "Photographs From a Private Collection," an exhibition featuring works by a panoply of photography’s luminaries including Alfred Steiglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, August Sander, Ansel Adams, and Harry Callahan. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; except Wednesday; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. To February 28.
Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20 Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Meeting Stone," an exhibition of sculpture by Caroline Fenn. "Carving reveals what is hidden, in stone, in the sculptor, and finally in the viewers who make of it what they will," says the artist who has studied at Smith College, Yale, and Union Theological Seminary. Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 8 p.m. To April 12.
Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5589. "Material Life: The Painting and Sculpture of Michael Frechette" whose work, says curator James Dickinson, "is notable for its stark images of industrial and other worn and commonplace landscapes, and for the intriguing way he depicts animals, especially birds. Gallery hours at Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. To March 3.
#h#Art in the Workplace#/h#
Johnson & Johnson, Education and Conference Center, 410 Geore Street, New Brunswick, 732-524-6957. "The Fabric of Jazz: A Tribute to the Genius of American Music" by Lauren Camp, fabric artist. Her original art quilts include tributes to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. By appointment. To April 20.
Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. "Photographs of New Jersey: `Images of the New Jersey Shore’ by Robert Borsuk and `Essential Places’ by DF Connors." Gallery hours are Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. To March 3.
Hopewell Frame Shop, 24 West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-466-0817. Solo exhibition of wildlife and nature photographs by Andrew Chen, a veteran nature photographer whose work has been published in "North American Birds." Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To February 23.
Montgomery Center for the Arts, 1860 House, 124 Montgomery Road, 609-921-3272. Opening reception for "Focus In," two photography projects featuring works by students in Trenton’s After School Program; to March 1. Also, recent works by members of the Princeton Photography Club; to March 20. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
Morpeth Gallery, 43 West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-333-9393. Solo show by Helen Bayley featuring richly metaphorical figurative works, landscapes, and still lifes. Bayley teaches at College of New Jersey and at Artworks in Trenton. Artist’s gallery talk is Saturday, February 23, at 3 p.m. Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 9.
Printmaking Council of New Jersey, 440 River Road, North Branch Station, 908-725-2110. "Love and Sex," an international juried group show, on view to March 23. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.
#h#Art In Trenton#/h#
Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, 609-394-9436. "Artist and Model: Working from Life," a theme show featuring 18 artists working in oil, watercolor, drawing, photography, and sculpture. Helen Bailey, Jason Burrell, Heather Delzell, Diane Levell, Mel Leipzig, and Kathryn Triolo are among the exhibiting artists. Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To February 22.
Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park, 609-989-3632. "Artsbridge to Trenton," an invitational exhibition by members of Artsbridge, a New Hope and Lambertville artists’ organization. Exhibiting artists include Paul Matthews, Gail Bracegirdle, Vincent Ceglia, Joy Kreves, George Radeschi, and Tomi Urayama. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To February 24.
Extension Gallery, 60 Ward Avenue, Mercerville, 609-890-7777. "Color Me Beautiful," a show of sculpture, drawings, and paintings by Autin Wright. The Trenton artist is the technical supervisor in the patina, paint, and preservation department of the Johnson Atelier. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To February 28.
Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Annual memberships start at $45. To February 24.
New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. "George Washington and the Battle of Trenton: The Evolution of an American Image," an exhibition that documents the historic context of the American Revolution, the "Ten Crucial Days" of the Trenton campaign that was the turning point, and the subsequent commemoration of George Washington’s heroic image by American artists; to February 24. Also "Images of Americans on the Silver Screen," to April 14. "Art by African-Americans in the Collection," to August 18. Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Website: www.njstatemuseum.org.
#h#Art by the River#/h#
Artsbridge, Canal Studios, 243 North Union Street, Lambertville, 609-773-0881. Group show includes conceptual mixed-media installations by Frances Heinrich and D.J. Haslett, illuminated paper sculpture by Linda Horn, and Aileen Cramer’s illuminated paper floor pieces. Also abstract painting and contemporary sculpture by eight additional artists. Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. To February 24.
Atelier Gallery, 108 Harrison Street, Frenchtown, 908-996-9992. "Spontaneous Forms," an exhibit featuring abstract artists Eleanor Burnette and Jules Schaeffer. Both are experimental, multi-media artist influenced by significant figures in abstract expressionism. Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 11.
Coryell Gallery and Lambertville Historical Society, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. Lambertville Historical Society’s 22nd annual juried art exhibition, "Lambertville and the Surrounding Area." Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 17.
Gratz Gallery, 30 West Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-4300. Jan Lipes, a solo exhibition of landscapes. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. To March 10.
Lipes left his first career as a physician 10 years ago when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Born right-handed, he has been painting for the past decade using his left hand. He won the award for traditional painting in the style of the New Hope School at the Phillips Mill 72nd annual juried exhibition.
Tin Man Alley, 12 West Mechanic Street, New Hope, 215-862-1110. "Bull’s Eye," a group show of work by six emerging artists: Dave Cooper, Jim Houser, Scott Lenhardt, Jeff Soto, Jonathan Weiner, and Patrick Williams. Gallery hours are Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To March 31.
Hunterdon Museum of Art, Lower Center Street, Clinton, 908-735-8415. "2002 Members Exhibition" juried by Jeffrey Wechsler, senior curator at the Zimmerli Art Museum. Also "William Vandever: A Separate Reality," recent works in color and black and white that investigate still life, and new computer generated images. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To February 24.
Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, 215-340-9800. "Roy C. Nuse: Figures and Landscapes," an exhibition of works by the influential Bucks County artist and teacher (1885 to 1975) who trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he studied with Daniel Garber. Nuse and his wife, artist Ellen Guthrie, moved to Bucks County; Nuse taught at the Pennsylvania Academy for 29 years; to May 12. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. $6.
Also "Stylish Hats: 200 Years of Sartorial Sculpture," a multitude of high-style creations that reflect the changing fashions of designer hats from 1780 to 1970; to April 14. In the Children’s Gallery, "Perspectives in Art," on view to February 28.
Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "The Baltics: Nonconformist and Modernist Art During the Soviet Era," the first major survey of modernist art produced in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the post-World War II Soviet period. The show features 150 works from the Zimmerli’s Dodge Collection produced in reaction to communist repression. To March 17. Also "The Victor Weeps: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh of Afghan Refugees, 1996-98;" to March 31. "St. Petersburg, 1921," to March 10. "Efim Ladyzhensky," to July 31.
Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free; museum is open free to the public on the first Sunday of every month. Spotlight tours Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m.
The Yardley Players auditions for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will be at Mercer College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, on Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24, from noon to 5 p.m. Parts for men, women, and children are open. Call director Nick Cheng at 609-575-6170.
Community School of New Hope-Solebury offers "Women’s History Month Tour" on Saturday, March 16, at 7:15 a.m. Bus tour with visits at the home of Mary Pickersgill, the seamstress of the Star Spangled banner; the mansion of Margaret Carrol, the horticulturist who brought rare trees and plants to Mount Vernon; and will hear about Olive Dennis, America’s first female railroad civil engineer. Cost is $87; to register call 215-862-3619.
Cadwalader Park seeks loans or donations of old photos, art work, and memorabilia for the 100th Anniversary of Cadwalader Park exhibit in Ellarslie. Items must be received by Friday, March 15.Contact Shirley Finney at 609-989-3255.
Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church Nursery School seeks flea market vendors for the annual spring flea market on Saturday, April 6. $15 includes table. Call Donna at 609-771-0685.
Literacy Volunteers of America, Mercer County will offer tutor training sessions for seven consecutive Monday evenings beginning Monday, April 8, at the Hopewell Library, 245 Pennington Titusville Road, Pennington. To register, call June Vogel, 609-393-8855.
Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, seeks crafters, artists, food and merchandise vendors, nonprofit organizations, and local performers for Communiversity 2002 to be held on Saturday, April 27, from noon to 4 p.m. Deadline for applications is April 5. For an application, stop by the Arts Council or call 609-924-8777.
Monroe Township Library seeks an adult volunteer to serve as the advisor to a youth chess club meeting one evening per week beginning in April. Call Leah Kloc at 732-521-5000, ext. 116.
Contact of Mercer County seeks volunteers for the 24-hour telephone hotline. Training classes in March. Call 609-896-2120.
Keep Middlesex Moving has a new Door-to-Door Directory available at www.kmm.org that features businesses that deliver products or services to Middlesex consumers at home or work. Call Cristina C. Fowler, 732-745-4318.
Arthritis Foundation offers greetings from the Easter Bunny to children whose families or friends make a $6 donation. Call 856-616-8000.
NJEnergy Choice offers home weatherization and home heating repairs programs to home owners eligible through income levels, elderly, handicapped, or young children. Call 877-NJ5-5678 or visit www.njenergychoice.com
West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, is accepting donations of books, CDs, audio books, video tapes, software, and small arts items for its annual book sale, set for Wednesday through Sunday, March 19 to 24. Tax receipt available. Call 609-799-0462.
Curves for Women, 217 Clarksville Road, West Windsor, has a non-perishable food drive to benefit the local food bank. Discounts at the fitness center are available with donation. Call 609-750-1100.
Sunshine Foundation has an Adopt-A-Seat program to sponsor a youngster for the annual trip to Disney World for $250. All donations are welcome to sponsor a child. Call 609-538-1994 for information.
Eden Family of Services offers $1,000 scholarships to high school seniors planning careers in special education or related disciplines. Application deadline is Friday, May 3. Call 609-987-0099.
Mercer County Bar Foundation offers scholarships to law school students involved in community organizations who show financial need. Call 609-585-6200.