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Art: In-Your-Face American Century

In the "good old days," art was art and was

recognized as such. It was a drawing or painting, a sculpture, or

even a photograph. Invariably, the artist was a white male.

All that ended about 50 years ago. Oh, it didn’t happen right away,

on the first day of 1950, when Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning

were very much the art world names to contend with. But "the times

they were a changin’." Before long, other names — and other

kinds of artists, and art — came to the fore. And that is what

"The American Century, Part II: Art and Culture, 1950-2000,"

at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, is all about. Occupying

four stories-plus, the show which continues to February 13, focuses

on the time when American art came into its own. Curated by Lisa


(Barbara Haskell curated Part I), and with a few new ways of doing

things, the show is touted as an improvement over the first half.

Maybe so.

It depends on what you think art is, or should be — what you want

memorialized and treated as representative of the American visual

art scene. Should it be familiar, beautiful, uplifting, inspirational?

Or something altogether different — jarring, mysterious,


frightful? Or all of these? Or does it depend? Your opinion of what

makes an artist — technical skills, ambition, angst, political

correctness, or incorrectness — also plays into the equation.

This exhibition forces you to reconsider the basic question, "What

is art?" Based on your answer, you will be turned on — or

put off — by what you see here.

Very broadly, what happened to American art in the second half of

this century is that it stopped being imitative; it stopped deferring

to the academic or to European models. In tandem with non-traditional

social and political events taking place in the nation — movements

against war and for civil rights, equal rights, gay rights —


people began to make art work that served purposes other than esthetic

pleasure. Sometimes viewers knew this was art only because its makers

said so. The work was shown, bought and sold, and exhibited in


Often this art was bizarre, confrontational, distasteful, ugly. How

else could you describe "Mile-Long Drawing" (1968; since


two parallel chalk lines in the Mohave Desert by Walter de Maria;

or Nan Goldin’s "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" (1976-92), 690

slides, with audiotape, computer disk, and titles — a series


of debasement? How about "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)"

by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, from 1991, a pyramid of multicolored candies

wrapped in cellophane? Or performances of vagina painting (1965) or

with hair dye (1992), or "Shoot" (1971), a photograph of an

artist with a bullet wound in his arm, or Kiki Smith’s "Tale"

(1992), a sculpture of a crawling human figure trailing yards of


Obviously, what American artists have been up to in the second half

of the 20th century is not "the same old, same old."

And in a way, this challenging, in-your-face art was

not as new as all that. The century began with Marcel Duchamp’s take

on that icon of tradition, the Mona Lisa — with the addition of

a mustache and goatee (Take that, bourgeois art!), and with his


"ready-mades" such as the white porcelain urinal he called

"Fountain." These were treated as art because Duchamp said

they were art, titled them as art, and submitted them to art


Outrageous then, he grew into America’s grand old man of outre art,

smilingly accepted and assumed to have been a harbinger, far ahead

of his time. And now, we are seeing the century end very much as it

began, with an exhaustively publicized flap about the


show at the Brooklyn Museum, which has served as a red flag to no

less than New York City’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (as the French would

say, "Le plus ca change . . .")

Starting on the Whitney’s fifth floor with "America Takes Command:

1950s into the 1960s," and working downwards (a physical direction

that to traditionalists will seem apt), the Whitney displays the


-isms, and -ists marking that decade, from Abstract Expressionism

through early performance and assemblage art to color field painting,

so-called "figurative expressionism," and avant-garde film.

Concurrent cultural and historical milestones are grouped together

in small rooms and virtual alleyways, rather than integrated with

the fine art, as they had been in Part I. This "improvement"

never fails to cause traffic jams and back-to-back people unsure of

which way to move except into one another.

With "America at the Crossroads: 1960s into the 1970s," on

the fourth floor, works by Andy Warhol (whose Elvis images serve as

icons of the exhibition) and Roy Lichtenstein epitomize the reign

of pop culture. Counterculture and protest art become entities,


and post-minimalism take their turns, video art is born, and


dance and performance are also documented.

"The Rise of Alternatives: 1970s into the 1980s" on the third

floor, amply illustrates how this pluralist decade challenged the

cult of the "white male genius." Body art, street culture,

and graffiti art were ascendant, while racial and sexual liberation

movements arising in the ’50s and ’60s slowly entered the mainstream.

Works on view range from photographs of Robert Smithson’s earthwork,

"Spiral Jetty" and Nan Goldin’s "Cookie at Tin Pan


to Robert Mapplethorpe’s "Man in Polyester Suit."

By the second floor’s "Approaching the Millennium: 1980s into

the 1990s," pluralism is in full flower — a mixed bouquet.

Well before reaching Kiki Smith’s gross "Tale" (the crawling

figure with excrement), it’s all too clear that what we’re seeing

is the deliberate antithesis of that elusive white male genius. But

many of these works also prompt the wish for the triumphant return

of same. There’s Jeff Koons’s stainless steel "Rabbit" that

looks like a silver balloon; Jenny Holzer’s "Laments"


on granite sarcophagi with LED electronic signs; and Jack Pierson’s

mixed-media "Desire, Despair." In the nearby historical


our own Mercer County comes in for dubious distinction, as the place

where a Republican Club forced the county library to move "Heather

Has Two Mommies," a book about lesbian parents, from the


area to the parenting section.

"The American Century, Part I" featured the music of such

contemporaneous artists as George Gershwin in the stairwells between

floors. In Part II, stairwell sounds include excerpts from Terry Fox’s

"The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Cats." It’s


In fact, even the visitors to "The American


seemed atypical. Did this exhibition, ending so fulsomely on a theme

of diversity and in-your-face art, also sound some kind of fanfare

for the common man? Many of those shuffling through the show,


silent except for occasional giggles and sideways glances, could have

been prototypes of hyper-realist sculptor Duane Hanson’s "man

or woman in the street." If viewers weren’t silent and almost

dazed as they passed through the show, they seemed unusually dependent

on their exhibit guide earphones, moving determinedly along as if

with the right of way.

All right, much in this half of "The American Century" could

not be called "classic" or even "traditional," and

certainly not "establishment." And, perhaps reluctantly, we

have come to realize that "esthetically pleasing" no longer

applies. Challenge, not comfort, is what these late 20th-century


offer, with viewers left to decide only whether to accept it. However

Part II may strike you, though, don’t shoot the messenger, as I felt

metaphorically inclined to do through much of the show, until I was

forced to think more about it — and realized that the museum is

simply reflecting the times.

Yet you have to wonder which of these works will endure for a century

or more. And what kind of art — more of the same, some completely

different tangents, or perhaps a return to tradition — might be

featured in a major exhibition of 2050. For now, the debate generated

by this show may be the best proof of just how stimulating this art

actually is.

— Pat Summers

The American Century: Part II, Art and Culture, 1950-2000,

Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York,


Two accompanying websites: provides

context information for more than 200 works, and

specifies show-related programs and materials. Show continues to



For those who weren’t alive or conscious during this period (or who

have chosen to blank it out), the exhibit catalog offers an excellent

graphic and textual reminder.

Top Of Page
Art in Town

Cranbury Station Gallery, 28 Palmer Square East,


Exhibit of watercolors and oils by Kathleen Maguire Morolda. Gallery

hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday to

9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Medical Center at Princeton, Witherspoon Street,


In the Merwick unit library: "Paintings of Fred and Jennie


to March 9. Part of proceeds benefit the medical center. Open 8 a.m.

to 7 p.m. daily.

Main Street Gallery, Montgomery Center, Route 206,


Featuring color and black-and-white photographs by Harry Rubel who

has been making photographs for 45 years. Also, works by area artists

Patrice Sprovieri, Wayne Mathisen, Annelies van Dommelen, and Susan

Setteducato. Also exhibiting Hsu Dan, Tom Chesar, Larry Chestnut,

Calvin Hart, Clem Fiori, Leslie Neumeyer, Leyla Spencer, Janet Landau,

Jacob Landau, Ellyn Gerberding, and Marge Levine. Hours are Monday

through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday to 9 p.m.; and Saturday,

9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pringle International Art & Williams Gallery, 8 Chambers

Street, 609-921-9292. "Going Global: Contemporary fine art from

around the world spanning Princeton, New Jersey, to Reykjavik,


Princeton artists include Michael Berger, Jane Eccles, Richard Erdman,

and Robert Sakson; from farther afield, Tanya Kohn, Karolina


Salvatore Magazzini, and Mary Stork. To January 22.

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Art On Campus

Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788.


Works on Paper," to January 16. "Contemporary Photographs,

new acquisitions and photographs from the permanent collection; to

January 9. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to

5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection are every

Saturday at 2 p.m.

The permanent collection features a strong representation of Western

European paintings, old master prints, and original photographs.


of Chinese, Pre-Columbian Mayan, and African art are considered among

the museum’s most impressive. Not housed in the museum but part of

the collection is the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection of


outdoor sculpture, with works by such modern masters as Henry Moore,

Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, and George Segal located throughout

the campus.

Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton


609-258-4790. "Dreamscapes," an exhibition of paintings

by WWS alumna Alexandra Isaievych. Combining her passion for art with

an interest in public policy and economics, Isaievych has worked on

economic assistance programs in Ukraine, an experience that has


her conviction that "art which provides inspiration for reclaiming

the dignity of the human spirit is as essential as good economic


Gallery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; weekends from

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Other Galleries

DeLann Gallery, Princeton Meadows Shopping Center,


609-799-6706. "Portraits in Other Objects" by Eric Montoya,

an artist who exhibits in Los Angeles and New York. The show features

oil portraits whose forms are comprised of other narrative elements.

To February 12. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to

6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Firehouse Gallery, 8 Walnut Street, Bordentown,


The gallery celebrates its fourth year and a new exhibition season

featuring 12 gallery co-op members presenting shows that change


Working with owner Eric Gibbons are curators and artists Beverly


and Lana Bernard-Toniolio.

Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.;

Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Montgomery Cultural Center, 1860 House, 124 Montgomery

Road, 609-921-3272. All-Artists Show in the Upstairs Gallery,


by members of the 1860 House Professional Artists Group, to January

29. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Stony Brook Millstone Watershed, 31 Titus Mill Road,


609-737-7592. "Vanishing Landscape," an exhibit of oil pastel

and watercolor studies of the region’s fast-disappearing natural


by Dorothy Bissell. To January 8.

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Other Museums

Burlington County Historical Society, 454 Lawrence Street,

Burlington, 609-386-4773. "Wildfowl Decoy Exhibit" by master

Burlington carver Jess Heisler (1891-1943), whose best work ranks

among the finest of the Delaware River school of carving, and works

by his friend and pupil John Marinkos (1915-1999). To January 9. Hours

are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m.

Hopewell Museum, 28 East Broad Street, Hopewell,


On exhibit through January, toys from the collection of Tom and Marion

McCandless, including seven toys made in Hopewell by the short-lived

Hoproco Toy Company, located on Burton Avenue from 1925 to ’27. Also

on exhibit, a dozen miniatures including doll houses, churches, and

barns. Free. Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m.

Hunterdon Museum of Art, Lower Center Street, Clinton,

908-735-8415. "Mud Like a Blessing: Elemental Clay Sculpture,"

featuring works by Peter Callas, Sara D’Alessandro, Shellie Jacobson,

Jim Jansma, and Lauren Silver. To January 9. Gallery hours are Tuesday

to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guest curator for the show is Michele Mercadal whose concept and title

was inspired by a phrase from a poem by Mary Oliver. "The


in this exhibit conveys the honoring of clay as a material and the

organic process by which it becomes a sculptural form," says


"The forms carry a contemplative feeling and convey the mysteries

and secrets of combining earth and fire."

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street,


215-340-9800. "Let Children Be Children: Lewis Hine’s Crusade

Against Child Labor," an exhibition of historic photographs from

the early 20th century. Show runs to February 27. Website:

Museum hours Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday &


10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $5 adults; $1.50 students; children free.

Top Of Page
Art In Trenton

Capital Health System, Mercer Campus, 446 Bellevue Avenue,

Trenton, 609-394-4121. "Ben Shahn: Graphic Works from the


of the New Jersey State Museum." Show features 17 prints, created

from 1936 to 1968, by the renowned American artist who lived in


New Jersey, before his death in 1969. Lobby gallery is always open.

To January 11.

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton,

609-586-0616. Fall-Winter Exhibition. In the Museum and Domestic Arts

Building, "Beverly Pepper," one-artist show. On the mezzanine,

a thematic photography show, "Focus on Sculpture." Shows


to April 16. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m.

to 4 p.m., and by appointment.

New additions to the 22-acre landscaped sculpture park include works

by Michele Oka Doner, David Hostetler, J. Seward Johnson Jr.,


Leiro, John Martini, and Joseph Menna. The park is on the former state

fairgrounds site, with indoor exhibitions in the glass-walled, 10,000

square foot museum, and renovated Domestic Arts Building.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. "Unseen Treasures: Imperial Russia and the New


an exhibit of historic treasures of the Russian empire. The dazzling

collection of 300 art objects and artifacts from Russian’s famed State

Historical Museum and State Archive is displayed in five historical

settings. Show remains on view through April 16, 2000. Admission $10

adults; $8.50 seniors and students; $6 children. Advance ticket


at 800-766-6048 or online at Tuesday

through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The dazzling collection of over 300 art objects and artifacts from

Russia’s State Historical Museum and the State Archive are being seen

for the first time outside the Russian Museum since its recently


10-year renovation.

The exhibition takes the visitor on a unique journey beginning with

the formation of the Russian American Company in 1799 and spanning

a period of 200 years and 6,000 miles. From the Imperial Court of

St. Petersburg through the Russian winter in Siberia to the New World

of Alaska and Northern California and back to Moscow for the


of Alexander II, the exhibit tells an adventurous story of heroism,

romance, and spiritual enlightenment through the experiences of real

people who shaped Russian-American relations in the 18th and 19th


Rhinehart-Fischer Gallery, 46 West Lafayette,

Trenton, 609-695-0061. "Art from 19th Century to the Present," plus

antiques and interior design. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday,

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Top Of Page
Art in the Workplace

Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Building 2, Lawrenceville,

609-895-7307. Garden State Watercolor Society third annual associate

member juried exhibition. Jurors are Gary Snyder of Snyder Fine Art,

and Frances McIlvain, American Watercolor Society. To January 7.


is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Art by the River

ABC Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lilly Street,

609-397-0275. "Heart and Soul," a doll exhibit by Brook


Beaty and paintings by Cory S. Dale. To January 15. Gallery hours

are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday,

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


The annual "Small Works Show," a mixed bag of affordable,

collectible art by 17 area artists. Show runs to Saturday,

January 22, when the gallery celebrates the new millennium with a

party and 2,000 seconds of discounts on small works. Gallery hours

are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Bell’s Union Street Restaurant, 183 North Union,


609-397-2226. Pastel landscapes by Julia Akers Gribbin, to January


Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Holiday show featuring landscapes and regional scenes by Hunterdon

County artists Alexander Farnham in oil and by Ron Lent in watercolor.

To January 9. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5


Howard Mann Art Center, 45 North Main Street,


609-397-2300. A show of Charles Fazzino’s whimsical, three-dimensional

paper constructions on big subjects that include New York,


sports, and the law. To February 28. Open Wednesday through Sunday,

noon to 5 p.m.

Top Of Page
To the North

Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset

Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "The Hungarian Spark in America,"

an exhibit highlighting Hungarian contributions to the arts, sciences,

humanities, commerce, religious and civic life in America. To January

31. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1

to 4 p.m. $3 donation. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m.

to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $3 donation.

Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton streets, New

Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "The Enduring Figure, 1890s to 1970s: Sixteen

Sculptures from the National Association of Women Artists." Show

continues to March 12 when the museum closes for renovation, through

mid-October. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30

p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Free.

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