While the changes in color and form in the natural world presage a period of dormancy, the museums of central New Jersey have taken up the gauntlet, offering an awakening of new colors, forms, and textures, with insight into the historical and technological context of art, the technical demands of different media, and the creative process itself.
Many of the upcoming exhibitions ask visitors to move beyond merely "looking" and engage emotionally and intellectually with the work presented. The major fall exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum, "The Legacy of Homer: Four Centuries of Art from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris" (October 8 through January 15) offers a multi-layered exploration of the interplay of classical themes and artistic development. The show asks visitors to "see the whole stylistic sweep of the development of French art from the Baroque through the late 19th century," says Betsy Jean Rosasco, research curator of Later Western Art. Presented in collaboration with the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York City, which will display most of the 19th-century work, the show, says Rosasco, is "interdisciplinary and addresses issues about the illustration of classical texts over time."
Several complementary exhibits will draw out the themes of this show. "Antiochus and Stratonice" explores teaching approaches at the Ecole, which included competition for prizes, through a side-by-side display of Jacques-Louis David’s preparatory oil sketch for the Rome prize, on loan from a private collection, and the finished painting, from the Ecole. "Homeric Themes in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art" displays works on paper from the museum’s permanent collection that represent different interpretations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey by 16t- and 17th-century Italian artists. "Homer’s Laughter: Honore Daumier’s ‘Ancient History’" features six lithographs from Honore Daumier’s satirical series that mocks the noble classical ideal of mid-19th-century France.
Special events include a lecture on Saturday, October 8, by Emanuel Schwartz, chief curator at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Schwartz will look at how classical themes were reimagined in painting and in theater. A symposium on Sunday, October 9, expands the themes of the exhibition and considers Homer’s critical fortunes in other countries. A reading from Homer by Robert Fagles, professor emeritus of comparative literature at Princeton and highly-acclaimed translator of Homer, akes place on Tuesday, December 6.
Other upcoming exhibitions at the Princeton University Art Museum are "Between Image and Concept: Recent Acquisitions in African-American Art," November 12 through February 26; and "Chantal Akerman: 25 eme ecran" (25th Screen), November 19 through February 26.
At the Zimmerli
As is fitting for a museum situated on a university campus, the new season at the Zimmerli Art Museum on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick offers insights into both the history of art and artistic responses to new media with two major fall exhibitions. The first, "Origins of the Twentieth Century: Watercolors and Drawings in France, 1875-1915" (through January 29), presents turn-of-the-20th-century French graphic arts primarily from the museum’s collection – both watercolors and preparatory drawings for the creation of prints and illustrations for books and journals.
The show investigates how artists creatively responded to the new photomechanical printing processes developed at the end of the 19th century in order to gain income and reach wider audiences. According to senior curator Jeffrey Wechsler, the show also explores different aesthetics, purposes, and philosophies in the use of watercolors. An introductory section of the show presents earlier 19th-century works by such noted artists as Eugene Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner, and Gustave Moreau as background to the show’s main thrust.
The second major Zimmerli show, "Breaking the Mold: Sculpture in Paris from Daumier to Rodin," October 23 to March 12, stands in counterpoint to the focus on the legacy of Homer by exploring the sources that inspired artists to break from academic conventions, including non-Western art, pre-Classical ancient art, and popular and folk art forms. With nearly 350 pieces of sculpture from 1832 through the early 20th century, the core of the show comprises new acquisitions that document the aesthetic, thematic, and technical concerns of sculptors in different media.
The show also explores sculpture’s relationship to printmaking, featuring graphic works from the period by such artists as Honore Daumier, Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Francois Millet, Edouard Manet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. On Sunday, October 23, from 2 to 6 p.m., a symposium explores the development of modern sculpture in France. On Sunday, November 6, at 2 p.m., Dennis Cate discusses the artistic and sociopolitical origins of the 20th century as represented in the two major fall shows.
A third show, "A Witness to War: Edward Steichen’s U.S. Navy Photography, 1942-1945" (through January 29), marks the the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Late in 1941 Steichen was commissioned by the Navy to visually tell the story of naval aviation for purposes of recruitment. In addition to recording facts, Steichen wanted to prove that photography could be a powerful instrument for showing the human side of complex events. On Thursday, November 10, at 6 p.m., photographer Caitlin Davis will talk about photojournalistic practices during the World War II.
Each of the other fall exhibitions represents rotating work from the Zimmerli’s collection on a particular theme: "Creating a Paper Paradise: Illustrations for Dear World by Takayo Noda," through February 5, explores children’s book illustrations; "Serialities: Repetition and Narrative in Soviet Non-Conformist Art," (through March 1, represents works on paper; "Fragments of the Everyday: Paintings by Mikhail Roginsky," through October 30, and "Eduard Gorokhovsky 1929-2004" share pieces of the museum’s Soviet nonconformist art; and "New Acquisitions from the Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Russian Art," through October 9, offers the first pieces acquired from the Gruen collection.
At Trenton City Museum
Moving away from the academic, the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park, looks at the the contemporary act of creation. Curator and director Brian O. Hill likes to display the work of different artists together in ways that complement or contrast with each other. "Leaving The Canvas," through November 6, features ceramics, paintings, and mixed media by Susan Hogan; collages by Jen Signell; and sculpture and handmade paper by Joan Needham. "Each of these women had started off as painters but didn’t seem satisfied with two dimensions and were adding things to their canvasses," Hill says.
For Hogan, it was frames that became integral to the picture and her "Queens of Light," a series of portraits of women who "come right out of the canvas." Signell creates miniatures of flower pots, plants, guitars, dogs, children, and the like by applying a thick coat of paint to heavy paper and then cutting out the images. "In an inspirational moment," says Hill, "she will compose pictures with the parts. Needham started interacting with wire frames by wrapping her handmade paper around them, and then canvases themselves begin to wrap around these armatures."
Also at the Trenton City Museum "Rock, Paper,. . .," November 12 to January 8, presents the collages of Sarah Stengle with stone sculpture by Petro Hull. Hill says he had been looking for someone to exhibit with Hull, whom he has known for 15 years – someone whose work would not compete but would be "radically different." Stengle’s work involves collage with lots of words mixed in. "You could stand in front of a 24" x 30" for two hours reading all the words," says Hill. Hull is a sculptor who has evolved from earlier pieces that were simple, stylized, and smooth to "work that has become highly textured and very layered," Hill says.
Summing up the choices he makes for the museum, Hill says: "You can’t always present work that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sometimes you have to present work that’s a little different."
At the Michener
Also challenging museumgoers, the fall exhibitions at the James A. Michener Art Museum’s two locations, in Doylestown and Union Square in New Hope, explore the interaction between art and culture as well as the creativity of regional artists. Doylestown will host two related shows that address the history, problems, challenges, and triumphs of African-American artists. The first show, "Paul Keene: His Art and His Legacy," October 1 to December 31, examines the entire creative career of an artist from Philadelphia and Bucks County whose work explores the multi-layered visual narratives specific to the urban African-American experience.
When Keene was an expatriate in France, he met another artist, Romare Bearden, whose work will be featured in the Michener exhibition, "Romare Bearden: Enchanter in Time," October 29 to February 5. A nationally prominent artist, Bearden filled his work with the symbols and myths of the American black experience. Drawing from a variety of literary, musical, and historical sources, Bearden often employed a collage-like technique that fused many different elements, each with a poetic and symbolic meaning.
"A Louis Bosa Sampler," November 19 March 5, is being mounted in honor of the publication of an original essay on Bosa by Cheryl Knight, the recipient of the Michener’s Helen Gemmill Research Fellowship in 2002-’03. A widely exhibited Bucks County artist, Bosa came of age, when "the whole art world was captivated by abstract art," says senior curator Brian Peterson. Not temperamentally suited to the reigning aesthetic, Bosa "made wonderful humorous, ironic, insightful, wise, and sometimes sad paintings and drawings of people."
Also in Doylestown, sculptor Kevin Forest will exhibit in the outdoor sculpture area from November 12 to February 26. Other upcoming shows include "From World War II to Vietnam: The Revolution in American Photography," January 14 to May 28; and a big show from the Eastman House in Rochester, "Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius," February 18 to May 14, 2006.
At the Union Square Michener in New Hope, "Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections," through January 15, includes more than 50 paintings, works of art on paper, sculpture, and hand-crafted furnishings that are rarely on public display. Peterson says: "So often interesting, important work is purchased by private owners, and it is inside homes where no one sees it. We like to tap into that resource, pull the best out of private homes, and put it on public display." The exhibition includes historic and contemporary work, with a particular focus on Pennsylvania Impressionist painters. On Sunday, October 2, from 2 to 4 p.m., the museum will host a panel on art collecting entitled "Objects of Desire: Collecting the Bucks County School." On Thursday, November 17, curator Constance Kimmerle will present an exhibition tour.
Another upcoming show, "Fashioning Art: Handbags by Judith Leiber," January 27 to April 30, will be "an interesting show that combines populist sensibility and a common banal subject that the artist has turned into an art form," says Peterson.
At the State Museum
While the New Jersey State Museum is undergoing extensive renovations, the museum is using 225 West State Street, the Department of State building, as well as the auditorium galleries at 205 West State Street, which reopened this spring. The planetarium is scheduled to reopen this winter and the main building in early 2007. At the auditorium galleries, the museum presents the "31st Annual Tour of Nikon’s Small World," November 12 to January 29. The annual international micro-photography exhibit features the work of 20 winners selected out of more than 1,200 images from around the globe. A hands-on exhibition on dinosaur eggs and nests, "Hatching the Past: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies," has been extended through December 31 at the New Jersey State Museum’s galleries at 225 West State Street.
The dinosaur egg exhibit, while not exactly art, might serve as a metaphor for the fall exhibitions in central New Jersey. After a long time "in utero" in the minds and hearts of their curators, the upcoming shows are the newborn creations whose ultimate development depends on the interaction between the art and museumgoers. A full intellectual and emotional response is what these shows deserve.
For the complete calendar of the business meetings and arts events in central New Jersey, go to www.princetoninfo.com/us1evts.html