Sometimes we become so familiar with the artists in our midst, we forget that these “local” artists are internationally renowned.
Take John Goodyear. The Rutgers University professor of art emeritus and Lambertville resident was included in “The Responsive Eye,” the first important survey of Op art at the Museum of Modern Art. His work is in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, the British Museum, London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, as well as significant institutions closer to home: the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, and Smithsonian Institution. And yet here he is among us, curating exhibits on, for example, the use of the iron in art by the likes of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp (at Princeton Day School in the early 2000s).
Goodyear gathers weekly at the Institute for Advanced Study with a group of artists: they meet to discuss art, philosophy, politics, film, and the interaction among them. The group, MOVIS, comprises artists who are also well known to us locally, but whose impact on the world is significant: Margaret Kennard Johnson, Susan Hockaday, Berendina Buist, Marsha Levin-Rojer, Eve Ingalls, Frank Magalhaes, and Rita Asch.
“Boomerang,” an exhibit by MOVIS on view at the New Jersey State Museum through, Sunday, September 22, includes works in painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, kinetic and sound works, ephemera, and installation. Two guest artists were also invited to participate in the exhibit: Lucio Pozzi and Paul Theroux.
The idea for the exhibition came about when MOVIS member Eve Ingalls read “A Fine Disregard” by the late Kirk Varnedoe, chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA and faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study. Varnedoe talked about a cultural boomerang as a “kind of export-import exchange that involves sending out a tradition that then comes back to you, newly alive and fertile.”
Take, for example, the exchange between Japanese and European artists. Western perspective was changed and played with by Japanese artists, and subsequently their re-imagined versions of perspective became fascinating to Impressionists and post-Impressionists, who incorporated flattened perspective into their work.
The MOVIS members were interested in the idea of borrowing from extracultural sources — transforming source materials to reflect the needs and customs of the borrower.
These artists, all well traveled, recognize the effect of world cultures on their work, even if they cannot exactly pinpoint the origin of the influence. And many of these artists continue the boomerang effect by exhibiting in “extracultural venues.”
This is the ninth exhibit for MOVIS. The group formed in 2006, and its first exhibit was at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, “In Suspension.” Since then they have been seen “Nibbling the White Cube” at the Gallery at PDS, “Reinventing the Wheel” at the Arts Council of Princeton, “Inside the Box” at the Bernstein Gallery, having “HAM and Eggs” at the Hunterdon Art Museum (HAM being the museum’s acronym), and are planning to make “Noise at the Noyes” in an upcoming exhibition. With Goodyear as the de facto leader of the leaderless group, MOVIS is both serious and playful at the same time.
Berendina Buist, a native of the Netherlands who lived in Italy for 10 years before settling in the U.S. in 1999, finds herself absorbed in Hockaday’s 1974 photo album, “Reflections on Living in Holland,” encased in a vitrine on the second floor gallery. “It speaks to me, these classical scenes of the high water and soggy land where people make a living,” says Buist, who was 15 at the time of these images. Though Buist lived north of the area Hockaday visited, it still feels like home. “Holland is so small — even if you live in the city, you go on a bicycle ride and you find this.”
“Our family of five lived in Holland in 1973-4 and again in 1978,” writes Hockaday. Her family is Dutch in origin, and her mother and grandfather, both artists, painted the countryside in the early 1900s. “I imagined I was following their path. Aspects of that landscape entered my artwork at that time.”
She was struck by the flatness that made her feel like she was walking on a map; by the horizon — “it was a run-on sentence” connecting villages, trees and churches by the water everywhere; and the huge sky that was reflected in all those canals, rivers and lagoons. The Hopewell resident made etchings that she completed at home (she lived in Princeton at the time). Many years later, returning to photography, she continued trying to capture the relationship to water. There are two recent images, a panorama of color photos of the sky reflected in curving waterways — kind of a boomerang shape — juxtaposed with an etching of a landscape filled with water and the lines of a village.
Buist also works in photography and also fiber, sometimes combining the two. For “Boomerang,” she has suspended sheets of sheer white silk organza and cut into them horizontally. The result, “Belong,” looks like tiers of draping ribbon.
“I have done images on fabric for which the fabric was the substrate and the vehicle for the image, but here it is just the fabric speaking,” she says. “It’s about moving and finding your way.”
She asks “Would it be more accurate to say I live in more than one culture? Would living in between imply that I am an outsider looking in? While my desire to belong is strong, I never feel I am 100 percent part of one or the other.”
New Jersey State Museum’s curator of fine arts Margaret O’Reilly encouraged the artists to look back at older work that was important to them at the time. Buist found several photographs to which she could trace her first awareness of light and ephemerality.
In “Belong,” the fabric expresses not only belonging but chaos.
While photographer Frank Magalhaes has done his share of traveling to foreign countries, he says he prefers not to travel and avoids it when he can. He finds more inspiration in what he reads than from actual physical travel.
“When I read, I find myself living in the environment created by the author,” he says. “This experience is so vivid for me that I often feel I have actually lived in the lands I have read about.”
For “Old Man Willow,” his photograph of a sage old tree trunk has been created in gray scale using text to make up the pixels, or dots, such as in newspaper half tone. The text is from the sixth chapter of the first volume of “Lord of the Rings,” a favorite tome he read numerous times to his children, now 48 and 45, and they eventually read to him, as well as to his grandsons.
In the sixth chapter, “I first met Old Man Willow. I was astounded when I met him most recently while preparing to photograph a huge sycamore tree near Hopewell. He was standing right beside the road near a bridge abutment. I went back several times to be sure I had taken the best portrait I could.”
Princeton’s Maggi Johnson has lived in Zurich and Tokyo, and traveled on all seven continents. Her work has been exhibited from Tokyo to Oslo, from Sao Paulo to Ohio, and of course abundantly in the Garden State.
She sees a line in her work before and after living in Japan. On view here is an intaglio, “Artifacts,” which she produced in 1966, before going to Japan. She recounts how it was produced in Judith Brodsky’s printmaking workshop, using foil instead of acid. The image, she says, was a result of letting the foil tell her what to do. “By rubbing black ink over the plate and wiping it off, the top layers reveal the textured layers, and this creates a type of mystery I’ve loved ever since.”
She continued using the techniques she’d learned in Princeton while in Tokyo, but in 1979, after visiting Japanese artists’ studios for her book, “Japanese Prints Today: Tradition with Innovation,” she wasn’t satisfied with the work she was producing. So she pulled the shapes of the collagraph away to get to a simpler form. “It seemed I was soaking up the subtlety and simplicity of Japanese culture, and this is the way I wanted to go.”
After that, she says, she met a Japanese papermaker who asked her to make prints on three sheets of handmade paper. But she found the handmade paper a complete work of art in itself, and after days of contemplation decided she could not add ink without spoiling what was. From there she began examining paper for its own qualities, embossing it with mesh onion bags, and running it through the press. She experimented with letting the paper participate through the spaces of the mesh, and when she returned to Princeton began working in handmade paper. She continued to experiment with collaboration of materials, using rusted wire that would leave its imprint. Johnson also explores “Belonging” in a work that embeds shapes in cotton pulp and abaca with red string.
MOVIS has become family for Rita Asch, a composer and musician who creates sound pieces with MOVIS. “There isn’t a sense of competition — each of us is there for the other to be the best at what they do.”
When traveling through Morocco and Turkey, she was struck by the modal similarities in their calls to prayer and in the indigenous music of each country. “The plaintive nature of the music reminded me of the Jewish/Hebraic/Yiddish sounds I have heard all my life,” she says. “Despite cultural differences and dissension, much, at least musically, is shared.”
For “Voices,” she digitally generated sounds of the clarinet, accordion, banjo, percussion, and shofar, then wove them together to create a “musical fabric” of melodies of Turkish and Arabic classical music, and Jewish klezmer music. Magalhaes, who is Asch’s life partner, has helped to engineer Moroccan and Turkish vocal clips.
The work is housed in a box with a fan that is activated when a viewer approaches, and sets off a scent suggesting the spice markets of the parts of the world evoked by the music. Don the headphones, inhale the scent, and you’re magically transported to that hybrid world.
“I’m hoping people will have that Proustian moment of the scents evoking memories,” she says.
Goodyear has experimented throughout his long career in painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, light and optics, and even heat. Influenced by Duchamp, Goodyear allows the viewer to play a role in the creative act — his work implies that there is always more than one way to see things.
While serving in the U.S. Army in Japan in the 1950s, Goodyear studied Zen Buddhism, and after returning he heard John Cage perform. In fact it was Cage who led him to Duchamp. Later, while making regular trips to the Louvre in Paris, Goodyear developed an interest in appropriation of historical works of art.
Here we see a work from 1960, “John Cage Throws a Fish into the Piano,” suspended rectangular poles painted in a way that you hope will make sense if they are all aligned the right way. The viewer can set the poles in motion, and the work changes as they revolve, never settling into a singular static view. The painted image suggests someone playing the piano, but it is more about being mesmerized by the bands, shapes and colors than discerning any particular image.
During a trip to Europe in 2011, Goodyear became fascinated by a panoramic painting, attributed to the 15th century Dominican Friar Fra Angelico, depicting early Christian saints and hermits in the Egyptian desert. The painting is 85 inches wide but with no focal point or singular narrative. Goodyear describes it as having little pockets of action all over. With its mountains, hills, rocks, trees, houses, boats, people, animals, and even devils, it is impossible to take in all at once.
Goodyear responded by reducing its intricacy to black and white line drawings on rectangular suspended poles, separating the panorama into separate spinning segments. His rendering is far from a literal translation but suggests the water, mountains, and figures. Again, it is an optical challenge, and your mind wants to slow it down to study the details of the village and the people.
When you look at a model of the world, all the pieces seem to fit together like a puzzle. The water wraps so nicely around the protuberances at the shores of the Americas, or Africa and Australia.
Sculptor Eve Ingalls started to ask the question: What if the world didn’t fit together? What if, as a result of climate change, the sea rises, and the outlines of the continents as we know them no longer align, but just bust apart at the seam?
“Travel opens new pathways to my studio work,” says Ingalls, citing a series of visits to archaeological sites in Greece and living in Japan to study Japanese scroll painting. Ingalls has created her own representation of the Earth. Three large spheres are suspended near each other, one representing the blue seas, another the land, and, finally, the built environment. It is the hand of man against the hand of nature and, the artist has learned, it no longer fits.
“We are populating the world in such a way that the layers of the Earth no longer fit together,” she says. “The shadow on the wall even suggests the hands of a clock marking time.”
Preparing for “Boomerang” gave Marsha Levin-Rojer the chance to consider how her experiences abroad influenced her work. While living in France for a year, she studied the plein air paintings of Camille Corot, and “Ansouis,” a patchwork of patterns in a farmland landscape, shows that influence.
Her mandala series, on the other hand, was inspired by a small cluster of moss she found while walking in Yosemite National Park. What began as a drawing in a sketchbook turned first to a larger drawing and to mandalas made from a variety of materials. “Tactile Memory” and “Map Mandala” are both made from shredded paper. For the latter, “I have used maps from my travels abroad to represent the essential Oneness of humanity,” she says.
“Artists get their ideas in different ways, and I hope this helps viewers understand,” says O’Reilly.
“Boomerang” is the first in a series of exhibits in central New Jersey continuing through 2014 that focus on art communities that developed beginning in the 1960s in central New Jersey. These include the New Jersey Avant-Garde at Rutgers, the artists of Roosevelt, the women’s printmaking group in Princeton, the Princeton Artists Alliance, TAWA and others. “Concentric Circles of Influence: The Birth of Artists’ Communities in New Jersey” will be at the Princeton University Art Museum, the Historical Society of Princeton, the Arts Council of Princeton, Princeton Public Library, and the Gallery at Mercer County Community College. In spring 2014, the State Museum will exhibit the artists of Roosevelt.
Boomerang, New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton. Tuesday through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., through Sunday, September 22. Suggested admission requested. 609-292-6464 or go to www.nj.gov/state/museum.