MOVIS is, once again, on the move. Since 2008 the group of innovative artists has been seen “In Suspension” at the gallery at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, “Nibbling the White Cube” at the Anne Reid Gallery at Princeton Day School, “Deconstructed and Reconstructed” at the gallery at Mercer County Community College, and “Reinventing the Wheel” at the Arts Council of Princeton. Now they have taken to the Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where they are filling niches with “Inside the Box,” on view through Friday, August 19, with a reception on Thursday, June 2.
“MOVIS is a group of artists who don’t want to be boxed in at all,” says Bernstein Gallery curator Kate Somers. “While they meet regularly as a group, and exhibit together, they all maintain active individual careers. Their sources of inspiration are varied, and they give expression to that inspiration through a mix of photography, video, sound, mixed media, and installations.”
For MOVIS, “Inside the Box” really means outside the box. “‘Inside the Box’ is about using the box, breaking the box, and boxing in,” says Somers. “MOVIS often responds literally and figuratively to the gallery environment.”
John Goodyear, whose work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, is one of the founders of the group.
Known for his sculpture and abstract work with titles suggesting something representational, Goodyear says in his artist statement, “More recently I have allowed functional objects to actually look as if they are functioning in the art space. This is different from making found objects look like art, which generally denies their function.”
In a square alcove at the Bernstein Gallery, Goodyear installs floor jacks from floor to ceiling. True to his word, they do look as if they are fulfilling their function, holding up the top of the box.
“These alcoves are the boxes we’re given, and we’re all given the same amount of space to express what can be done in that amount of space,” says the Lambertville resident and Rutgers University professor of art emeritus. “I was wishing the space were larger, and the floor jacks are applying pressure to the ceiling, but the real meaning is to engage the viewer in a game of selecting a reasonable title.” In fact, the work is titled “Title Variable.”
The viewer is invited to change the title from a selection in a plastic box. Among the choices are “Dogs That Don’t Bark,” “Beyond Altruism,” “Sources of Social Power,” “Habit Driven Behavior,” and a few more.
“Some make sense in terms of politics or international relations, and some don’t,” says Goodyear, referring to the Bernstein Gallery’s charge to exhibit artwork reinforcing the Woodrow Wilson School’s public policy mission.
“In deference to the gallery location the titles have been culled from titles of books in the bibliography of a book by Alexander Wendt, ‘Social Theory of International Relations,’” writes Goodyear. Born in Los Angeles, he is the son of an engineer who worked as plumber during the depression, and a kindergarten teacher. He studied art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned a master of design degree before being drafted into the Army. At school he met and married Anne Dixon, another founder of MOVIS.
Pianist and composer Rita Asch, another member of MOVIS, has filled her niche with “Lend Me Your Ears: A Sound Piece.” It begins with a large line drawing of an ear, the title’s letters turned inside the ear. The illustration is surrounded by four sonic environments: “Melange of Office and Communications Sounds,” the sounds of computers, faxes, and other office sounds electronically composed into a sound piece; “Friends, Romans and Countrymen,” Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Ceasar read by Desmond Mosley; “Melting Pot,” fragments of American citizens with foreign or regional accents — French, German, Israeli, Spanish, Dutch, Southern, Bostonian — reading segments of the Declaration of Independence; and “Homage to Aaron Copland,” an original piece of music in which one can hear references to “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
All of this has been engineered into a box of recording devices, so it is a box within a box, according to Asch, who grew up in the Bronx. Her father was an architect and her mother was a math teacher. Asch studied music as Oberlin College, where she graduated in 1959.
“Each of us is doing a work about space, but with a whole set of different statements about space,” says MOVIS member Susan Hockaday, who creates beautiful color photographs and photograms that portray the invasion of our habitat by plastic trash.
Recently, she discovered a kindred spirit, another photographer who also collects and photographs trash. Matt Vega is a friend Hockaday’s son met while both were studying architecture at Yale 20 years ago. Vega’s sister, Suzanne, whose songs “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” were top-10 hits in the 1980s, has a house on Long Island that he takes care of while fishing and working on photography, according to Hockaday.
Vega became interested in the pieces of plastic trash washing up on the beach and sorted and stored them in his sister’s basement for future projects. Hockaday drove out to visit him last fall. “He and I are looking at the same things in the landscape,” says Hockaday, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Vassar but continued her studies at Pratt Graphics Center, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Princeton University (photography), and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (papermaking). “He is a connoisseur of trash, and that’s what I’ve become.”
Hockaday, who took home discarded plastic beach toys from Vega, likes the formal qualities that come out when she makes photographs from plastic trash. “Imagine you are standing looking through to the Atlantic Ocean and could see into it, with all its currents that carry this material,” she says. “A band of floating material that I randomly scattered in the darkroom.”
Using a traditional wet darkroom, Hockaday creates graphic works out of refuse, with lattices and grids. There is an underlayer of texture and color over shapes cutting into shapes. The images look something like constellations in a night sky. “I like the idea of transforming them against a black background, just floating by in the darkness of the ocean,” she says.
For “Shadows of Fragile Places,” Margaret Kennard Johnson has created a European village-scape from bright white printmaking paper. There is great attention to detail — windows, towers, rooftops, and staircases — but Johnson is more interested in the shadows her cutouts cast. It runs at eye level in a straight line across the alcove, and she has calculated the placement for maximum effect from the light source. “Living places are sometimes abandoned, sometimes lived in, but it’s the shadows that come from them that are the dominant issue,” says Johnson, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute and master of design degree from the University of Michigan. “I wanted it to have a bigger meaning than the objects that are their substance.”
Johnson says studying with Josef Albers (at Black Mountain College) taught her to respect the character of the materials and use them to express different things. “I’m using the possibility of the paper to fold and bend,” she says.
Marsha Levin-Rojer expresses herself here with masking tape, “planting” a large tree that grows up the walls to the ceiling. Titled “My Way” — like the Frank Sinatra song — it “celebrates the indomitable spirit that may be confined but cannot be contained,” she says.
This is the second tape tree Levin-Rojer has created. The first was in the abandoned Princeton home of a fellow artist, and it started on the landing near a bay window outside of which a bush was pressing against the glass.
Levin-Rojer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in math at Temple University and returned to school at the age of 50 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, has dedicated “My Way” to Ai Weiwei, the contemporary Chinese artist who has been detained by Chinese police since April 3 for outspoken remarks against the Chinese Communist Party.
Frank Magalhaes’ floor-to-ceiling print on canvas, titled “Voyeur,” refers to the photographer’s voyeuristic pursuits. The outer portion of the image, in black and white, shows a photographer — Magalhaes — with a camera on a tripod. The inner image, in color, is of three girls posing behind one of those cutout boards, where their heads will appear on other bodies, for someone on the other side taking their picture. The girls are kneeling to get their heads through the holes, and we — voyeurs — see them from behind, sort of like watching actors on a stage from backstage.
There are three photographers involved in this piece, Magalhaes says: The photographer who can’t be seen, who is taking the picture of the girls; the pictured Magalhaes seen with a camera; and the unseen Magalhaes, behind the lens.
Magalhaes, a retired engineer who has written poetry and edited US1 Worksheets — an annual poetry journal produced by the Princeton-based U.S. 1 Poets’ cooperative (no relations to U.S. 1 newspaper) — confesses to being a “crazy detail person.” The viewfinder of the camera in the outer image shows the three girls with a slightly different perspective, achieved in PhotoShop. He even sewed the seam in the canvas from which the print hangs.
“This relates to the box, because I’m the photographer who hides within the box to take the photograph in the long corridor between the photographer shown and the subject,” he says.
“There are one of two modes a photographer uses when photographing something animate,” says Magalhaes, who is the life partner of sound artist Rita Asch. “Either you don’t interact, you just observe them in their native environment. Or you interact and engage them. Each gives different results, and each is equally valid.”
Magalhaes tends to prefer the non-interactive approach, usually photographing inanimate objects. “So I have the habit of being an observer, not engaged with the subject,” he says.
The photographer had been visiting Provinceton, MA, and sat across the street from that photo board with the holes cut, shooting a couple of dozen images of the posers from behind. “I had no idea of what I would do with them until this project came along,” he says, “and I could show how a photographer interacts with his world.”
Other artists in “Inside the Box” include Berendina Buist, Hans Haacke, and Martha Rosler.
Inside the Box, Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. On view through Friday, August 19. Opening reception Thursday, June 2, 5 to 7:30 p.m. Group exhibit by members of MOVIS. 609-258-2222.
To read more about MOVIS and see a video of “Reinventing the Wheel,” the MOVIS exhibit at Arts Council of Princeton last year, visit Ilene Dube’s blog, The Artful Blogger at http://theartfulblogger1.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/reinventing-the-wheel.