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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
George Segal: New Jersey
It is a testament to George Segal that art historian
Phyllis Tuchman says he is still one of her favorite topics.
The sculptor, who lived most of his adult life in rural South Brunswick,
is known the world over for his direct-cast sculptures of ordinary
people in environments that evoke the nobility of everyday life. Tuchman
was still a student at Passaic High School in the 1960s when she first
came across his work in a New York gallery. She wrote and published
her first article on him while still an undergraduate at Boston University,
and eventually became the author of the key monograph, "George
Segal," published in 1983 and still in print.
Now an independent art scholar, Tuchman gives a talk on "The Relevance
of George Segal" at the Zimmerli Art Museum on Wednesday, March
12, at 7 p.m. Her talk is one of three lectures offered in conjunction
with the museum’s current major touring exhibition, "George Segal
Retrospective: From the Artist’s Studio" on view to May 25. Segal
died at home of cancer in June, 2000, at age 75.
In a recent phone interview from her home in Manhattan, Tuchman says
she and the Segal family have remained close since their first meeting
in 1967 because "George was the kind of person you didn’t want
to lose in your life." She used to introduce herself as someone
"who met George before he had gray hair. But then later on I had
to say I met George before both of us had gray hair."
The Zimmerli’s 90-work Segal retrospective is composed primarily of
works loaned by the George and Helen Segal Foundation and represents
all major aspects of Segal’s career from 1957 to 2000. It emphasizes
a significant vein of work that has not been widely seen: his two
and three-dimensional wall-mounted works. There are a large number
of paintings, pastels, and large-scale drawings spanning his career,
and the 3-D works include high reliefs, imagery in box-frame formats,
"shelf sculptures" (literally assembled on a shelf and attached
to the wall with brackets), and figurative paintings combined with
found objects. A color catalogue accompanies the show.
Notable in the exhibit is "The Legend of Lot," 1958, a large
painting before which stands a rough-hewn white plaster figure; the
seven-part "Pregnancy Series" of 1978, literally depicting
a woman’s ripening pregnant body over seven months; "Cezanne Still
Life No. 4," a masterful three-dimensional take on Cezanne; and
a powerful selection of pastels including two from his slaughtered
Tuchman feels that growing up in Passaic is key to her bond with Segal
and his work.
"The best writers on George come from New Jersey," says Tuchman.
She mentions books by Sam Hunter and the late William Seitz, both
art historians who worked for a time at the Museum of Modern Art,
but also in Princeton. "There’s a part of George’s work that’s
part of growing up in New Jersey. I know you can talk about L.A. being
a car culture, but New Jersey is a car culture. There are certain
rhythms in George’s work that I just absolutely understand."
She says in New Jersey "there’s this thing where you have one
foot in the New York art world but you have your other foot in real
"My dad loved art," she explains. "He owned a bakery on
Jefferson Street and he loved taking my mother and sister and me to
New York on weekends. So my dad engendered this love for going to
museums, and from my reading the New York Times and Time magazine,
I discovered there was something called art galleries. I would get
on the bus and go to New York. And one day when I was in high school
I actually saw one of George Segal’s first shows with his plaster
cast figures. I was absolutely awestruck by the work."
Retrospectively, that Green Gallery show in the early
1960s is remembered as one of his most important because it featured
the "Gas Station," a key Segal environment now at the National
Gallery of Canada.
At 19 and a college junior, Tuchman was back in Passaic one day without
her parents but with custody of their car. "I jumped in the car
and drove to New Brunswick and I called George on the phone and asked
if I could come visit him at his studio. He said come right over.
I think he and Helen were having dinner guests that night, but I was
able to go to the studio. It was so cool driving up Davidson’s Mill
Road, and the easiest way you recognized the house, at least then,
was to look for the sculpture that George was working on that was
leaning against the garage."
The following year she wrote her college honors essay on Segal and
was encouraged by a museum curator to send it to the art magazines.
"So that’s what I did. Art International accepted it for publication
and I got accepted for graduate school the same day. So a big, big
piece of my heart goes to George Segal — such a loving, warm,
kind man, but he also figured in important moments in my life."
When asked why she thinks her "George Segal" book has stayed
in print for 20 years, she immediately answers: "Luck."
"I never exactly knew how the book happened. I think somebody
recommended me and I was asked to write it. The book had a great editor
and a terrific designer. You can’t underestimate that stuff."
"In the Passaic public school system we were taught to use simple
words and simple sentences and to be accessible. I think the great
luck of my book on Segal is that I’m sharing his warmth and his directness
and his sophisticated simplicity."
"As an art critic I’ve always felt that when I’m writing I’m just
like my reader except I know a little more. I always hope never to
talk down to somebody and I think George’s sculpture shares that spirit
of being there, of being like the other person."
Tuchman says her Zimmerli talk will focus on Segal’s continued relevance
to artists and art lovers.
"There are an awful lot of very important figurative artists,
representational sculptors, and installation makers who learned a
lot from George. George was a trailblazer and has never adequately
got his due for his huge influence on not just one younger generation,
but two or three."
The show, she says, stresses the unknown George Segal. "This is
material that hasn’t really been exhibited often. I think it’s a little
bit more difficult, they’re odd pieces."
She cites the show’s "The Legend of Lot" of 1958 as a crucial
piece in Segal’s career. "It was soon after he made it that he
looked at it and he realized he was a sculptor," says Tuchman.
"Certainly the figure of Lot in front of the painting is rough
and awkward. And that’s part of the wonderment of the whole thing.
George made quite a number of hand-made plaster figures between the
`Legend of Lot’ and wrapping himself in the bandages [in 1961]. That’s
why when he saw the bandages he knew what it was. He had been fooling
around with plaster."
Segal made his first direct-cast white plaster figure
from his own body in 1961. "Man Sitting at a Table" shows
his rotund figure seated on a wooden chair, at a small wooden table
covered with a plastic sheet, with a weathered window sash standing
alongside. Throughout the 1960s and into the ’70s, most of the figures
were left as white plaster. Later works, represented in the Zimmerli
show, are painted in black or metallic silver, bold primary colors,
some with brushed heightened flesh tones.
"I think George was a very courageous artist who stuck to his
own guns. George attended Stuyvesant High School, one of the elite
high schools in the United States, and more Nobel Prize winners came
from his high school than any other high school in America. But he
wasn’t studying to be a rocket scientist; he became a great artist.
And so right away you have this image of this great mind marching
to his own drummer.
"The fact that George kept working with figures in an age of abstraction
is kind of amazing. They were pretty much out in the New York art
world at the end of the ’50s. It was a very brave, courageous thing
for him to keep doing what he was doing.
"After a while it got sort of boring because the critics would
say, `same old, same old.’ Then after he died — I couldn’t believe
it — Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times, `This man
was wonderful, he stuck to his guns’ — but nobody said that while
he was alive."
As the show demonstrates, drawing was Segal’s lifelong preoccupation.
"The evolution of the works on paper is astonishing, to watch
it grow and change, very obviously figure oriented. And then towards
the end of his life George just fell in love with what Rembrandt could
do on paper."
"I find it absurd to place abstract painting in direct conflict
with figuration," Segal once said. "I think the ability to
pull all threads of our experience together is the one that makes
most sense to me. And if I’m interested in portraits, I’m intensely
interested in what’s the real nature of the person whom I’m drawing.
I want a revelation of what’s inside that person as well as what he
or she looks like."
Born in New York in 1924 and raised during the Depression, Segal’s
father ran a kosher butcher shop in the Bronx where his mother also
worked. In 1940 his parents bought a chicken farm in South Brunswick
where he eventually went to work. There he met his wife, Helen, the
daughter of a neighboring farmer, and the couple married in 1946 and
soon bought their own farm where Helen Segal still lives. The couple
raised two children, Rena, an artist, and Jeffrey. Actively pursuing
his career in art from 1953, Segal taught art in area high schools,
and in 1963 earned his MFA at Rutgers.
Segal was famous for having family and friends for his models, maintaining
that his models had to have "a rich inner life."
Tuchman says the first time he asked her to model, she turned him
down. But eventually he made a portrait cast of her head and painted
it in pastels. "After I finally modeled, oh I regretted not doing
it sooner," she says with a laugh. "It was such a great experience.
The most amazing thing about modeling for George, he didn’t touch
you. He had these magic fingers."
"George was a loyal person with a lot of loyal friends. He was
so loved. He was so smart and so caring and so very bright. He was
a good son and good father. He once told me if God came to him and
asked him to sacrifice his son — as with Abraham and Isaac —
he couldn’t do it."
Ultimately, Tuchman believes the accessibility of Segal’s art was
held against him by the art establishment. His "Bread Line,"
part of the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, is among the most popular
works at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton.
"I sat in front of the `Bread Line’ one Labor Day weekend in Washington,
and in one hour 55 photographs were taken by people lining up in the
bread line. Have you ever seen people do that with another work of
art?," she says with emphasis.
"The first time I saw his Holocaust piece in Golden Gate Park
in San Francisco, the entire area was enveloped in a fog. I was looking
at the piece and all you heard were fog horns. It was amazing. There’s
a poetry to George that sends shivers up your back when you’re in
the right place and right time."
— Nicole Plett
Hamilton streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Slide talk on "The
Relevance of George Segal" in conjunction with current retrospective
exhibit. $3. Wednesday, March 12, 7 p.m.
Road, 609-924-6700. Sculptures and assemblages by La Thorial Badenhausen.
Opening reception with the artist is Friday, March 7, 11 a.m. to 2
p.m., for the show that runs to April 2. Free.
In My Mind," an exhibition of photography by Barbara Bickford.
Educated at London’s Slade School of Art, Bickford’s images of China,
Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Cambodia reflect her fascination
with those countries and their culture. Show runs to March 7.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "From Tow Path to Bike Path: Princeton
and the Delaware and Raritan Canal," an exhibition on the history
and creation of the canal, the life of death of its workers, and recent
environmental and preservation issues. Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon
to 4 p.m.; through March.
Traditional and contemporary Chinese paintings by Seow-Chu See. A
member of the Garden State Watercolor Society, her work has been shown
in group and solo exhibits throughout the area. To March 19.
A show of exuberant oils by the Russian-born artist who paints under
the name YomTov. The artist, who has made Israel his home since 1994,
is inspired by Jewish themes. His works include expressionistic, spiritual
interpretations of biblical figures and events. Part of sales benefits
the center. Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Friday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Saturdays. To March 16.
"Brotherly Love, Art from the African Diaspora" featuring
paintings by Rhinold Lamar Ponder and Keith Goffe. Also works by artists
from Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica, and Guyana. Reception features music
by Larry Thomasson. Fridays and Saturdays, 1 to 6 p.m., and Sundays
1 to 4 p.m. To March 15.
Photographs of Ed Ranney: The John B. Elliott Collection," an
overview of the artist’s career from 1970 and 1999. First recognized
for his photographic studies of Mayan stonework in the 1970s, Ranney
began a collaboration with the artist Charles Ross in 1979, documenting
the evolution of Ross’s earthwork sculpture "Star Axis," a
monumental naked-eye celestial observatory being carved into a cliff
face in eastern New Mexico. Ranney will give a lecture on "Space
and Place" Wednesday, April 9, at 4:30 p.m. in McCormick 106.
Show runs to June 7.
Ranney’s most recent project is a continuing series of emotionally
charged landscapes of the Andean coastal desert of Peru, remarkable
for the carefully rendered tension between the subtle shadows of ruins
emerging from the desert and the vast expanses of these open valleys
that begin against the Andes Mountains and terminate abruptly at the
Also "Seeing the Unseen: Abstract Photography, 1900 to 1940,"
to March 23. "The Arts of Asia: Works in the Permanent Collection"
to June 30. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1
to 5 p.m. Highlights tours Saturdays at 2 p.m.
609-258-3184. "Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders, and Book
Designers," a Milberg Gallery exhibition curated by Rebecca Warren
Davidson. To March 30.
School, 609-258-1651. "Africa’s Lunatics," a photography show
by French photographer Vincent Fougere that depicts how Africa cares
for and treats its mentally ill. After a childhood spent in the Ivory
Coast, Fougere spent eight years traveling across Africa to photograph
its bruised souls. Opening reception is Friday, February 7. Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 21.
609-771-2198. "A Community of Artists: Sculpture from Members
of the Johnson Atelier" featuring work by 15 staff and apprentices
of the Technical Institute of Sculpture in Mercerville, curated by
CNJ faculty artist Charles Kumnick and gallery director Judy Masterson.
Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday,
1 to 3 p.m. To April 2.
Lawrenceville, 609-895-5589. "Altered Books: Spine Bending
Thrillers," curated by Karen McDemott, and showcasing the works
of 14 artists from across the country. Area professionals Sarah Stengle
of Princeton, Maria Pisano of Plainsboro, and Liz Mitchell of Pittstown
are among the featured artists. Gallery hours are Tuesday through
Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To March
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Fabrications," an exhibition
of textiles by fabric artist Carol Sara Schepps, a graduate of the
Pratt Institute of Technology in New York. Reception February 21,
4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 8 p.m. To March 14.
"My artwork examines the light, reflection, and complex elements
that make up otherwise common objects," says the artist. "By
unfolding the relationship of lights, darks, and color, I break down
an image and translate it into a melange of fabric and construction
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "George Segal: Sculpture, Paintings,
and Drawings from the Artist’s Studio;" to May 26. Also: "June
Wayne: Selected Graphics, 1950 to 2000," a show celebrating Wayne’s
recent appointment as a research professor at Rutgers and the establishment
of the June Wayne Study Center and Archive, located in the RCIPP at
the Mason Gross School; to June 29. "Russian Cover Design, 1920s
to 1930s: The Graphic Face of the Post-Revolutionary and Stalinist
Periods"; to March 30. "Sergei Paradjanov Off Camera: Collages,
Assemblages, and Objects," to March 16. Open Tuesday through Friday,
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight
tours every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free;
and free on the first Sunday of every month.
"The Sum of Its Parts," an exhibition of paintings, assemblage,
kinetic, and static sculpture by Joanna Platt. Opening reception Saturday,
February 15, 5 to 7 p.m. Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To March 6.
Platt’s work explores the relationship between humans and machines;
the complex ways we internatlize the machines we have created and,
conversely, the ways in which they begin to resemble us. A graduate
of Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers, she is supervisor of the
pattern development department of the Johnson Atelier.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Museum, new work by glass
artist Dale Chihuly, to April 6. In the Domestic Arts Building "Focus
on Sculpture 2003," an annual juried exhibition of photographs
by amateur photographers. Juror is Hope R. Proper of the Perkins Center
for the Arts. 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. Individual memberships
start at $55. To April 6.
609-695-0061. Ritch Gaiti, "Returning to the Spirits, A Painted
Journey of the West." A self-taught painter, Gaiti spent 26 ears
in the corporate world and retired from his first career as the first
vice president and senior director of advanced technology at Merrill
Lynch. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To April 26.
Building 4, third floor, Lawrenceville, 609-896-0732. Solo show
of paintings and sculptures by Mexican artist Rony Chubich. The Abud
Family Foundation for the Arts was established in 2002 to promote
Ibero-American art in various forms. Show runs to April 11.
Created by area neurosurgoen Ariel Abud and his family, the foundation
promotes the contemporary arts of Spain, Latin America, and Central
America. It awards stipends to artists, with an invitation to travel
to the U.S. and exhibit their work in the small Lawrenceville gallery.
Gallery is open by appointment, Wednesday to Saturday, 1:30 to 6 p.m.
Shared show featuring "Water in Motion" by Jay Goodkind and
"Without Tools He is Nothing," new works by Robert Borsuk.
Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
To March 16.
Route 1, Lawrence Township, 609-989-6920. David J. Simchock’s photography
exhibition, "Vagabond Vistas." The images were captured during
the artist’s three-year journey through five continents. On view to
609-252-0020. Exhibition of Japanese paper dolls, or washiningyo
handmade by Jill Nielsen. Also on view, Japanese woodblock prints,
both antique and modern. Show runs to March 14.
New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "From the Old World to the New World,"
recent additions to the collection featuring works by nine Hungarian
Americans who emigrated to the U.S. between 1920 and 1957. Artists
are Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bertha and Elena De Hellenbranth, Sandor Sugor,
Emil Kelemen, Willy Pogany, Tibor Gergely, Zoltan Poharnok, and Vincent
Korda. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. Through April.
732-745-4177. "Uncommon Clay: New Jersey’s Architectural Terra
Cotta Industry," an exhibition of artifacts and written and oral
histories of New Jersey’s once booming architectural ceramics industry.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
To May 30.
908-735-8415. "2003 Annual Members Exhibition," juror Rocio
Aranda-Alvarado of Jersey City Museum. "Drawings by John Patterson:
Process, Reveries, and Accumulations." Open Tuesday to Sunday,
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 8.
609-292-6464. "Cultures in Competition: Indians and Europeans
in Colonial New Jersey," a show that traces the impact of European
settlement on the native Indians’ way of life after 1600. On extended
view: "Art by African-Americans: A Selection from the Collection;"
"New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological Record;"
"Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler Collection
of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire;" "Neptune’s
Architects;" "The Modernists;" "New Jersey Ceramics,
Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical Archaeology of Colonial
New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
215-340-9800. "Randall Exon: A Quiet Light," a solo show by
the Philadelphia-area painter and Swarthmore College professor; to
April 27. "A Home of Our Own," a show that commemorates Levittown’s
50th anniversary featuring the contemporary photographs of Jean Klatchko
and vintage objects from the State Museum; to April 13. Winter hours:
Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission $6 adults; $3 students and children.
609-252-6275. "Hidden Threads," a show featuring six New Jersey
textile artists, each working with the medium in a different way.
Soyoo Park Caltabiano, Nancy Staub Laughlin, Patricia Malarcher, Joy
Saville, Armando Sosa, and Erma Martin Yost are featured. Open Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To
Painter and sculptor Edward M. Adams’ new gallery space. A widely
exhibited artist, Adams is also a licensed psychologist with a private
practice in Somerville. Winter gallery hours Friday, Saturday, and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
"Creatures," a theme art show to benefit the Hunterdon County
SPCA animal shelter. Featured artists include Robert Beck, Anne Cooper
Dobbins, Lisa Mahan, Kim Robertson, Barry Snyder, and Stacie Speer-Scott.
Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 31.
Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. Lambertville Historical Society’s
23d annual juried art exhibition, "Lambertville and the Surrounding
Area." Juror is Mel Leipzig. The show’s eight award-winning artists
are Tom Birkner, W. Carl Burger, Vincent Ceglia, Marge Chavooshian,
Alexander Farnham, Bryan Fisher, Robert Sakson, and Luiz Vilela. Gallery
hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 16.
908-996-1470. "Too Soon for Spring?" show features flower-theme
works by 20 gallery artists including W. Carl Burger, Christina Debarry,
and Charles Nelson. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March
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