With the onset of autumn, area museums spring to life with a spate of new exhibitions and related programs along with an embarrassment of ongoing riches. In fact, there is so much happening on museum walls over the next few weeks that a viewer will be faced with hard choices when it comes to looking at art.
“Living in this region, I look forward each fall to seeing what is new,” says Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton. “This year I’m especially impressed with the range and quality of exhibitions. The challenge for me will be to find the time to get to all these great shows.”
While viewing options abound, photography takes center stage at almost every art venue in central New Jersey. In fact the combined variety of photographic style, subject, and approach creates practically a virtual tutorial on the potential of the camera. Imagery ranges from straightforward artistic prints, video, and photographic history, to documentaries, portraiture, and studies of compelling social issues.
Both the Princeton Art Museum and the Newark Museum turn the lens on aspects of life in India though each offers a different point of view. The landmark exhibition at the Newark Museum, October 26 to January 13, presents a broad perspective and serves as an introduction to the variety of work currently being produced by contemporary artists in India.
The largest exhibition of contemporary photography and video art to be mounted in either the United States or in India features more than 100 works by 28 artists that explore life in India offering a rich variety of views of a nation of a billion people, often using personalized perspectives. Some of the featured artists have stretched photojournalism traditions by using photography and video as overtly interpretive media that verges on social analysis. Others construct elaborate fictions with self-portraiture and performance that offer deeply personal, often enigmatic narrative histories.
This revealing exhibition is a reflection of artistic vitality spawned by extreme economic and political shifts, the pervasive influence of the media, and ancient cultural traditions competing with the social impact of globalization. The diversity of art and artists provides rich insights into the dynamics shaping the contemporary Indian psyche.
The photography exhibit at the Princeton Art Museum uses the camera to address long-standing, difficult social issues. “Beloved Daughters: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh,” on view from September 29 through January 6, unites two projects focused on culturally-based rituals affecting women in India. The first, “Moksha,” which was completed in 2005, explores the lives of dispossessed widows who travel to the holy city of Vrindavan with the ultimate goal of reaching moksha, or heaven. Its sequel, “Ladli (Beloved Daughter),” examines the perils faced by girls and young women in the changing conditions of modern India.
The exhibition will be followed by another major display of photography: “Ansel Adams, Moonrise: Print the Legend,” opening on October 26 and on view through January 18. Featuring four distinct prints (made in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s), it explores its potent mythology of Adam’s iconic work, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941), one of the world’s most widely recognized photographs.
Another take on the photograph can b e seen at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum in New Brunswick, where black and white photography from the last 50 years fills the galleries in “A New Reality: Black and White Photography in Contemporary Art,” on view through November 25.
The exhibit examines two approaches to the black and white photograph. The continued use of black-and-white photography as a medium of visual and historical consequence is well-documented with the work of some of the most important photographers of the past half-century. The show also focuses on the growing tendency of some photographers to create imaginative narratives for their imagery. Much like the 19th century pictorialists in England, these photographers often stage arranged figures and objects in environments or tableaux constructed for emotive effect.
With 90 images, the featured works range from those by artists whose careers began in the 1950s to the 1970s — the salad days of photography — to those whose work has emerged within the last decade. While the emphasis is on American photographers, the exhibition also includes important works by artists from other countries. Among those represented in the exhibition are Robert Adams, Vic Muniz, Cindy Sherman, Sherry Levine, Duane Michals, James Casabere, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. The exhibition is derived from a major private collection of photography amassed by New Jersey residents Arthur and Anne Goldstein.
At the Morris Museum in Morristown, you can see the large-scale portrait photographs of Steve McCurry, who is known for National Geographic covers and landscape photography, Tuesday, September 18, through January 27.
While ostensibly on the lighter side, the major exhibition at the Montclair Art Museum, “Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes,” on view through January 13, offers food for serious thought. The first-of-its-kind, this exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected an ever-evolving American culture using more than 150 original drawings, rare comic books and graphic novels from the Golden Age of comics (1938-1946) to the present. Never-before-seen original drawings and other work have been drawn from private collections.
Reflecting life in the United states beginning in 1938, the exhibition is divided into six sections that mark the comic book’s progress through American time: Superheroes Go to War: The Depression and New Deal 1938-1945; Cold War, Conformity, and Censorship: Superheroes in the Postwar Era and 1950s; Questioning Authority: Superheroes and Sociopolitical Change in the 1960s and ’70s; American Indian Superheroes: Stereotypes and Realities; Diversity and Moral Complexity: Superheroes of the 1980s and ’90s; and Spider-Man at Ground Zero: The New Century.
A movie theater has been constructed in the gallery, and will offer regular screenings of the film “Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked” (2003), which addresses both the history of comics and their adaptation as mass media entertainment.
“Dulce Pinzon: The Real Story of the Superheroes,” opening Sunday, September 16, serves as an intriguing companion to this thoughtful major exhibition examining the comic book as cultural mirror. The show includes 20 large-format color photographs that, in a wry manner, document the extreme conditions of labor that confront many Mexican immigrant workers, men and women often exposed to difficult work conditions in order to help their families and communities survive. Each subject is dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes including Superman, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk, among others. When viewed within the context of the accompanying exhibition these works become especially meaningful. Descriptive labels for this exhibition will be printed in both Spanish and English.
Across the Delaware River at the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown, photography exhibitions include portraiture and video. “Soldier”, by Suzanne Opton, on view through October 21, features photographic portraits of military men and women at Fort Drum in New York shortly after their completion of at least 100 days overseas in Afghanistan or Iraq. Using a 4×5 view camera, Opton describes this work as a series to capture “the face of someone who’d seen something unforgettable.”
Clothing as both art and history is the subject for two museum exhibitions. “Stepping Out in Style: Outerwear of the Last 150 Years,” through March 31 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, traces the evolution of street garments for evening and day wear worn by the fashionable — both adults and children — of Europe and America.
Of particular note are the apricot-colored velvet evening coat and cape by Charles Frederick Worth of Paris — perhaps the most famous of France’s late 19th century haute couturiers — and a coat of electric blue wool designed in the 1980s by Arnold Scaasi. (The museum has been designated repository for future Scaasi collections).
“Kerr Grabowski: Art to Wear?” is opening at the Hunterdon Museum in Clinton with a public reception on Sunday, October 7, 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibition is part of museum’s series highlighting artists from this region. A resident of Sussex, NJ, Grabowski is known for her innovative, painterly approach to dyeing and screen printing. Color, mark-making and spontaneity have become her personal signature. Hunterdon is also featuring “Inner Child: Good and Evil in the Garden of Memories.” This exhibition, on view from Wednesday, October 3 to January 6, examines the use of childhood imagery (from children’s toys, books, television and film) in contemporary culture to demonstrate an intense identification with and an emotional attachment to the stuff of childhood.
For information and directions:
Hunterdon Museum, www.hunterdonartmuseum.org
James A Michener Museum, www.michenermuseum.org
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum, www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu
Montclair Museum, www.montclairartmuseum.org
Morris Museum, www.morrismuseum.org
Newark Museum, www.newarkmuseum.org
Princeton Art Museum www.princetonartmuseum.org