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This article by Tricia Fagan was prepared for the November 22,


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Zimmerli Museum: Back in the Flow

There’s no mention of Feng Shui in the press


but the energy and flow of the newly expanded Jane Voorhees Zimmerli

Museum at Rutgers University suggests an almost perfect model of that

ancient Chinese method of creating harmony in our environment. Almost

all the elements are in place — uncluttered outlooks, beautifully

lit exhibition spaces, discreet panels of elegant primary colors,

and a seductive flow to the entire museum that leads you effortlessly

through a wonderland of world class art. As a result, the museum


just look great — it feels great.

After more than a year of construction, the expanded and renovated

Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University has just


its gala reopening. The museum is located on the New Brunswick campus

of Rutgers University at 71 Hamilton Street, just a few minutes walk

from the train station (">

The real story of how this remarkably successful $5 million expansion

came about actually has less to do with ancient decorating principles

and more to do with equal parts vision, persistence, collaboration,

and design skill. For the design and collaboration elements, Rutgers

turned to the Princeton firm, KSS Architects (see accompanying story).

The KSS team worked closely with Zimmerli’s director, Phillip Dennis

Cate, and his staff along with the Rutgers facilities group in


and building the addition.

It is probably fair to say that museum director Cate has provided

a lion’s share of the vision — and persistence — that brought

this expansion to fruition. Less than three weeks before the


in the midst of bustling staff, down-to-the-wire touchups, and crated

artworks still waiting to be installed, Cate emanates the focused

calm of a man who has actually seen a dream come true. Since joining

the staff in 1970 as an assistant curator, he has spent the better

part of 30 years helping to define and build Zimmerli’s reputation

— as a world class museum and center of international art —

to this point.

The museum was first introduced to the public as part of Rutgers


200th birthday celebration in 1966. It began its existence as a small

art gallery tucked in beside the university’s art history department

and art library in the then newly renovated Voorhees Hall. Over the

years, the space was expanded piecemeal to accommodate the


growing art collection. Today, based on collection size, gallery


and budget, the newly-expanded Zimmerli moves into the top five


of all university art museums in the U.S. The sheer size of the


collections — now numbering 60,000 works of art — makes it

the third largest of all U.S. university museum collections, just

behind Harvard and Yale.

"Our spaces were essentially one building built piecemeal onto

another over the course of several years," says Cate, noting that

this is the museum’s fifth expansion. "The museum is a complicated

complex — essentially two-and-a-half levels of galleries. With

this new addition we’ve almost doubled our available exhibition space

from 20,000 to 35,000 square feet. KSS did a wonderful job in opening

up and integrating the entire space."

Completing the new two-story, 15,000 square foot annex housing the

Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet

Union meant more than simply adding more space. "Building the

new wing for our Soviet dissident art collection opened up spaces

for collections which we’ve had in storage since 1995. We’re able

to offer all aspects of our collections simultaneously." The


has also added significantly to behind-the-scenes office, storage,

and staging areas as well expanding available classroom and community


The new gallery, itself, is still in the final stages of painting

and preparation. It’s a spacious area, well lit (with welcome touches

of natural light well-away from the artwork), soaring ceilings, and

flexible wall dividers on rolling casters. The large classroom


the downstairs gallery space offers a flexible meeting area with


walls, allowing them to incorporate the area into the main gallery

for receptions, concerts, and other larger events.

A second stairway to the far back of the gallery allows immediate

access to the other floor (the museum is also wheelchair accessible,

with elevators). In one area, crews are in the process of recreating

an apartment from St. Petersburg. "We have the only examples of

Apt-Art, or Apartment Art, here," Cate explains. "In the early

’80s Russian artists would hold weekend exhibits in their apartment.

By the end of the weekend everything would be down. The KGB wouldn’t

know where to look."

Continuing through the exhibitions, Cate talks about some of the


— and serendipity — that contributed to the evolution of the

museum’s unique identity. "We realize that we’re not the


Museum of Art," he says. "We don’t need to be — New York’s

museums are only 35 minutes away. So, in many areas, you can get a

touch of things here and then go to New York if you want to get more

depth. What we’ve tried to do is to focus in areas that we find that

are somewhat unique."

Visiting the galleries, some of those "areas"

quickly become apparent — sometimes in unexpected ways. The


featuring American figurative art from the 1700s through to the


is a case in point. This modest, but beautifully presented sampling

includes portraits like James Sharples’ lovely 1797 pastel of George

Washington or "Girl in White with Basket of Cherries," a


oil by itinerant artist Micah Williams in 1831, as well as early


and still lifes. Rounding a corner into the more contemporary


(including works by Robert Rauschenburg and Red Grooms) you find a

surprisingly strong showing of surrealist works.

"Back in 1977, Zimmerli offered the first show ever done on


surrealism of the 1930s and ’40s," Cate explains. "The work

we did in developing the show, acquiring work, and writing the


catalogue has proven to be quite an important bit of scholarship for

American art history. And we retain a strong collection of American

surrealist art from this period."

Up a short flight of stairs is the intimately scaled American Prints

Gallery that will feature changing exhibitions drawn from the Museum’s

extensive holdings of American prints from 1875 to the present.


featured are innovative woodcuts and other prints created by the


Printers, from 1910 to the 1990s. Just behind this gallery lies


unexpected surprise: The Ferber Lounge.

This tiny area houses a single fiberglass installation which fills

the space, curving and arching from floor to ceiling. "This was

done in 1961," says Cate, "and exhibited at the Whitney


It’s considered the earliest environmental sculpture by an American

artist. In 1966, Herbert Ferber was an artist-in-residence at Rutgers.

He re-cast the work in fiberglass and this room was built around this


As you walk through the museum, each new gallery offers a new


to view exquisite art — and to learn. Generous text panels and

occasional timelines are available in many of the galleries to give

visitors a context for the artwork they are seeing. "We are


Cate admits. "We have at least four or five in-depth collections

that lend themselves for research and scholarship. The other areas,

such as our American collection, or our European art collection, are

offered more as general survey areas. We offer some nice little gems

to introduce traditional American, European, and ancient art."

Some of the "gems" on exhibit include a small faience sphinx

from ancient Egypt, beautiful terracotta and stone figurines from

Greece (circa 500 BC), engravings by Bruegel (the Elder) and


Walk too quickly into the gallery featuring early European Art, and

you might miss the illustrated page from the Gutenberg Bible or the

Durer woodcut. A Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass panel is one of

three pieces from the museum’s stained glass collection temporarily

on exhibit in one of the hallways.

There are dedicated galleries for Zimmerli’s larger collections. Works

from the glorious George Riabov Collection of Russian Art (the largest

collection outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg) occupy one of the

larger exhibition spaces in the museum (accented in a rich red), as

well as a side gallery where works on paper related to the Russian

costume and stage design — such as that made famous by Diaghilev’s

Ballet Russes at the turn of the 20th century — are exhibited.

There’s a special gallery housing shows drawn from Rutgers’ national

Archives for Printmaking Studies. Another features a thoughtfully

exhibited selection of modernist European and American art. The large

"Special Exhibits" gallery is home to the grand reopening

launch exhibition, Michael Mazur’s print retrospective. "Half

a century of artistic dialogue" between the East and West is the

feature in the museum’s Japonisme gallery. Japanese-inspired works

by Western artists including the Impressionists and Louis Comfort

Tiffany are displayed beside woodcuts by Hokusai and Nobukazu.

Cate says he grew up in a household filled with Japanese prints and

other art. His father, born in Japan to American missionaries, was

deeply influenced by his early experiences there. "In the 1920s,

my father began working as an assistant curator of Japanese art at

the then-Pennsylvania Art Museum," he says. "That job ended

with the Depression. By 1935, he relocated to Virginia to work for

the U.S. National Security Agency."

Cate and his two sisters grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. He received

a BA in art history from Rutgers University in 1967 and, after


his MA in the Southwest, returned to Philadelphia where he worked

for two years before starting at Zimmerli in 1970.

Over the years Cate has taken a particular interest

in expanding Zimmerli’s impressive collection of European graphics

and printmaking from the turn of the 20th century. The exhibit is

particularly engaging — and a lot of fun. Cate admits that this

is an area of personal as well as professional involvement. "This

is my section," he says with pride. "Here we explore the


of printmaking, which relates to certain aspects of painting —

pre-Impressionists and Impressionists. We also look at the art of

poster-making, and the phenomena of cabaret art."

Along with unique works by artists with familiar names (many of the

Impressionists and post-Impressionists are represented), you’ll find

cutouts from the shadow theaters that preceded moving pictures in

the late 1800s alongside selections from Le Mur (The Wall), an


journal created by artists who gathered at the Quat’z’Arts Cabaret.

An exhibition of 400 of the museum’s cabaret related art just ended

at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and is now going to the San



The Zimmerli also continues to work on its role as a family-oriented,

community-based museum. Kids are definitely welcomed here. In addition

to the charming Adi Blum Learning Center (a brightly colored nook

on the lower floor, filled with child-friendly art activities), the

new addition has allowed them to open the Roger Duvoisin Gallery where

rotating exhibits of works from Zimmerli’s large collection of


childrens’ book illustrations ("Arkful of Animals" is the

current exhibit). "We feel this is very important," says Cate,

"because we want families to feel that the museum is a place that

they can come to all the time. If the children want to sit down to

read a book, and the parents want to go look around, that’s fine!"

Back in the museum’s lobby, Cate is ready to get back to work. The

grand opening is fast approaching, and there’s art waiting to be


— plus he’s already talking about the few finishing touches to

be accomplished in the months ahead. "The lobby still needs to

be renovated," he says, "and there are plans to do some work

on the entryway courtyard. We’re also still working on the new cafe

which should open in the spring. We may put some of the museum’s


glass in there to give it a special touch." Entryways, access,

color and light: the Feng Shui masters would be pleased.

Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street,

New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Inaugural exhibitions include:"Michael

Mazur: A Print Retrospective"

covering a 40-year span of the artist’s career; to February 16.


in Contemporary American Printmaking" from the rich resources

of the Rutgers Archives for Printmaking Studios; to February 18.


Arkful of Animals: Captivating Creatures," from the Rutgers


of original illustrations for children’s literature; to December 22.

"Realities and Utopias: Abstract Painting from the Dodge


to January 14. "Opening Up: A Half-Century of Artistic Dialogue

between Japan and the West" (ongoing). And "A World of Stage:

Designs for Theater, Opera, and Dance from the Riabov Collection,"

to March 31.

Museum hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday

and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults age 18 and up;

admission is free on the first Sunday of each month.

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