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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 (.email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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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