Monday, July 11, 2011

Zimmerli Art Museum: A Tardis Treasure Trove

Yesterday my niece and I took a trip to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. It was a first time visit for my niece and easily the 20th time I’ve been there. After having been there so many times, I usually just drop by for special events or new exhibits. Because of this, I’ve forgotten just how many great works of art are on display there. My niece and I did the quick fly by for most things (we were in and out of the museum in about 40 minutes so most things got a really quick passing by) and spent a bit more time on two newer exhibits – Popcorn & Starbaby: Children’s Book Illustrations by Frank Asch and Cast Me Not Away: Soviet Photograph in the 1980s. I enjoyed the range of everyday life photos on display in the Cast Me Not Away exhibit; the children’s book illustrations were not as exciting as some others I’ve seen there (most notably, the amazing cut paper illustrations by Takayo Noda that need to be seen in 3D to truly appreciate them and the special event where author Mary Shaw and illustrator Sue Agin explained how they came to develop the concept for and publish their children’s book Pierre & Sophia). The two Frank Asch books presented were cute little stories, but I didn’t really see any added benefit of seeing the illustrations framed and hung on a wall rather than just being viewed in the pages of the book. Maybe it’s just me.

Here are my niece’s thoughts on the trip:

Well, since she’s a baby, she can’t really say. So here’s what I inferred from her reactions:

- The children’s book illustrations exhibit did not excite her too much either, which is a bit funny considering this exhibit was the reason I took her to the museum. She spent a good deal of the time watching me reading the story to her instead of looking at the illustrations at all. Toward the end she got a bit fussy as if done with this room. Then I sat her down a stool where the museum staff had a few coloring/drawing pages set out related to the books. She was very excited to scrunch up a piece a paper in one hand and hold a colored pencil in the other one. (She has a very good grip on crayons/colored pencils/etc. but isn’t really interested when I try to show how to color.)

- She wasn’t very interested the Cast Me Not Away exhibit either. She didn’t really look at the photos much but instead looked down on the floor in that room as though she wanted to crawl around on it. (Not that I let her!)

- However, she did like: the stained glass pieces found in a small corridor; sculpture in the European art section (the Figaro sculpture was particularly interesting); Pre-Colombian ceramics (having seen these many times, I was going to walk right past them but she turned her head this way and that to look at them all so I slowed down so she could take them in); a video on spindle fires in the Estonian art exhibit (I had only stayed for a moment on this one and started to walk away but she gave her I’m-not-a-happy-baby-with-that-decision grunt, so we went back and watched the whole thing); and any room with high ceilings and lots of lights that she could look up at in wonder. Well, with that last one, I examined some of the architecture of the building that I never noticed before in all the times I had been there. Understandably, as a baby, she was much more interested in anything that was more three-dimensional than flat. But, overall, she seemed quite interested in the museum and gave me a look that seemed to say, where on earth did you bring me?

As I noted earlier, this was by no means the first trip I’ve taken to Zimmerli. Just last month, a friend and I stopped by briefly for the current exhibit Jolan Gross-Bettelheim: An American Printmaker in an Age of Progress. Prior to our visit, Deb had found this review from The New York Times, which gives a pretty good overview of the exhibit as well as some questions to consider. We both liked that the exhibit was set up chronologically so that the viewer could easily see the artist’s progress over the years, especially as she re-visited themes or similar visuals. However, we both thought it would have been helpful if the exhibit had explained a bit more on the technical details, such as the difference between lithograph and drypoint prints. (For the record, here’s the Wikipedia articles on both: Lithography and Drypoint.) Personally, I liked that the prints very much had the feel of Works Progress Era art.

While we were there, we also stopped in another current exhibit, A View of Caring: Johnson & Johnson/International Center of Photography Fellowship Exhibition. While this marries two things near my heart (social justice and fine arts), we both felt it functioned as a giant advertising scheme for Johnson & Johnson. That’s not to say there weren’t some fantastic photographs included in the exhibit (such as the one of Irish school children playing seen in the link above), but it just seemed a bit odd and out of place.

We also made a short trip into the museum store where I noticed that one of my favorite professor’s in graduate school has a book out (Visible Writings: Cultures, Forms, Readings), which sounds interesting. I also stumbled upon a notecard print of a painting by James Tissot that I found appealing. I had never heard of Tissot before so I looked him when I came home and found that he has a wealth of beautiful paintings. (Check out the gallery of his works found here.) Here is the painting that called out to me at the store:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

For some reason I can’t quite recall, I mentioned to Deb another special exhibit I had seen at the Zimmerli museum some time ago – Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc. This was such a great exhibit that I felt the need to mention it here as well. If you ever get a chance to see Ms. Essaydi’s works, I recommend it without hesitation. Granted, they are probably more interesting to those with a bit of an art history background, but they are so good that I would recommend them for anyone. (Plus, to be honest, I don’t have that much of an art history background, and I could enjoy them wholeheartedly!)

I could go on and on about exciting and interesting exhibits I’ve seen at the Zimmerli Art Museum, but I’ll end with one last event that I went to a few months ago. The first Wednesday of every month (excepting August when the museum is closed), Zimmerli hosts “Art After Hours,” an event in which the museum stays open late and offers a myriad of art-related activities. In the past, I have been to Art After Hours events featuring children’s illustrators speaking on their craft; the viewing of avant garde films; open-mic poetry; and so on. The Art After Hours that I most recently attended was a night dedicated to Estonian art. It began with a curator-led tour of the current exhibit Mystics and Moderns: Painting in Estonia before Glasnost, moved on to a violin/cello/piano concert of Estonian music, and ended with a viewing of the documentary film, The Singing Revolution. If you can find it, definitely check out this film. (It is supposed to be airing on PBS some time this year.) It was excellently done with a can’t-be-beat true story at the heart of it. Chances are good that you’ll walk away having learned something from it. If not, at the very least, you’ll walk away being inspired by it.

It probably goes without saying at this point, but here goes. If you ever find yourself in the New Brunswick area looking for something to do, I’m highly recommending that you stop by the Zimmerli Art Museum for a visit.

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