It’s been a while since my niece and I last visited a museum or other cultural institution, so when I was watching her for the day yesterday, I decided take us down to Princeton for a semi-artistic visit. When we first got there, my niece had just woken up from a nap so I decided that while she was still perking up, it was a good time to check out a couple of exhibits on campus. (Now that she’s older and more mobile – and more vocal – I wasn’t sure if she would be as good as long as she had been when we visited the Zimmerli museum over the summer.)
We headed over to Princeton University’s Firestone Library and took in our first exhibit, “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London.” This exhibit contained some 70 engravings from the 18th century British artist William Hogarth, along with a sampling of some contemporaries’ works. Last month, I read Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London and found out about how Hogarth was also a philanthropist who, like Dickens, used his artistic work not only to donate proceeds to the needy but also as an outlet to lambast the poor societal conditions of the time. In particular, the book talked about Hogarth’s famous work Gin Lane and how it depicted the overabundance of alcohol, even when little else was available – including clean drinking water. So walking in to the exhibit and seeing Hogarth’s work in general, and Gin Lane in particular, was certainly fitting to this recent acquisition of knowledge. Likewise, the accompanying literature from the exhibit describes Hogarth as “creat[ing] a new, moralizing role for the artist, forcing viewers not only to look but then to act on what they had seen.” The brief biography on the exhibit’s website also notes, “Hogarth’s work took on a distinctly propagandist tone, directed at the urbanization of London and the city’s problems with crime, prostitution, gambling, and alcoholism. …Hogarth strived to create works of great aesthetic beauty but also ones that would help to make London a better city for future generations.” Talk about reinforcing your learning.
I mostly brushed through looking at the prints pretty quickly without reading the majority of the accompanying information, but it appeared that the staff also included a fair amount of explanations with each piece as well as an introduction to Hogarth and 18th century London. Overall, I found this exhibit very interesting and would have spent more time examining the individual works had I been on my own or with an adult companion. The exhibit goes on until the end of January, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in prints, London, history, and/or satirical works. My niece’s reaction to this exhibit was mostly playing with my gloves, watching with interest two women talking to each other about the works, and looking up at the light fixtures. Hey, at least she was happy.
The second exhibit, also at the Firestone Library, was “George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer.” Best known as a sculptor, this small exhibit featured some of his lesser known works of photography, as is all implied by the exhibit’s title. The subjects of these works, at least those on display here, were often family members or friends as well as local scenery (such as the boardwalk at Asbury Park or the Keansburg amusement park). While seeing the nearby locales as they looked in the not-so-long-ago past was interesting and I’ve always loved the picture of Segal and his friend Donald Lokuta photographing each other (scroll down to the second picture), I was not overly thrilled by this exhibit. Segal’s sculpture works are far more interesting and compelling to me, most especially the ones I’ve been able to view up close both at the Zimmerli museum and at Grounds for Sculpture. I would not have recommended making the trip for this exhibit alone, although that point is now moot as the exhibit closed today. My niece’s reaction to this exhibit was … playing with my gloves. So this one was not a real winner all around.
We then moved on the lovely Cotsen Children’s Library located within the Firestone Library. Here my niece got to explore and play in the Bookscape gallery, which is a delightful space for kids to read, hang out, and use their imaginations. We both liked the tree house with its upper and lower nooks for reading and looking out on the world. Later in the day, we also visited the vast public library of Princeton, which has an entire floor just for children. The countless books and toys as well as the kid-sized furniture and giant fish tank with steps leading up to it make this a great place for young children to just hang out for a long time while they read, play, and make friends – indeed, my nephew and I have also spent a good chunk of the day here before. All in all we had a good day with some slightly out-of-the-ordinary things for the both of us.