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George Segal (1924–2000) has been acclaimed as one of the major American sculptors of the late twentieth century. Born in New York City, Segal moved with his family to South Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1940. His father started a chicken farm, an occupation that Segal continued on land he purchased across the road from his father’s property (Segal’s family still resides at that location). After turning to art as a profession, Segal converted the chicken coops to studio space, where he developed his methods and ideas during a career spanning over 50 years. From 1942 to 1946, Segal took several humanities courses part time at Rutgers University, though his early training in art and art education occurred at Cooper Union, Pratt Institute of Design, and New York University. Segal received his master of fine arts degree from Rutgers in 1963 followed by an honorary doctorate in 1970.
While painting, drawing, and printmaking were always important aspects of the artist’s production, Segal’s international reputation was built on his sculpture. His best known works feature human figures cast in plaster directly from models, arranged in combination with objects, backdrops, and settings. His environmental works often depict relatively large “slices of life,” usually incorporating actual pieces of furniture or other artifacts—for example, an entire wall of a gas station or a section of a real New York City subway car.
Segal developed his subjects and techniques during the late 1950s and early 1960s, chronologically parallel to the rise and recognition of Pop Art. In 1959, Segal’s colleague and friend Allan Kaprow used Segal’s property as a location for “happenings,” free-form performance events that were among the significant sources for the Pop sensibility. However, Segal maintained an ambiguous relationship to Pop Art, and stated, “I feel detached from the phrase Pop Art and yet I have a fondness for it.” What separates his work from Pop Art is Segal’s unremitting emphasis on, and empathy with, human relationships and feelings, replacing Pop’s ironic or consumerist tendencies with a serious attempt to plumb human emotions and elicit profound reactions from the viewer.
The works in this gallery (as well as Bus Shelter, on view on the museum’s entry level) exemplify the many media and subjects Segal used over his lifetime. Old Testament Moon represents the earliest years of his career, when he produced expressionist figurative paintings. The remarkable seven-part Pregnancy Series, Segal’s only foray into serial sculptural imagery, records the external changes of a woman’s torso over time as it reflects the internal development of a child in her womb. The Zimmerli Art Museum gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the George and Helen Segal Foundation, which donated the painting and sculptures in this gallery.
Girl Behind Chair and Bedpost, 1975
Painted plaster and wood
Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers
Gift of the George and Helen Segal Foundation, Inc.
Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo Peter Jacobs