Artists on Both Sides of the Camera: Sculptor George Segal Captured by Donald Lokuta

February 10, 2015

 

Artists on Both Sides of the Camera: Sculptor George Segal Captured by Donald Lokuta

at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

 

New Brunswick, NJ – The inside of the artist’s studio is seldom seen by the broader public. But the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers offers its audiences this rare opportunity through the exhibition George Segal in Black and White: Photographs by Donald Lokuta, which opens February 14, 2015. The show is accompanied by a catalogue of the same title. Lokuta met Segal in 1984 at the sculptor’s studio, located on his family’s farm in South Brunswick. The photographer soon returned to shoot a professional portrait, sparking an artistic alliance that would engage him for more than 16 years and result in nearly 15,000 negatives. The first selection of this two-part exhibition, through May 17, considers Segal inside and beyond his studio (with friends, family, and models), as well as the studio itself as subject. The second installment, on view May 23 to July 31, focuses on Segal at work on his iconic figures. The public is invited to Art After Hours: First Tuesdays on March 3 for a curator-led tour of the exhibition, as well as an opportunity to meet Donald Lokuta. The evening also features live music and Slide Jam, as well as the talk “Vision Research: Interactions between Scientists and Artists,” presented by Thomas Papathomas, who is a Rutgers Professor and the Busch Campus Dean. Admission is free.

 

“George Segal achieved international renown for his sculpture decades ago: they are found around the world, mingling with us in public spaces, sharing our daily experiences. Donald Lokuta’s photographs of the artist in and out of the studio provide an intimate portrait of the artist,” explained Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator. “The exhibition on view at the Zimmerli spans several generations. A collaboration that started between Lokuta and Segal evolved to include the museum and the Segal Foundation, as well as Rutgers students in their first curatorial experience.”

 

The initial partnership – more than 30 years ago – involved Donald Lokuta (b. 1946) and George Segal (1924-2000). As Lokuta discusses in the catalogue, “I want these photographs to take the viewer back to the creative moments…[they] are not orchestrated or commissioned works…[they] are a record of a personal journey, an adventure in art and creativity.” His intended documentation of Segal’s process evolved into something much deeper: a friendship and a shared artistic vision.

 

Lokuta’s participation occasionally morphed into model, blurring the lines between artist and subject. In the photograph George Segal with Figure for “The Homeless” (1989), the sculptor surveys the scene, with the photographer’s cast sitting on the floor. Ultimately, we realize that Lokuta is, with his camera, looking upon Segal, inviting us to share the moment, too. The photograph Diner, Freehold, NJ (1989) presents perhaps the most poignant example of their interconnectedness. While sitting at the table, Lokuta photographed Segal, who was aiming his own camera back at Lokuta, whose reflection in a mirror is visible at the right edge of the image. This relaxed, lighthearted moment between the two demonstrates the overlapping nature of their roles in the creation of art.

 

Lokuta also captured the energy that emanated from Segal’s studio. Far from an inanimate space, the ten rooms in this expansive building (that Segal had converted from a chicken coop) housed plaster casts in various stages of completion that took on lives of their own. Lokuta united artist and artwork in Helen and George (1990), which shows the sculptor sitting on a milk crate, waiting for the plaster to dry on his own legs (to be used in The Graffiti Wall). His wife leans over his shoulders, embracing him; while a completed male figure (placed in the same installation) sits at a desk across the room, gazing at them. In Studio Detail, Body Parts (2000), sunlight spills through the industrial windows onto a pile of the disembodied figures that seem to eagerly await placement in their eventual tableaux.

 

Segal’s retrospective at the Smithsonian provided Lokuta opportunities to reveal intimate moments between his friend and his completed figures. In George Segal Installing “The Holocaust” at the Hirshhorn Museum (1998), Segal stands face-to-face with a figure, separated by a barbed wire fence, in a low-lit room. The photograph becomes particularly haunting upon realizing that this figure is the lone survivor among a pile of bodies in an installation that depicts the liberation of a concentration camp.

 

Both artists developed ongoing relationships with Rutgers and the Zimmerli. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Segal became associated with Fluxus artists who were active at the university and hosted some of their legendary events – including Allan Kaprow’s first “Happening” – at his farm. Segal went on to earn his M.F.A. from Rutgers in 1963 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1970. He figures prominently in the Zimmerli’s collection.

 

Lokuta is represented in the collection with The Twins (1979). A photographer whose work is included in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of the City of New York, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Princeton University, and the Smithsonian Institution, Lokuta is also Distinguished Professor at Kean University in New Jersey. In 2013, he loaned several works to the Zimmerli’s major exhibition Striking Resemblance. Among them, a collection of photobooth images he had bought entitled 445 Portraits of a Man. These mysterious images gained worldwide media attention, which led to solving the identity of the previously anonymous subject.

 

The journey that Segal and Lokuta embarked upon three decades ago has inspired a new generation of students to explore their own interpretations of the artwork and its history. In 2013, then-graduate assistant Kate Scott began to research Lokuta’s work in preparation for an exhibition of his photographs of Segal in the studio. “I was initially struck by how clearly Lokuta had captured Segal's art-making process,” Scott remarked. “I wanted to focus on that narrative of art coming into being and how the works then interacted with the space of the studio. Among my favorite photographs were his shots of Segal's models covered in plaster, like half-human, half-sculpture cyborgs. Some of them are funny and others are really haunting.” Scott’s selections, which focus on the studio as a site of production and display, are on view May 23 to July 31.

 

Gustafson also recognized the opportunity to extend the project to the undergraduates in her fall 2014 course “Inside the Art Museum: A Curator's Perspective.” The class was offered by the university’s Byrne Seminar program, which exposes first-year students to faculty research projects that often are not available until their final semesters or even graduate school. With Gustafson’s professional guidance, the class fully developed the first part of the exhibition: selecting 45 photographs, designing the gallery arrangement, and writing the exhibition labels. They also met with Lokuta, who shared his personal stories about the works, and visited Segal’s studio, where they took their own photos of the spaces that the sculptor had set up as an installation space to carry on his legacy. (A slide show of their images will play on an iPad in the gallery.) The students reflected that the collaborative nature of the seminar – working together “from scratch to the end product” – made them feel that they were “contributing something to the university.”

 

Finally, poet Robert Pinsky – also a Rutgers graduate – joined the project with two contributions to the catalogue. Although he never met the sculptor, his poem “Genesis According to George Segal” conveys an understanding of the figures as if he had witnessed their creation. The Zimmerli’s interim director Marti Mayo also observed, “Just as Segal’s sculptures have come to represent – and interact with – the ‘every man,’ Pinsky’s words have had a parallel impact on American society, encouraging all citizens to experience the power of poetry.” The Favorite Poem Project, which he founded during his three-year tenure as United States Poet Laureate, invited all Americans to name their favorite poems. Some were later asked to read them for a permanent audio archive at the Library of Congress. In the end, participants represented all ages, all walks of life, and all levels of education.

 

The Zimmerli offers the opportunity to experience a number of Segal’s works. The figures of Bus Shelter (1996) greet visitors in the lobby, expressing their empathy to those who rely on public transportation. The George Segal Gallery on the lower level includes Old Testament Moon (1958-9), representing his early career when he produced expressionist figurative paintings, and the seven-part Pregnancy Series (1978), his only foray into serial sculptural imagery. Depicted in several of Lokuta’s photographs, Blue Woman on Black Bed (1996) currently shares the company of work by other New Jersey artists in the American Gallery. And by mid-February (weather permitting), the Zimmerli anticipates the installation of its first outdoor Segal sculpture, Walking Man (1988), next to the museum at the intersection of George and Hamilton Streets.

 

The George and Helen Segal Foundation has been instrumental in the Zimmerli’s efforts to exhibit and educate the public about Segal’s work by donating works to the museum’s permanent collection. The Foundation also funded the recent conservation of Walking Man. In addition, the book George Segal in Black and White: Photographs by Donald Lokuta is made possible by the George and Helen Segal Foundation, with additional support from Suzanne Delehanty in memory of Helen Segal. Created in 2000 shortly after George Segal's passing, the Foundation’s purpose is to continue showing his work around the world, make grants to artists, and gift Segal's work to museums and galleries.

 

ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM|RUTGERS

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.

 

VISITOR INFORMATION

Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.

 

The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Tuesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.

 

Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.

 

For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.

 

SUPPORT

The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.

 

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