Mellon Grant Supports Launch of Ebook, Provides Hands-On Opportunities for Graduate Students

April 10, 2013

Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers Launches First Ebook,

Provides Hands-On Opportunities for Graduate Students

New Brunswick, NJ – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers launched “Not About Face: Identity and Appearance, Past and Present,” its first online publication, on April 9. Featuring interpretations of more than two dozen portraits and contributions from 13 graduate students, the ebook is available at A key component of a multiyear collaboration between the Zimmerli Art Museum and the Department of Art History at Rutgers University, this project is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The venture was initiated in 2012, with a graduate seminar and colloquium for student research and dialogue. This new virtual element allows the collaborators to share the initiative with audiences worldwide while preparing for the next phase of the project: the major exhibition, as well as a publication, entitled “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture,” which opens at the Zimmerli in January of 2014.

Conceived by the Zimmerli as a collaboration with the Department of Art History, the initiative is designed to capitalize on the strengths of each to enhance curatorial studies and encourage a new generation of students who seek careers in the art museum field. Dr. Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli‘s Andrew W. Mellon Liaison and Curator, and Professor Susan Sidlauskas, a specialist in 19th-century art and the author of many studies on portraits from the Department of Art History, co-taught the graduate exhibition seminar “Not About Face” during the spring 2012 semester.

The seminar met in the Zimmerli and students contributed to the curatorial planning that a major exhibition requires. They debated the aesthetic and thematic merits of a wide range of portraits drawn from the museum’s collection and helped to determine a group of objects that are the core of the ebook and next year’s exhibition. The students met with conservators, framing experts, and artists and learned about care of delicate objects, display techniques, and artistic intention, respectively. They also visited New York and Philadelphia to critique exhibitions and investigated possible exhibition loans from other museums.

At the end of the semester, the 13 students – Corina L. Apostol, Sara Berkowitz, Kelsey Brosnan, Heather Cammarata-Seale, Boyoung Chang, Allison Cooper, Seraphina Ferraro, Natalie Fleming, Elvis Fuentes, Virginia Allison Harbin, Alexis Jason-Mathews, Stephen Mandravelis, and Josephine Rodgers – presented their research at “De-Facing the Portrait,” a graduate student colloquium and roundtable discussion. Respondents from the fields of science, medicine, and art history, and photography provided cross-disciplinary perspectives of the topic.

“We hoped to break through the conventional discussions of portraiture to examine the elastic boundaries of this genre, especially through the experiments in contemporary art,” Gustafson explains. A portrait historically has been defined as the visual representation of an individual distinguished by references to the subject’s character, social position, wealth, or profession. However, the purposes of portraiture are varied and continue to shift across cultures and time. Rulers often use portraits as visual reminders of their power. Less prominent people – such as family members or those engaged in a common enterprise – use individual and group portraits to indicate their common ties. In addition, it is not uncommon for fictional characters to be honored with portraits.

Gustafson continues, “The students approached the subject through a wide lens, looking beyond the face, the human figure, and even the notion of ‘likeness.’ ” Contemporary artists, in particular, have used portraiture as a tool to confront ideas about personal, social, and political identities, dismantling the staid traditions of the portrait and playing with conditioned responses to the human face. Scientific practices that establish legal identity – DNA, fingerprints, x-rays, genome mapping – also influence personal concepts of identity in the modern world. “Through the course of the semester the students argued for a more inclusive definition of portraiture that embraced the fragment, the figure from the back, the x-ray, and the scan. Their willingness to explode boundaries created a dynamic and interesting conversation that continues in ‘Striking Resemblance’ in 2014.”

“We are most grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous support of this dynamic model for collaboration that benefits both the academic community and the wider public, which affirms our belief that art is indispensable to the well-educated citizen in the 21st century,” states Suzanne Delehanty, the Zimmerli’s director. For more than 15 years, the Mellon Foundation has provided grants to foster increased collaboration between the nation’s college and university art museums and their academic communities. Delehanty notes, “The Zimmerli was fortunate to be among the first to receive such an award, which has allowed us to fully embody Rutgers’ commitment to teaching, research, and outreach.”

The major exhibition “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture” opens January 25, 2014, at the Zimmerli art Museum at Rutgers. This survey of historical and modern portraiture presents a fundamentally new and exciting exploration of how people view themselves, their personal relationships, and their tribes. A book of the same title – with contributions from Gustafson, Sidlauskas, and cultural critic Lee Siegel – is co-published with Prestel and will be available through the Zimmerli in January 2014. The volume encompasses single, double, and group portraits from the 18th century to the present, examining how portraits shape our notion of self in the context of individuality, partnerships, and relationships. Thought-provoking and fascinating, this book will appeal to readers interested in art history and social criticism, as well as psychology and social media.


The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently makes grants in five core program areas: Higher education and scholarship; scholarly communications and information technology; art history, conservation, and museums; performing arts; and conservation and the environment.

Within each of its core programs, the Foundation concentrates most of its grantmaking in a few areas. Institutions and programs receiving support are often leaders in fields of Foundation activity, but they may also be promising newcomers, or in a position to demonstrate new ways of overcoming obstacles to achieve program goals.

Mellon’s grantmaking philosophy is to build, strengthen, and sustain institutions and their core capacities, rather than be a source for narrowly defined projects. As such, the foundation develops thoughtful, long-term collaborations with grant recipients and invests sufficient funds for an extended period to accomplish the purpose at hand and achieve meaningful results. 


The Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection includes 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.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is supported by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, as well as the income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment Fund, and the Voorhees Family Endowment Fund, among others. Additional support comes from the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Contributions from other corporations, foundations, and individuals, as well as earned income, also provide vital annual support for the Zimmerli’s operations and programs.


The Zimmerli Art 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.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August.

Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for 65 and over; and free for museum members, children under 18, and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff (with ID). Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 848.932.7237 or visit the museum’s website:


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