Big Ten: Art

To celebrate the Scarlet Knights’ entry into the Big Ten athletic conference, the Zimmerli is spotlighting ten intriguing works of art from the permanent collection. The selections are chosen by the museum's curatorial staff and graduate assistants, and unveiled at Art After Hours during each month of the academic year.

Image Gallery

June 2015
Théodore-Joseph Deck, La Japonaise, 1876

Selected by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the art and culture of Japan became much more widely known throughout the world.  The French term Japonisme, coined in 1872, has come to refer to the influence of Japanese art and aesthetics on European and American art.  The Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection includes numerous important examples of Japonisme, particularly in the graphic and decorative arts. The long history of relations between Japan and Rutgers University, which welcomed the first Japanese students to study at an American institution of higher learning, bolstered the Zimmerli’s efforts to significantly represent Japonisme in its collection.

La Japonaise by Théodore-Joseph Deck is a masterpiece of French ceramics inspired by the wider availability of Japanese wares during the later nineteenth century.  Deck established his own ceramics business in 1856, making what he called "artistic pottery" inspired by a variety of sources, including Renaissance, Middle Eastern, and Japanese ceramics. He became famous for his complexly and richly colored works, and this large figure decorated with several intricate patterns demonstrates his high level of accomplishment. The interest in Japanese art and culture that grew during the 1860s and 1870s made the elegant kimono-clad young woman a popular motif in French art during that period.

May 2015
Boris Orlov, The General

Selected by Cristina Morandi, Dodge Fellow at the Zimmerli and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History at Rutgers

Boris Orlov is one of the originators of Sots Art, a movement that used irony as a critical tool to undermine the official style of Socialist Realism by displaying the clichés and empty images of Soviet propaganda. Here, he fuses his and artistic and personal experiences: from one side, his fascination with the past and the Russian avant-garde; from another, the memory of military and athletic paraphernalia and celebrations that had been key components of Soviet reality since his childhood.

The General belongs to his early 1980s series “Totem,” in which he combined a mythical, imperial style with the pompous decorations of the Soviet military system. This sculpture of a bust on a pedestal recalls the statues of the Roman Empire. But, unlike those, the figure is faceless, anonymous.  The chest is fully decorated with medals, ornaments, and ribbons in bright colors. Such lively ornamentation creates a strong contrast to the authoritative and frontral position of the subject.

And here lies the irony, as well as the reason why this is one of my favorite works of the collection: all the decorations that cover the bust were invented by the artist. Orlov´s intent is to show the dissolution of a world of ideological meanings that has been progressively emptied of its content by Soviet propaganda. The confrontation between the Soviet models and their alleged ancestors has an unmasking effect: the comparison between the Roman emperors with the Soviet military hierarchies shows the latter as an historical farce.  

April 2015
Barbara Kruger, Savoir  C’est Pouvoir (Knowledge is Power)

Selected by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings 

Barbara Kruger, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, has been a major figure in New York City’s art world since the late 1980s. After studying at Syracuse University and Parsons The New School  for Design, she began her career as a graphic designer and picture editor for the magazines Mademoiselle and House and Garden.  When she later focused on creating art, she was already expert at manipulating, cropping, and enlarging commercially published stock photographs. She boldly paired photographic images with words and slogans (presented in Futura Bold typeface) to make her popular and provocatively propagandistic photomontage art, which addresses contemporary political issues, feminism, consumerism, and identity. Kruger’s style of juxtaposing an assertive statement on photographic imagery owes a debt to avant-garde photomontage from the 1920s and 1930s, exemplified by such Russian graphic designers as Gustav Klutsis and El Lissitsky, as well as by American Pop Art, contemporary popular culture, and mass media advertising. 

This print commemorated the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Savoir c’est pouvoir advocates individual freedom and empowerment through knowledge as an inalienable right of every citizen.  Yet Kruger’s superimposition of these words on positive and negative halves of a woman’s face, instead of a man’s, also makes a strong statement favoring women’s rights from her point of view as a female artist in a predominantly male art world. Kruger uses visual language to assert the goal of a democratic society: enlightened awareness.

March 2015
John Frederick Kensett, View of the Shrewsbury River, New Jersey

Selected by Donna Gustafson, Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator

In September 1853 John Frederick Kensett was invited by his friend George Curtis to visit the Navesink Highlands near Red Bank, New Jersey. This trip resulted in five paintings of the Shrewsbury River; the Zimmerli’s painting, which is undated and not signed, is thought to be the earliest of the group.  All the paintings of the Shrewsbury River by Kensett share a similar composition and each reflects the artist’s early luminist aesthetic. The sky takes up nearly two-thirds of the painting and the foreground is mostly water reflecting the sky. The small sailboats, birds, and red buoy near the center of the painting suggest a calm, serene view of water, sky, and earth, suffused with a soft, golden glow. To the left, the headlands of Red Bank are nearly in line with the distant horizon; together with the slight rises of marsh grass in the foreground, these areas of earth and vegetation lead the viewer’s eye gently back into the painting’s center. The light seems to melt the distinction between land, water, and sky. 

This painting is one of the jewels of the Zimmerli’s American collection. Peaceful, serene, and reminiscent of a quiet afternoon at the beach, the painting provides beauty and a harmonious view of the balance between man and nature that sustains both. 

February 2015
Honoré Daumier, Celebrities of the Juste Milieu

Selected by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art

Better known for his lithographs that satirized political and social life in Paris from the 1830s through the 1860s, Honoré Daumier was also a sculptor.  Daumier’s Celebrities of the Juste-Milieu presents prominent French political figures of the 1830s in a series of thirty-six portrait-caricatures executed in terra cotta.  Daumier created the busts between 1832 and 1835 as a commission from Charles Philipon, the influential publisher of the weekly illustrated journal La Caricature.  Daumier and the other artists working for Philipon used the busts as their models for satirically depicting officials in their lithographic illustrations for Philipon’s publications.  The Celebrities of the Juste-Milieu takes its name from Louis-Philippe’s ultimately broken promise, made soon after ascending the throne, to govern according to a middle path (juste-milieu) that balanced popular demands and royal power.  When Daumier’s sculptures were first publicly exhibited near the end of his life, critics recognized his groundbreaking achievement with these innovative and modern works made at a time when French sculpture still hewed closely to the classical tradition.

January 2015
George Segal, Pregnancy Series: Seven Stages

Selected by Donna Gustafson, Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator

An alumnus of Rutgers and an internationally renowned artist who lived in South Brunswick until his death in 2000, George Segal is an important presence at the Zimmerli Art Museum.  Segal worked in many media but is best known for his plaster-cast figures in environments that reference scenes of everyday life. Deceptively simple, these sculptural works explore psychological and metaphysical truths such as life, death, time, solitude, and unremarked beauty. The museum has an impressive collection of Segal’s work that ranges from the white plaster pieces, which are typical of his early work, to the painted plasters of his later years. The Pregnancy Series: Seven Stages is a favorite of mine, and has been a favorite of many of my students. 

Given to the museum by the George and Helen Segal Foundation in 2003, it is the artist’s only serial work. The seven reliefs focus on a pregnant woman’s torso and record the visible changes that take place over time, suggesting the internal and invisible development of the child within. Cast from life over a period of seven months, each cast seems very similar at first glance. It is only upon looking more closely that we notice the significant and subtle differences between them all. The hands that play over and around the swelling abdomen communicate a range of tender emotions between the mother and her soon-to-be born child. While pregnancy is the subject of the series, there are other connections that amplify and extend the content of the sculpture. The white plaster torsos that emerge from the white plaster blocks are reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Prisoners or Slaves. Left deliberately unfinished, these figures emerge from blocks of marble in part to signify man’s struggle to separate spirit from matter. I am sure that Segal, who admired ancient and classical art, saw his Pregnancy Series as a sly homage to the Renaissance master who chiseled figures out of marble and left them in the midst of transformation. 

December 2014
Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Khrushchev’s Plot against Beria

Selected by Julia Tulovsky, Associate Curator for Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art

Khrushchev’s Plot against Beria belongs to Komar and Melamid’s “Socialist Realist” series (1980-84), which adopted the style of Socialist Realism—the art style officially approved by the Soviet government—only to subvert its heroic content. While this painting possesses all the necessary attributes of a perfect Socialist Realist picture, the artists reverse its meaning, making the leadership of the country look like an organized crime ring. Komar and Melamid present a scene—bathed in the ominous glow of a red tablecloth—emblematic of the leadership crisis, which ensued after Joseph Stalin’s sudden death in 1953. Eager to gain control of the party, Nikita Khrushchev instituted a plan to remove Lavrenty Beria, the key architect of Stalin's repression campaigns, from power. A bust of Stalin, identifiable only by his mustache, looms over the meeting in the shadows; Stalin’s face is otherwise excluded from the picture plane. Borrowed from Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s early eighteenth-century painting Game Still-Life with Hunting Dog, the dog—perhaps the most sympathetic and “human” figure in the scene—is an allusion to the hunt, which reinforces the distinctly clandestine political agenda.

Among the generation of nonconformist artists who started their careers in the Soviet Union, producing works that were not in compliance with the official requirements of the State, the moscovites Komar and Melamid were among the most witty and ironic. They moved to New York in 1978 to work with the Feldman Gallery. Their projects concern various social and historical issues, as well as mock consumerism. For example, they have organized a syndicate which purchases and sells people’s souls, as well as an art school for elephants in Nepal as charitable action aimed to help the animals.

November 2014
Unidentified, Self-Portrait of an Artist in her Studio

Selected by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art

Though we have not found a satisfactory answer to the question of who painted this beautiful work, significant information about the artist and her studio can be gleaned from the painting itself.  Wearing formal and fashionable clothing and seated in an upholstered armchair, the artist does not show herself in the act of painting, but instead presents an idealized version of a successful painter’s studio. A nearly completed portrait sits on her easel, and another hangs on the wall behind the artist. Two casts of ancient Roman sculptural busts lie on a table, indicating the artist’s inspiration from antique models, and the artist’s materials are neatly stored in the box in the foreground. This painting, which can be dated to the 1790s based on the clothing of artist and the young man (who is likely her son), is strongly inspired by the “fine painters” of seventeenth-century Holland and their paintings of clean, organized interiors and attention to the painting of luxurious textiles.

This painting entered the Zimmerli’s collection in 1995 as a transfer from the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. In 1963, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation gave the painting to the Trenton museum as part of its distribution of the outstanding European paintings in the Kress Collection to academic and regional museums throughout the United States. When the New Jersey State Museum reorganized to focus its mission on American art, NJSM and the Kress Foundation offered the painting to the Zimmerli to enhance its European holdings. The painting is now prominently displayed in the Zimmerli’s European galleries, where it complements both the Old Master and nineteenth-century art and is a key work that promotes the museum’s teaching mission.

October 2014
Roy Lichtenstein, Sandwich and Soda

Selected by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings

Before he became celebrated as a Pop Art painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Roy Lichtenstein taught art and design from 1960 to 1962 at Douglass College, (at the time, the women’s college at Rutgers). After his first solo exhibition at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962, Lichtenstein gave up teaching to concentrate on creating art.

Screenprinted in patriotic red and blue on a clear plastic sheet (which permits the white backing to show through), Sandwich and Soda features an ordinary American lunch. In this print, Lichtenstein used the stylistic elements of flat, stenciled signage and generic advertising design. This work is now regarded a landmark of early Pop Art printmaking. It was Lichtenstein’s innovative prints, exemplified by Sandwich and Soda, that helped to promote the fusion of high and low art forms to an international audience of art viewers and collectors.

September 2014
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Good Shepherd

Selected by Jenevieve DeLosSantos, Museum Fellow

One of my favorite paintings in the Zimmerli’s collection is The Good Shepherd by nineteenth-century American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Eakins and becoming the first well-known African-American artist of his time, Tanner achieved international success as part of the vibrant community of American expatriate artists in Paris.

Depicting the famous parable of Christ as a shepherd so devoted to his flock that he braves the darkness to search for one lost sheep, the work is an excellent example of Tanner’s poignant spiritual subjects. Painted in a rich monochromatic color scheme, the work is a masterful display of both his emotive painting style and his ability to convey the true essence of religious imagery. Personally, I love the unique way that Tanner reimagines the subject. The Good Shepherd encourages the viewer to search the shadowy night scene for the subjects much like the figure of Christ searches to reunite his flock.