NJ As Non-Site – Show at the Princeton U Art Museum

NJ as Non Site - Show Entrance

NJ as Non Site – Show Entrance

The New Jersey as Non-Site exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum came to my attention in the New York Times Arts section a few weeks ago. I guess it’s ironic that I’d find out about the show through the NY Times since one of the themes of the exhibition is New Jersey’s proximity to New York City, and yet how the landscape is totally outside the urban center. (What’s even more ironic is that I was reading the NY Times in California, where I had traveled on business… but we can only have so many degrees of ironic separation here.)

Today I made the trek from Jersey City, down the NJ Turnpike, over to Route 1, and then over to Route 27 into the heart of Princeton… far from any urban center or major highway which are the primary subjects of the show.

Maybe this suburban remote location for this “boutique” sized exhibition is fitting because the museum attempts to mount a show about a subject that is much larger than the space afforded – the exhibition composes two small galleries in the museum.

Of the images on display in the show, this one is the most striking:

Nude

Nude

Beside this photograph is a video showing how the artist (in the photograph) is building a miniature “landscape” on his own body. You cannot see it well in my version of the photograph above, but in the video we see him building tiny walls on top of a dirt foundation, brick by brick, built on top of his torso.

We don’t see the artist’s whole body in the video, just the close up of the “building site” each brick is perhaps one inch… the finished image (above) is the final result.

I think it’s quite beautiful.

The curator’s description of the show:

New Jersey was one of the principal laboratories for experimental art after World War II. Between 1950 and 1975, a host of innovative artists flocked to the state’s most desolate locales. There, in its industrial wastescapes, crumbling cities, crowded highways, and banal suburbs, they produced some of the most important work of their careers. The breakthroughs in sculpture, conceptualism, performance, and land art that New Jersey helped catalyze are the subject of New Jersey as Non-Site, which features more than one hundred works by sixteen artists.

It is neither incidental nor accidental that artists came to occupy New Jersey in the years after World War II: much about the state resonated with ideas and themes already in the air. Intrigued by its people as well as its landscape, artists found New Jersey both informative and revelatory. Whether they crossed the Hudson River to collect materials, forge a political movement, or stage performances, artists seemed to agree on one thing: peripheries like New Jersey provide critical leverage not available in cosmopolitan centers, an unfamiliar perspective that disables convention and expectation alike.

Behind artists’ commitment to New Jersey lay something specific: difference. For more than a century, New Jersey’s identity has been measured in terms of its difference—not to mention its distance—from New York. Long considered New York’s “other,” New Jersey was one of the first “other” places that artists explored in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a period when many, including those featured here, started to abandon the insular world of the studio for the environment at large.

Here are some other images from the show:

Bayonne - photograph of landscape sculpture

Bayonne – photograph of landscape sculpture

.

Photograph on a NJ beach with oil drums

Photograph on a NJ beach with oil drums

Unfortunately, the depth of this show and its subject matter is not conveyed in the limited materials on display at the Princeton U Art Museum in “New Jersey as Non-Site.”

New Jersey’s urban landscapes are iconic and inspirational on many levels. There were too many things “left out” and what remained was a smattering of rock sculptures, photographs of landscapes, and other objects that did not hang together cohesively enough for me, as the viewer.

As a life long resident of New Jersey, I’ve always had conflicting views about my home state anyway… so it’s no surprise I’d have a mixed reaction to this show.

The show will be on view only a few more days, until Jan 7, 2014. Entrance to the Princeton Art Museum is free, and always worth a look.

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4 Responses

  1. Great line by you: “New Jersey’s urban landscapes are iconic and inspirational on many levels.” I have often felt that the landscape and vistas in and around the greater Meadowlands area generate a unique reaction of wonder and unease. But to the point you were making, it sounds like the show felt cramped.

    Which is a perfect segue to: the “Non-Site” name makes me cringe!

    Hope you’re well.

    • Yes, there is a particular feeling I get coming up the NJ Turnpike, especially past Newark…I’m inspired by it. There is a strange beauty in urban decay; a lot of artists have commented on this over the year.

      They had quotes about that posted on the wall at the show too.

      But your comment about “wonder and unease” is great. It captures something of that feeling. Wish you could have seen the show, even as small (and yes cramped) as it was.

  2. NJ as NonSite? Love the concept, the idea; less do I connect with that idea in the photos. Too many speak of ‘fly-over country’ and often in the same breath ignore the Garden State en toto.

    • Hey Brian, thanks for participating on my blog. 🙂

      So, yes, the concept of the show is compelling… but it’s not really possible to judge an entire show based on my limited photos. It’s always better to see it for yourself and then make a call.

      But, I’d say that I didn’t feel the show was as compelling in person as it could have been.

      I saw a wonderful conceptual art show mounted at the Brooklyn Museum of Art a while ago and wrote about that on the blog too (I think the link for “Materializing Six Years” is at the bottom of this posting)…

      This show at the Princeton Art Museum was also conceptual but I felt that the purpose of the show, to really delve into New Jersey sites as conceptual art, wasn’t shown to great effect with the limited photographs on view and some “sculpture” of bins filled with rocks that I was not permitted to photograph.

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