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Zimmerli Art Museum Celebrates Water as Inspiration

Water is the subject and title of a far-reaching exhibition at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University open through January 2, 2011.

Water explores the force of nature as element, purifier, place, allegory, and spectacle. Ranging from a 17th-century Chinese landscape to Bill Viola’s visceral video work, Ablutions (2005), works will be drawn from the museum’s own collections of French, American, Russian and Soviet Nonconformist art, photographs, prints, and children’s book illustrations, as well as from other public and private collections.

“Water’s precious nature, beauty, and power to nurture and destroy are recurring subjects in poetry, music, dance, and the visual arts throughout history,” says Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli. “This exhibition contributes to an understanding of how humankind has imagined and visualized water over the last four centuries.”

Featured in the exhibition are more than 90 works of art spanning cultures and a variety of media. Highlights from the Zimmerli’s collection include John Kensett’s lapidary View of the Shrewsbury River, New Jersey (1859); Milton Avery’s serene Inner Harbor (1945); other works include Haitian artist Amena Simeon’s brightly beaded flags portraying Mami Wata (a divinity of the water) (2000); a rare Yoruban ritual vessel; Lynn Davis’s magisterial selenium toned photograph Iceberg II, Disko Bay, Greenland (2004) and Atul Bhalla’s 20-part photographic installation grid of New Delhi’s historic public water spigots, Piaus (2006).

Edward Ruscha’s Sea of Desire (1983), a three-color etching and aquatint, Geoffrey Hendricks’s Waiting (1998), a performance work in which a watercolor is immersed in water, Maya Lin’s Dew Point (2004), a floor installation of glass orbs, and Wangechi Mutu’s video piece Amazing Grace (2005) are among the contemporary works featured.

Still other works of art, drawn from the museum’s collections, include prints by Vija Celmins, Honoré Daumier, Paul Gauguin, Hiroshige, and Whistler; paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Johan Barthold Jongkind, and Nikolai Dubovskoi; and photographs by Sally Gall, Francisco Infante, Edward Steichen, and George Tice.

“This exhibition also may be viewed as a showcase of the Zimmerli’s holdings. We have cut across specializations and selected many seldom seen works, including many drawn from the museum’s unusually strong holdings of prints, and works on paper from fin de siècle France,” says Ms. Delehanty.

Water has been organized by Donna Gustafson, Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator at the Zimmerli, with assistance from Gail Aaron, formerly Assistant Curator for Original Children’s Book Illustration; Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art; Julia Tulovsky, Assistant Curator of Russian and Soviet Art; Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Morse Research Center and Curator of Prints and Drawings; and Jeffrey Wechsler, Senior Curator, Zimmerli Art Museum.

“Water is an issue of great importance today in the sciences and the humanities,” says Dr. Gustafson. “Biologists have studied water as the source of life, and have recently been investigating how measurable climate shifts will affect life on our planet. Too much water or too little water are threats to human civilization and to many land-based life-forms.”

Dr. Gustafson continues, “The management of water for the benefit of all is another aspect of Rutgers’ interdisciplinary exploration of the theme of ‘ecologies in the balance’ which is a focus of the university’s academic program for 2009- 2010.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, Water, River, Raritan will be the 2010-2011 theme of the Byrne Seminars at Rutgers, the new undergraduate program that brings senior faculty and first-year students together in small classes to explore the exciting world of research. From September 1, 2010 to early November, the Mason Gross School of Art will explore the theme of water in an exhibition in its Project Space with Jim Toia as guest artist.

Image: Zimmerli Art Museum

The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (corner of George Street) on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 4:30 pm, and Saturday — Sunday, noon to 5 pm; first Wednesdays of each month September through July, 10 am to 9 pm. Current admission is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for citizens over 65, and free for museum members, Rutgers students, faculty and staff (with ID), and children under 18. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 732.932.7237, ext. 610 or visit the museum’s website:

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