If you are interested in spending the day admiring fine art and are in the New Brunswick area, then the place to be is the Zimmerli Art Museum.
I drive by the museum every week (on my way to the Monday and Wednesday night Spanish class I take on Rutgers’ College Avenue campus). I’m usually pressed for time, invariably searching for a parking space, when I drive passed the museum, but the large, colorful banners hanging on the side of the building, proudly announcing the current and upcoming exhibits, invite me to slow down and see what is happening there. With a springlike feeling (finally) in the air, I’ve slowed down my normally hectic pace to find out just what wonders our little local museum holds.
The Zimmerli Art Museum, located in New Brunswick, NJ on the corner of Hamilton and George Streets, is one of the largest university-affiliated museums in the country. It was founded in 1966 and houses over 50,000 pieces of artwork. Museum collections include 18th to 20th Century American Art, 15th to 19th Century European Art, and The Gordon Henderson Collection of American Stained Glass Design.
When I arrived to the museum, I wasn’t sure where I should begin and asked the advice of the museum workers. They were extremely helpful and obviously proud of their exhibits. I was issued a map, given a couple of pointers, and was sent on my way.
At the time of my visit, two special exhibits were Lalla Essaydi’s Les Femmes du Maroc, and a collection of children’s book illustrations portraying everyday life called, How We Live Now. Each exhibit in the museum is distinctly displayed and presents itself as an independent experience from the others.
The Essaydi exhibit of photographs representing Arab women, addressing gender issues including those of Essaydi’s own personal experience, contained a feature which allowed for visitors to dial a phone number while traveling through the large exhibit space and hear commentary by the artist herself. After viewing a photograph on display, in many cases you could see a picture of the original painting that inspired the artist, and then you could call in to hear the artist explain her intentions, adding a further valuable, relevant dimension to the experience. It was almost as if while looking at these works of art, I knew the artist personally, picked up my cell phone and dialed her to chat about the work. It made the experience of visiting a museum (normally and understandably a very formal and proper occurrence) much more personal. (My pseudo friendship with the artist was of no help, however, when about halfway through my visit a museum worker reprimanded me (albeit gently) for using pen to take my notes. I suppose that I had become so engaged with the artwork that it hadn’t even occurred to me that a pen might be taboo. I immediately switched to pencil noting, once again, that the workers were steadfast, and it was their appreciation for the museum and its works that propelled me onward to absorb as much as possible.)
The exhibit of children’s book illustrations was, by comparison, more intimate and cozy in its display. The room was small and accessible and the illustrations were welcoming. In the center of the room, there was a child’s size table and chairs with paper and colored pencils for young museum visitors to express their own lives and creativity through illustration. I found the connection between viewing artwork and then also being encouraged to immediately create it to be a heartwarming feature of the exhibit.
My favorite exhibit was in “The Ferber Lounge” and it was called Sculpture to Create an Environment. This was probably the most distinct and memorable exhibit I visited. The room contained separate pieces of very large black sculpture that stretched from floor to ceiling or wall to wall. They twisted and turned and took on lives of their own, as if they grew naturally from the room. My initial impression was that they represented a forest. But as I walked around the room, covering every possible square foot of space that I could, my perspective kept changing. One moment I felt like a giant, too big for the space, and then when I took a few steps, I was suddenly lost and small. There were few other people in the room while I was there so I could easily hear the soft humming of the lights and the irregular whirring of a ventilation fan and those noises reminded me of the sounds of a lazy summer night and the song of the cicadas. I imagined what type of life might live in this “environment” and if, as a human, I would be a part of it, or if I would be intruding from where I stood at that point. I continued moving around, and by the time I was through the entire room and about to exit, the natural and earthy feelings that the sculpture had initially evoked within me were transformed and the entire room, all the parts of sculpture, the sounds of the lights and fan, and the beings that I imagined would live in such a space, felt more like they were part of an amusement park and I left imagining water rides and roller coasters instead.
An art critic or expert, I (clearly) don’t pretend to be, but as a woman who enjoyed her afternoon at the Zimmerli Art Museum, I strongly recommend that you make plans to visit and explore for yourself. Oh, and if you plan to take notes while you are there, bring a pencil!
The Jersey Girl
The museum offers tours to school groups designed around current exhibits. In conjunction with the tours (that last about an hour), hands-on workshops and video presentations are available. The programs can be adapted for students of all grade levels.
The museum also offers concert and lecture programs, as well as a gift shop and a café. Gallery space is also available for hosting special events and parties.
M-F, 10:00 to 4:30
Weekends, noon to 5:00
Check website for holiday information, http://www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu/
$3 for general admission.
Admission is free for a member of the museum; a child under 18 years old; a RU student, staff or faculty member; or when visiting on the first Sunday of each month. Special rates may also apply for group chaperones.