Zimmerli's opening event zooms in on new photographs


On the first Tuesday of every month, Rutgers’ own Zimmerli Art Museum hosts an exciting and free evening of art, conversations and music. 

Typically, the Zimmerli closes its doors at 5 p.m. But, at every monthly Art After Hours event, the museum is open until 9 p.m. to enlighten and entertain students, faculty, patrons and alumni with a plethora of artworks and activities.

On Sept. 3, the first Art After Hours event of the academic year centered around the newly opened exhibition “Recent Acquisitions in Photography.” This exhibition thrusts the museum’s extensive and ever-growing collection of photographic works into the spotlight. The work featured in this diverse exhibition is attached to celebrated names in photography like Robert Capa, Donna Ferrato and Weegee.

As you walk into the museum, you're greeted by a buzzing crowd of art history buffs and music enthusiasts surrounding a central table of snacks and drinks. In the lobby, you’re enclosed by the expressionist painter and University Professor Emeritus Joan Semmel’s “Faculty Frieze.” 

This oil painting is a large five-canvas polyptych that depicts a male-dominated Mason Gross School of the Arts department meeting where Semmel was the lone female presence, making it an important social commentary on gender inequality in academia and art. 

Guests were graced by the smooth jazz tunes of the Justin Jones Trio, led by Jersey native Justin Jones. Jones, an up-and-coming musician, has taken his talents to popular venues across Europe and the United States. He has also performed with notable artists such as Winard Harper, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Funkmaster Flex and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Throughout the evening, a mellow background score of the trio’s saxophone, drums and bass echoed across the Zimmerli’s galleries.

After briefly soaking in the atmosphere and grabbing some refreshments, groups of visitors are given an optional guided tour of the show currently in focus. While “Recent Acquisitions in Photography,” displayed in the Machaver Gallery, is a relatively small show for the Zimmerli, the overall reach of the creative and intellectual ideas is vast. A quick but immersive tour was given by Curator of Education and Interpretation Amanda Potter. 

“This exhibition allows us to showcase some recent gifts that have really expanded our photography collection in interesting ways. It’s an opportunity to see different modes of photography: fashion photography, news and journalism photography, sports photography, travel images … We can see some similarities and differences between the many types of photography, from the greatest practitioners of photography in the last 50 years … I would encourage students to come and get a glimpse of different historical moments and perspectives of their environments as well,” Potter said.

In the epoch of Instagram, museums like the Zimmerli take a moment to remind us that a picture really can speak a thousand words, even in an image-saturated world. Four photographers’ works particularly resonated with me. 

First was an evocative photograph taken in 2002 titled “Ricky and Amelia” by photographer Robin Schwartz. Schwartz captured her young daughter, Amelia, embracing a circus chimpanzee while the two stared deeply but innocently into the camera’s eye. The loving inter-species relationship depicted in this peculiar but stunning photograph, a highlight of Schwartz’s “Amelia and the Animals” series, is deepened by the genetic connections between primates and human beings. 

Next is legendary fashion photographer Irving Penn’s brilliant black-and-white portrait of Italian style icon Donatella Versace and her ex-husband. Another highlight of the exhibition is Penn’s imperfect and non-illusionistic editorial image of a model standing against a seamless backdrop with an exposed edge. 

French photojournalist Olivier Rebbot’s amazing documentation of the 1980s military coup in El Salvador draws attention to the ironies of violence and war as a dead human being lies in front of and juxtaposes an angelic mural that reads “Gloria a Dios,” meaning “Glory to God.” Rebbot, determined to document the truth, was wounded in the crossfire of this conflict and passed away not long after this poignant picture was taken. 

The last image that captured my interest was “Living Pencils” by Japanese photographer Kenji Nakahashi. The concepts and three-dimensionality behind this photograph and Nakashi’s body of work as a whole truly diversify this exhibition.

The next Art After Hours will take place on Oct. 1 and elaborate on one of the Zimmerli’s largest and most prominent exhibitions this year: “Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein,” which features the work of artists like orphist Sonia Delaunay and sculptor Alexander Calder. 


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