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First comprehensive exhibition to recognize New Jersey as a major catalyst for Avant-Garde art opens
Charles Simonds, Landscape Body Dwelling, 1971. 16mm film transferred to DVD. Collection of the artist. © 2013 Charles Simonds / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

PRINCETON, NJ.- Between 1950 and 1975, many of New York’s leading experimental artists left their studios and headed across the Hudson River to New Jersey, where they produced some of the most important works of their careers. In ways largely unacknowledged until now, New Jersey was the site of and catalyst for major breakthroughs in the genres of Pop, conceptual, performance, land, and black art throughout the postwar era. Many of the best-known works of art from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s have roots in New Jersey, including some of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, Robert Smithson’s first non-sites, and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting.

New Jersey as Non-Site, curated by Kelly Baum, Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Princeton University Art Museum, is the first comprehensive account of New Jersey’s critical role in postwar avant-garde visual art. It will assemble for the first time many of the projects that put the American avant-garde on the map. All of the works in the exhibition were produced in or inspired by New Jersey. The exhibition will be on view Oct. 5, 2013, through Jan. 5, 2014, at the Princeton University Art Museum and will not travel.

“New Jersey was as crucial a site of postmodern artistic interventions as New York or Los Angeles,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “This exhibition is a long overdue reevaluation of the locus of avant-garde art-making, one with exciting implications for our wider understanding of the American cultural landscape in the ’50s and ’60s.”

New Jersey as Non-Site includes more than 100 works of experimental art—photography, collage, mixed media, found objects, film, audio, books, magazines, posters, and other ephemera—created between 1952 and 1976 by 16 of the postwar era’s most innovative artists; some of them were born in New Jersey, and many made New Jersey a temporary or permanent home: Amiri Baraka, George Brecht, John Cohen, Dan Graham, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Nancy Holt, Allan Kaprow, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dennis Oppenheim, George Segal, Charles Simonds, Robert Smithson, Michelle Stuart, Robert Watts, and Bud Wirtschafter.

Through significant archival research and interviews with artists, dealers, and other art-world figures, New Jersey as Non-Site considers the art it features in relationship to seismic shifts then taking place in the world of art and the equally dramatic changes to New Jersey’s and the nation’s economy, infrastructure, landscape, and social stability.

What emerges is a new understanding of a generation of artists who prized contradiction and incongruity and for whom New Jersey was a natural destination that complemented the experiments they had already begun to imagine in profound and exciting ways. For them, nurturing unconventional types of collective action, exploring places deemed bland or derelict, and cultivating a sense of marginality and displacement were priorities—ambitions for which New Jersey was ideally suited.

Works chosen for the exhibition manifest both postmodern significance and strong ties to the state of New Jersey as a crucial site for non-traditional, post-studio artistic production. These include:

• John Cohen’s 1960 stills from a Robert Frank film shot on location at George Segal’s South Brunswick chicken farm;

• Robert Smithson’s iconic non-sites, mixed-media sculptures that the artist began to create in 1968 with material collected from his drives throughout the state, and from which the exhibition takes its title;

• Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting series, photographs and photo collages from 1974 and 1975 that document the artist’s sawed-through suburban New Jersey houses;

• Books, newspapers, broadsides, audio, and video by poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka;

• Michelle Stuart’s Sayreville series of “paintings” made with earth and soil sourced from Sayreville, New Jersey;

• Scores for Tree (1963) and Calling (1965), two of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, a term coined by Kaprow in New Jersey for art events that involved audience participation;

• Nancy Holt’s 1975 film Pine Barrens;

• Ephemera from the 1962–63 Yam Festival by George Brecht and Robert Watts;

• George Segal’s Woman in Red Jacket (1958), one of his first sculptures to use the medium of plaster, and an untitled series of photographs (never before exhibited) shot from inside his car while driving along New Jersey’s Highway 1 in 1966.

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