Art

School Daze

by

For smug New Yorkers, the name New Jersey conjures up visions of urban blight,
industrial wastelands, and placid suburbs. Who knew that, 40 years ago, New Brunswick was a hotbed of radical artistic activity? A show now at the Newark Museum resurrects
the spirit of creation that once hovered over Rutgers
University, where, in the wake
of Abstract Expressionism, a cluster of artists taught,
studied, and sowed the seeds of Pop, performance, installation, and conceptual art.


Allan Kaprow waved the banner of an art “that didn’t look like art” with his
installations, assemblages, and happenings. Other
teachers followed: Roy
Lichtenstein, whose Pop
paintings were born in New
Jersey; Robert Watts, with his samizdat postage stamps; George Segal, of plaster-cast fame; George Brecht, a
mathematician whose art was based on chance; and Geoffrey Hendricks, who still teaches at the university. Students included Robert Whitman, who made film installations decades
before the genre became
ubiquitous, and a talented youngster named Lucas
Samaras. Smearing the boundaries between art and life, they used everyday objects as materials, orchestrated “events” on streets and chicken farms, and mimicked mail-order catalogues.


Their art, designed for the here and now, can seem mummified within the museum. Still, picking among the remains of their utopian energy is
fascinating. Early works by Samaras—assemblages
incorporating pins and razor blades—suggest a rare
emotional intensity. Lichtenstein’s first Mickey seems painted yesterday. And then there’s Whitman’s Shower
a film of a bathing beauty projected in a real-life shower stall behind running water, washing off the sludge of tradition in the baptism of a new artistic
practice.

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