“MSU’s Works on Paper Collection” highlights 60 prints, drawings, watercolor paintings and collages selected from the institution’s more than 2,000 paper holdings. The exhibit is the first in a series planned by longtime gallery director and curator M. Teresa Lapid Rodriguez.
“We have enough good pieces to tell the story of the collection,” Rodriguez said Tuesday during a tour of the 3,300-square-foot gallery on the fourth level of the Red Hawk Parking Deck.
Many of the artists have special connections to New Jersey. Watercolorist Henry Gasser of West Orange was educated at and later became director of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. Wolf Kahn likely created the pastel, “At Montclair State College,” while visiting his father who was a music professor at the school.
The work of Clarence Holbrook Carter took a dramatic shift from large realistic landscapes to surrealist landscapes influenced by advertising and photography when he moved from Ohio to Milford, NJ in 1970. Multiple later works by the sought-after artist are featured in the exhibit.
The gallery’s namesake, the late George Segal of New Brunswick, is well represented with a trio from his “Blue Jeans” series, an homage to youth, and a haunting portrait of his wife, “Helen Against Black Wall”. The latter, one of 60 large scale pastels created by the artist in his later years, has never been shown before.
Also on exhibit for the first time are six silkscreens donated in 2013 from the vaults of the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Nearly every work in the exhibit has a story to tell. A seventh Warhol, a sketch of a child’s head under the words “Too Fat”, for example, is a gift from a model who worked with the artist. The Andy Warhol Foundation earlier gave Montclair 153 Polaroid and black and white photographs which were stepping stones to his famous silkscreens. When the model heard some of the Polaroids in the collection were of her, she offered to swap them for this rare early work.
A pair of Gasser’s paintings (Street Scenes) believed to be of streetscapes in West Orange and Newark almost didn’t get a chance to tell their story. The works were mislabeled as “unknown” for more than 25 years, but caught Rodriguez’s attention over the summer when preparing for the exhibit. When she recognized Gasser’s style, she asked that they be removed from their frames and his signature was found beneath the matting.
The Story of the Collection
The development of Montclair State University’s art collection mirrors the growth of the university, according to Rodriguez.
It all began in 1962, when Lillian Calcia, a former student and the first chair of the Fine Arts department, used money from the College Development Fund for the acquisition of several hundred works on paper. The collection continued to grow and the first art exhibition took place in October 1962 in the Sprague Library.
The institution became fully committed to expanding the collection and established a fund for this purpose, acquiring such important works as a Joan Miro lithograph (Israel), an Alexander Calder lithograph (Stabile) and a Marc Chagall etching (Bible), as well as two woodcuts and a lithograph (Dorco Dead with Bats) by Italian artist Antonio Frasconi.
In 1969, after a gallery was created in Life Hall, growth of the collection came to a 14-year standstill as the campus along with the rest of the country shifted priorities to the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and other matters of social justice.
A new growth period began in the mid-1980s, thanks to a number of significant gifts from area residents, including two Alexander Calder tapestries. When Montclair State College became Montclair State University in 1994, the collection experiences a period of global expansion, including the addition of an oil painting by Greg Whitecliffe, a visiting professor from New Zealand, which is part of the current exhibit.
At the start of the 21st century, when enrollment nearly doubled and the college began a huge physical expansion, the collection also experienced significant growth, again thanks to gifts, but also on account of the special relationship forged with the George Segal Foundation.
Future exhibits from the collection will focus on photography, painting, and other areas where there is enough to tell a story, Rodriguez said.
An opening reception for MSU’s “Works on Paper Collection” is planned for Thursday, Oct. 2, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibit is on view through Saturday, December 20. Gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday, 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. For information about school programs and tours, call Erica Somerwitz at 973-655-6941 or visit https://Montclair.edu/segal-gallery.