NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers spotlights The Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Art with “Tales of War: A Selection of Works on Paper,” on view through April 23, 2014. In 2005, the California-based collectors selected the Zimmerli as the new home for their extensive collection of Russian art. “We donated our artworks to the Zimmerli not only to share their unique aesthetic quality, but because of the light the artists have shone on the historic relationship between the United States and Russia from the 1940s through the 1980s,” the Gruens shared in a recent statement.
“In World War Two, the United States and Russia were allies fighting the Nazis. In the following period, the U.S. and Soviet empires fought a `Cold War’ for dominance. The cultures of both nations changed again after the breakup of the Soviet Union, as America shifted its concerns and policies from Russia to China,” they explained.
“The artists in our collection comment perceptively on the contrasting changes in both the Russian and U.S. societies,” Mrs. Gruen continued. “We are delighted to have gifted our collection to the Zimmerli, which houses the largest Soviet/Russian art collection in America, because we continue to believe that if we want to help assure a better future, we need to learn from the past.”
The subject matter in the prints, drawings, and artists’ books in “Tales of War” centers on distinct periods in Russian history. During the World War II era, combat often spilled from the battlefield to the home front. However, from the early days of the Cold War, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to the present, conflict has become increasingly automated and isolated, yet no less devastating.
At the center of the show is the album entitled “People, Be Aware!,” a compilation of 39 photo montages by Alexander Zhitomirsky (1907-1993), who is renowned for his political caricatures. This album includes “Zhit,” created between 1941 and 1962, from his famous anti-Nazi propaganda leaflets. These leaflets were so powerful he landed on Hitler’s “most wanted” list. He also captured the worldwide uneasiness that existed during the Cold War era, an ongoing fear of potential nuclear war that crossed all borders. Though the original book is encased, a computer terminal with a digital flip version allows visitors to view the album in its entirety, with English translations.
The other works in the show date from 1989 to 2013 and relate to Zhitomirsky’s album through a variety of approaches to the theme of war, from the quest for peace to its terrors. In “How Can One Change Oneself?” and “Encounter with an Angel” (both, 2000), noted artist Ilya Kabakov (born 1933) issues a call for the opposite of war: peace. The prints contain instructions for achieving a sense of peace, without religious ideology or self-righteousness, imploring individuals to take responsibility for effecting a future without the devastation of war. Four silkscreens, from 2002, by Aleksandr Florenskii (born 1960) document various periods from Russia’s military history: battle scenes, key figures, and military equipment appear in a poster format, matter-of-factly explaining the elements of battle, with diagrams, as if extracted from a textbook. The cartoonish “Heinrich von Kleist. Hermanchlacht” (2013) by Maxim Kantor (born 1957) revives an episode from the military history of Ancient Rome by projecting it onto the 20th century, with chaotic and barbaric depictions of battle.
Additional resources are available for visitors interested in learning more about Russian contemporary art and Soviet nonconformist art. The Zimmerli publications “The Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Russian Art” (2008) and “Journal” (2003-2008), as well as “From Gulag to Glasnost: Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union” (Thames and Hudson, 1995), are provided for reading in the gallery. A selection of paintings donated to the Zimmerli by the Gruens is also on view in the adjacent gallery, with work by Alexander Kosolapov, Leonid Lamm, Natalia Nesterova, and The Peppers: Oleg Petrenko and Liudmila Skripkina.
“The Gruen Collection is an invaluable addition to the museum’s holdings of traditional Russian art, donated by George Riabov, and the world’s largest collection of Soviet nonconformist art, assembled by Norton T. and Nancy Dodge,” states Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli. “The Gruens’ generous donation extends the museum’s collection to the most recent developments, making the Zimmerli the only institution in the United States where a history of Russian art can be traced from icons to the present.”
The 2009 exhibition “Selections from The Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Art” was the first at the Zimmerli to celebrate this major gift of contemporary Russian art, which spans the last eight decades. The collection includes a few works from the 1930s and 1940s, inspired by the Russian avant-garde; early nonconformist pieces from the 1950s through 1970s; and representative works of this new century. The majority of the items date from the late 1980s to 1990s. These core works by the nonconformist artists, produced as the Soviet Union began to dissolve in the late 1980s and during the rebuilding of Russia into the 1990s, continue to dwell upon Soviet experiences while uniting them with the realities of the post-Soviet economy. The younger generation of artists who emerged around 2000 often ignores the Soviet episode altogether, wheeling and dealing in the glamour of the new Russian capitalism.
This selection, organized by Julia Tulovsky, Ph.D., Associate Curator of Russian and Nonconformist Art, is supported by Gruen Endowment Fund.
The exhibition is curated by Julia Tulovsky, Ph.D., Associate Curator for Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art, Zimmerli Art Museum. She also curated the Zimmerli’s major 2013 exhibition “Leonid Sokov: Ironic Objects” and contributed the essay “Catharsis through Laughter: Popular Culture and the Art of Leonid Sokov” to the book “Leonid Sokov: Sculpture, Painting, Objects, Installations, Documents, Articles” (Kerber, 2013). Tulovsky is a specialist in modern and contemporary Russian art, with a Ph.D. from Moscow State University. Before joining the staff of the Zimmerli in 2007, she served as Assistant Curator at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and later as Executive Director of the Malevich Society in New York. She has published extensively on Russian art history and contemporary art, both in Russian and English. Tulovsky co-edited a special Russian-American issue of the “Pinakotheke” journal focusing on interrelations and cultural parallels between Russian and American art and architecture. She was general editor of the Zimmerli publication “The Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Russian Art” (2008), as well as a contributor to the museum’s major book on Russian contemporary art, “Moscow Conceptualism in Context” (2011), which the Zimmerli co-published with Prestel, a member Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH.
ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM|RUTGERS
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. Founded in 1966 to serve the campus and community, the Zimmerli is now one of the nation’s largest and most distinguished university-based art museums, located in a 70,000-square-foot building on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.
The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, and the Voorhees Family Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.
The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.
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