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On the Waterfront

A far-reaching art exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum looks at the significance of water from a range of perspectives.

The transformative power of water is made crystal clear by artist and Rutgers professor emeritus Geoffrey Hendricks. In a process piece called Waiting, he uses water to create and destroy a single painting. He paints with watercolor and then immerses the painting in water; slowly, the water lifts each fragment of color off the page until nothing is left.

Waiting is one of more than 100 works of art featured in Water, an exhibition running through January 2, 2011, at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the New Brunswick Campus. Drawn from the Zimmerli’s vast collection of more than 60,000 holdings, the exhibition includes works of Russian and Soviet nonconformist art, 19th-century French art, and American art as well as prints, photographs, and original illus­trations for children’s books. Rounding out the exhibition are pieces on loan from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Most of the Zimmerli’s exhibitions typically address one artistic genre, culture, period, or artist. Water, however, spans four centuries, five continents, and a variety of media: painting, printmaking, photography, installation, video, performance, sculpture, and sound. Whether it’s a 17th-century Chinese landscape, a rainy scene from a 1968 children’s book, or a visceral contemporary video, water runs through everything.

Organized by theme, the show underscores the universality of water and its many layers of meaning. Water is examined as a range of solid, liquid, and gas states. There is Maya Lin’s Dew Point, an installation of glass orbs that looks like giant dewdrops on the floor, and Lynn Davis’s “Iceberg II,” a 40-by-50-inch photograph that depicts all three states at once: icebergs (solid) sitting in Greenland’s Disko Bay (liquid) against a backdrop of thick clouds (gas). Water as geographical marker is explored with James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s etchings of Venice, followed by an Utagawa Hiroshige II print (shown above) in which waves in the foreground seem to tower over Mount Fuji. Rain is the common thread for two prints by different artists, both from the early 1930s—one of Queens, New York, and the other of Maekawa, Japan.

“One of the really interesting aspects of the exhibition was that we were able to mix different points of geography and time, and to think thematically about a subject with universal appeal,” says Donna Gustafson GSNB’84, ‘10, the show’s curator.

Water is rendered as divine in a religious sense, as in Phyllis Galembo’s photographs of a waterfall in Haiti where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared, and in a purifying sense, as in Bill Viola’s Ablutions, a 2005 video in which a man and woman simultaneously wash their hands in two streams of brilliantly clear water.

The show closes with a lone desert image: photographer Cary Wolinsky’s “Sienna House, Namibia, Africa,” which depicts the interior of an abandoned structure overtaken by sand dunes. “When you are confronted with the effect of water’s absence,” says Gustafson, “you can better grasp its fundamental significance to life on earth.” — Lara De Meo RC’97

The Sea at Satta, Suruga Province

Detail of The Sea at Satta, Suruga Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1858) by Utagawa Hiroshige II, is part of the permanent collection at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum and one of 100 works featured in the exhibition Water, running through January 2, in New Brunswick.

Photography by Jack Abraham


Various units are taking a close look at water in the coming months.