George Segal: Modernist Humanist


Foreword and Acknowledgments


M. Teresa Lapid Rodriguez

Director, George Segal Gallery


On April 5, 2006 Montclair State University inaugurated its newest professional gallery and named it after the world-renowned New Jersey artist, George Segal. It was a joint effort with the George and Helen Segal Foundation, which acknowledged, "It is in keeping with [George's] life for a New Jersey University to carry his name on their art gallery." The Foundation's choice of Montclair for the gift of George Segal's second-most important installation, Street Crossing, was huge news in the region causing media frenzy and was a great honor for Montclair State University. In gratitude, the George Segal Gallery planned a major exhibition to open in two years when the University celebrates its centennial. As director of the Gallery, I had to contemplate on what else could be done in terms of an exhibition for such a well-documented artist. How could a major Segal sculpture exhibition fit in 3,300 square feet of exhibition space? Further, as museum and gallery directors know, budget is always a challenge that often determines the scope of a show.

With these constraints in mind the exhibition had to form within a limited number of pieces to be obtained from museums close by to keep costs reasonable. Critical is a curator with an acutely discerning eye to choose the best few obtainable sculptures and still be within the parameters of a retrospective. Secondly, a curator must have a unique and meaningful message about the art. We found him. Dr. Donald Kuspit, one of America's distinguished art critics best known for his psychoanalytical perspective on art, winner of the prestigious Frank Mather Award for Distinction in Art criticism from the College Art Association, and author of many critical art books, shares the limelight with the few art critics who can summarize and judge the accomplishments and failures of 20th-century art, which he deftly accomplished in 2006 a book entitled A Critical History of Twentieth Century Art. Selecting 18 works, 10 sculptures and 8 late charcoal drawings, Kuspit delivers in this exhibition he fittingly entitled George Segal: Modernist Humanist a message that George Segal was the artist who made a difference in 20th-century art, with his sculpture serving as a quintessential link between abstraction and realism, and modernism and humanism as anti-art surged in the 1960s. Quoting Kuspit in the catalog's essay, he said:

"In the midst of all these incommensurate developments, suggestive of an
art scene seriously at odds with itself -- how can one reconcile Duchamp,
abstraction, happenings, Minimalism, Pop Art, and an increasingly narcissistic
art world in which works of art were becoming advertisements for the artist's
grandiose self, to adapt Norman Mailer's felicitous phrase, with the larger
American world that was in social and political upheaval -- George had the
experience that led him to Cinema. It is an against-the-modernist grain work --
an index of Segal's temerity and independence. At the same time, it is the
defining work of sixties art, not only because it brings together -- indeed,
seamlessly integrates, with a kind of epigrammatic succinctness and bold clarity
-- all its contradictory modernist strands, but because it achieves a social
relevance and human significance that none of them can match... a major
artistic triumph."

Concluding that Segal's works are modernist and humanist, formally intricate, unusual, cognitively complex, insightful, aesthetically remarkable and humanly profound, Kuspit poignantly delivers the exhibition's primary goal.

The show is complemented by a symposium developed around a panel of four speakers including Dr. Kuspit who all knew Segal professionally as well as personally. Dr. Matthew Baigell, art historian, professor emeritus of Rutgers University, a colleague of Segal at Rutgers, leading authority on Jewish art and author of the book, Jewish-American Artists and the Holocaust, is the best choice there is to speak about Segal's religious imagery. Carroll Janis, art historian and Segal's agent of over 30 years, had seen the artist's works blossom into a vigorous mainstream body of work sought worldwide, will share with us his memories of the artist. And, Dr. Anne Betty Weinshenker, head of Montclair State Univeristy's Art History division, 20th century sculpture scholar, will provide a historical perspective to Geroge Segal's time period in art.

This exhibition is, thus, special in many ways, but in the end it is in defining George Segal's worth to 20th-century art that makes the difficult show well worth the effort, and the George Segal Gallery is proud to be instrumental to it.

My esteem and great regard goes to all the lenders whose kind gestures of sharing their priceless collections provided us the opportunity to present a cross-section of Segal's 40-year artistic career using works of great prominence and high quality. Likewise, the sponsors, whose support of the exhibition is critical, by funding us acknowledge the importance of George Segal to New Jersey. I thank the Albright-Knox Art Gallery for lending us their photograph of Cinema, George Segal's "major artistic triumph."

The show also benefits from the great effort of many departments at Montclair State University and individuals in the community. Dr. Susan Cole, MSU President, and Dr. Geoffrey Newman, Dean of the College of the Arts, made sure the project proceeded. Jed Wheeler, Kasser Theater Executive Director, granted the viewing of Dancers in the Kasser Theater lobby. Dr. Donald Lokuta lent photographs of George Segal. Susan Kutliroff and Rena Segal of The Segal Foundation graciously assisted us with our needs from the Foundation. The George Segal Gallery staff -- Sarah Dolan, Anthony Rodriguez, and Donna Serbe-Davis -- worked very hard from researching to preparing educational programs, marketing, catalog preparation, registration, shipping, and final installation, lighting and labeling of the show. The College of the Arts, Development, Marketing and Communications, Publications, Web Services, Accounts Payable, and Procurement have all worked with the Gallery. The Advisory boards of the College of the Arts and the George Segal Gallery raised funds and in various ways supported the exhibition. Designers Marshall Cohen of Mars Design, Christina Saj of Muse Design Group, and Stefani Whitehouse; Jeanie Deans of Carroll Janis, Inc.; Doug Caulk of Caulk Art Services; Joe Canderosi, CART Chair; Phoebe Pollinger, Montclair Arts Council President; Teddi Dolph, Kathryn Eddy, Carla Egbert, Patricia Selden, Nette Thomas, Virginia Block, Bill McCreath, board members; Linda Davidson, CART Asst. Dean, Ronald Sharps, CART Assoc. Dean, Cindy Meneghin, Alex Thelin, Beth Kornstein, Mark Heimerdinger, Ann Blankenship, Keith Wiggs, Garry Rideout, Cheri Jefferson, Mike Peters, Ana Gomez, Diana St. Lifer, Minne Ho, Claudia Bogris, and Paula Maliandi, all helped in moving the exhibition forward.

To all of them I give my sincerest thanks.

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