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George Segal: Street Scenes

May 9 - August 2, 2009


(above: George Segal, American (1924-2000). Cinema, 1963. Plaster, illuminated Plexiglas, metal. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)


More than one dozen life-size sculptures by one of the most important American artists of the 20th century will go on view May 9 through August 2, 2009 when George Segal: Street Scenes comes to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibition was organized by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. (right: George Segal, American (1924-2000). Chance Meeting, 1989. Plaster, aluminum, and galvanized steel. Gift of Carroll Janis and Donna Seldin Janis in honor of the 75th Anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. 2008.59 A-G. © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

Initially a painter, Segal's career changed in the early 1960s when he began using plaster to create life-size figures, which he grouped with objects from the everyday environment.

Leesa Fanning, Associate Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins, who is the venue curator, said the Bloch Building's featured exhibition space -- with its asymmetrical galleries, soaring ceilings and curving walls -- provided a dramatic setting for the exhibition.

"Segal's full-scale, theatrical vignettes are populated by life-size figures. Visitors encounter Segal's human surrogates set within striking juxtapositions of light and dark, mass and void, symmetry and asymmetry. Segal said that his real work was about setting up a physical space to enter, and here, art and architecture unite to create a potentially transformative experience. An astute observer of human nature, Segal used the figure as his expressive vehicle. He chose ordinary human beings with no great pretentions and used gesture, pose, and the relation of one figure to another to suggest psychological states," Fanning said.

Among the works displayed will be the unique plaster-cast version of the sculpture Chance Meeting, a recent gift of Carroll Janis and Donna Seldin Janis in honor of the Nelson-Atkins' 75th Anniversary. That initiative's goal is to add 75 important works of art to the Museum's collection during the 75th anniversary year. The Segal was among 11 new acquisitions unveiled at the Museum's 75th birthday party December 11, 2008. The bronze version of Chance Meeting also is part of the loan exhibition. The work is representative of how Segal imagined people moving about on city streets in what he called a "hypnotic dream state." (left: George Segal, American (1924-2000). The Diner, 1964-1966. Plaster, wood, chrome, laminated plastic, masonite, fluorescent lamp, glass, paper. Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

"Segal's subjects appear lost in thought and isolated, even in the midst of others. In spite of their shared humanity and presumed desire for meaningful connection, they convey the alienation of city life," Fanning said.

The Nelson-Atkins has two other Segal works, one of which, Rush Hour, is installed in the Kansas City Sculpture Park on the plaza level between the Bloch Building and the Museum's original 1933 building.

Accompanying the exhibition are photographs taken of Segal and his work process by photographer friend and assistant Donald Lokuta.

This exhibition is supported by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions. Midwest Airlines is the official airline sponsor. Generous funding for George Segal: Street Scenes has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; Bill and Jan DeAtley; Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.; Daniel Erdman; Associated Bank; the Steinhauer Charitable Trust; J.H. Findorff & Son; CUNA Mutual Group; the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Overture Foundation; and Gina and Michael Carter. (right: George Segal, American (1924-2000). Dumpster, 1994. Plaster, silver gelatin prints. Courtesy The George and Helen Segal Foundation, New Jersey, and Carroll Janis, New York. Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

About Lessa Fanning

Leesa Fanning is Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Fanning holds a doctorate in art history from the University of Kansas. She recently curated Tapping Currents: Contemporary African Art and the Diaspora and Siah Armajani: Dialogue with Democracy. Other exhibitions include the New Media Projects (co-curated) and Realism and Abstraction: Six Degrees of Separation at the Museum. Women in 20th Century Industrial Ceramics took placeat the Jewish Museum of Kansas City and at the same institution, Classic to Cutting Edge: Highlights of the Larry and Cindy Meeker Collection.

Fanning has taught courses at the Museum on ritual and myth in modern and contemporary art, Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle and Shirin Neshat's Turbulent. She has taught classes on contemporary art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Missouri, and African art at the University of Kansas.

Fanning was a contributor to the exhibition catalogue, Sparks! The William T. Kemper Collecting Initiative. Cambridge University Press has published Fanning's essay, Willem De Kooning's Women: The Body of the Grotesque, in an anthology called Modern Art and the Grotesque. She is also published on Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb.


(above: George Segal, American (1924-2000). Parking Garage, 1968. Plaster, wood, metal, electrical parts, light bulbs. Collection Newark Art Museum, Newark, New Jersey. Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)


Editors note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and this video:

George Segal: American Still Life. Director: Amber Edwards. George Segal's life-size plaster casts command attention in major museums and exhibition halls throughout the nation. This 60 minute 2001 documentary contains archival footage of the Pop Art scene in the 60s and chronicles his life and work through interviews with the artist, his friends, family, and art historians. Amber Edwards. From Kultur Video. George Segal: American Still Life: 60 minutes 2000. "This video chronicles the life and work of George Segal whose sculptures have captured seemingly uneventful moments of life in the form of plaster casts of actual humans. As he says, "It strikes me that daily life is baffling, mysterious, and unfathomable." View Segal at work casting a model in his studio with commentary from friends, critics, art historians, and rare archival footage from the 1960s Pop Art scene." ASIN: B0015NR2DE (DVD). Excerpts of the film from Montclair State University may be seen by clicking here.

In 2008 TFAO granted to Madison Museum of Contemporary Art funds towards the viewing the documentary George Segal: American Still Life. Please see Film Viewing, a Financial Assistance Program for institutions.

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