Visits to the Zimmerli Art Museum have been an integral part of my college experience since I was a first-year at Rutgers. I’ve often spent hours on end in the galleries, reading wall texts and learning about the history of art at Rutgers and the worlds beyond it.
And, as a contributing writer for The Daily Targum, I’ve had the opportunity to attend multiple Art After Hours tours, interact with the brilliant curators and friendly staff at the museum and thus immerse myself in the rich arts community growing on campus.
When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit and sent the art world into survival mode, museums like the Zimmerli innovated their approach to making art accessible to their audiences. In many ways, the Zimmerli had to adapt to become a sort of "Zoomerli."
Art After Hours, a monthly event highlighting parts of Zimmerli’s collection filled with music and conversation, became virtual Art Before/After Hours to accommodate the needs of the Rutgers community members in different parts of the globe. The museum also had a virtual book launch for the marquee exhibition of this academic year, “Angela Davis — Seize The Time.”
The Zimmerli also rebranded its website and logo recently, making it easy to navigate and access on mobile devices, so you can enjoy the museum experience anywhere.
You can imagine my joy when the Zimmerli finally opened its doors to the public on Sept. 1. Despite the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida ravaging parts of New Brunswick, momentarily derailing campus activity at the start of our Fall 2021 semester, the museum was up and running soon after.
I finally got to drop by 71 Hamilton St. on Sept. 9, during the museum’s first-ever SparkNight event. Reminiscent of Art After Hours, this social event took place from 4:30 to 8 p.m. and is meant to deepen audience engagement with the museum’s collection by way of tours and activities.
After an early evening class on women and art, my friends, Sundia and Deziree, and I headed to the museum. As seniors on campus, we got to chat about art and feel rather fancy over a glass of pinot grigio.
The exhibition we were most excited about was "Angela Davis — Seize The Time." This sweeping show focuses on the salience of Davis’ image in popular culture and media at the height of her political activism in the '60s and '70s and is inspired by the archive of collector and curator Lisbet Tellefsen in Oakland, California.
Bethany Collins, Juan Sanchez, Sadie Barnette and Coco Fusco are just some of the modern and contemporary artists whose depictions of Davis are featured in this show.
What stood out about seeing these works all together and in person was the historically immersive nature of the exhibition. The "Archive" section of the exhibition invites visitors to flip through pages of binders and books to more intimately experience the material and research at the heart of this exhibition. The timelines running across the gallery give one a better sense of Davis’ place in and impact on American history and civil rights.
My favorite section of this exhibition was the nook titled, “Seize the Time — share your thoughts,” located by the entrance to the exhibition. Laundry lines of cards prompt visitors to reflect on their experience by asking thoughtful questions like “What role can the arts play in the fight for racial justice?” and “Is there an object in this exhibition that surprised you or challenged your assumptions?”
The prompt “I will 'Seize the Time' by …” is also effective at communicating the personal, community-based nature of the work featured in this exhibition.
Another thought-provoking exhibition that neighbors “Seize the Time” is “Stitching Time: The Social Justice Collaboration Quilts Project.” The Social Justice Collaboration Quilts Project was born in 2012 out of a hospice program for inmates serving life sentences at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and gives creative voice to imprisoned and free quilters from institutions across America.
“This exhibition focuses on work made by the founders of the Social Justice Collaboration Quilts Project, Kenya and (Maureen) Kelleher, and the first member of the Project, Sharif. Their quilts address racial injustice in American history and celebrate Black creativity, thought and political activism,” according to the museum's website.
Images of notable Black figures like James Baldwin, Harriet Tubman and Barack Obama are immortalized here in quilt. QR codes at the side of each artwork can be scanned to take you to audio recordings, where the quilters narrate your experience and elaborate on each quilt’s subject matter. The narration for “Love” (2016) perfectly captures the project’s mission and the humanity and empathy behind the art on the walls of this exhibition.
Seeing art that's as evocative as the works featured in these two aforementioned exhibitions makes the long wait for an in-person museum experience all the more visceral, emotional and worthwhile. I will definitely have to return to the Zimmerli soon to more closely learn about and feel the gravity of these exhibitions.
Other current exhibitions I look forward to exploring soon are “The New Woman in Paris and London, c. 1890-1920,” “Communism Through the Lens: Everyday Life Captured by Women Photographers in the Dodge Collection” and “Microcosm of Mexico: 100 Original Woodcuts by José Guadalupe Posada.”
The next SparkNight will be on Oct. 7 and the Zimmerli will also be hosting an opening celebration for campus and community on Oct. 14. I encourage you to explore this delightful on-campus resource and learn more about the fascinating art they offer.
For a post-museum visit treat, Paparazzi Cafe (located between the museum lobby and Voorhees Hall on the College Avenue campus) has some of the most delicious fresh-baked goods, with my favorite being the chocolate croissants.