Street » Cover Story
Before being sucked up by the Orange Bubble, you may have had grand plans to travel to New York or to Philadelphia while in college to enjoy what these cities have to offer. The plays, the shopping, the food, the concerts, the art: All were beckoning you. But chances are, you don’t make it off campus that often. Worry not: You can absorb art and culture right here in our backyard. The cousins of many of the masterpieces hanging at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art actually live right next door to you in the Princeton University Art Museum.
If you are a frequent visitor, well, that’s fantastic. And if you’ve haven’t gone since the Nassau Street Sampler (free food, we get it) or have never made it there at all, it’s worth another visit. First, the museum is free. Not just for students but also for all members of the community, which makes it really accessible to all. And it’s not “free” as in let’s put up a big sign that says “Admission $25” and a really small sign that says “suggested donation” then give you a disapproving look if you dare give less (looking at you, Metropolitan Museum of Art). The free admission makes the Princeton University Art Museum very accessible. “Because really this is all for you. To have this in your environment,” said Erin Firestone, Manager of Marketing and Public Relations at the museum, noting the importance of the free admission. In fact, there’s even a reading nook in the back that makes for a great place to study while being surrounded by art.
If you’ve never made it downstairs in the museum, you probably don’t know that there’s a mummy of a priest down there. And they’ve even included a picture of the mummy that they guarantee is inside. Downstairs, you can also see the top part of the totem pole that naturalist John Murr wrote about during his travels in Alaska.
The museum is constantly acquiring new works of art and can obtain up to a hundred new pieces each year. It currently has a deal with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which allows it to rotate in different Rauschenberg pieces every few months. Last year, the museum acquired “Double Poke in the Eye II,” a neon light sculpture by Bruce Nauman. The piece flashes in the corner of the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery drawing viewers towards it. Other recent acquisitions include the Angelica Kauffmann portrait of Sarah Harrop, unusual not only because its subject matter a woman, but also because it was painted by a woman in the 18th century.
The museum also has a large photography collection. Since photographs can only be out for a few months at a time, the museum often features them in special exhibits. Pieces not on view, including a unique painting of two gravestones in New Jersey by Georgia O’Keeffe and a 1611 piece entitled “Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi (which displays an accurate blood trajectory) can be found on the museum’s website. The website also allows students to make accounts where they can use the online catalog to make their own galleries. Another part of the website allows students and visitors to explore campus and pull up a map to learn more about the sculptures on campus.
With so many pieces, it’s hard to choose the highlights. I have yet to mention the Rubens, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Peales, Goya and other hotshot big-name artists. Some of my top picks will save you a trip to New York while others are just uniquely fantastic. Set aside a bit of time in your busy day and take a look at the following:
The Houses of Parliament, Seagulls, Monet, 1903
Like Monet’s more famous series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament series looks at the British House of Parliament during different weather conditions and times of day. Other paintings in the series can be seen at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Brooklyn Museum, the Met and the Musee d’ Orsay in Paris, to name a few. Monet’s observations of light are so precise in this series that researchers were able to figure out exactly where he was when he painted them. Turns out he spent a lot of time on the second floor balcony of St. Thomas’ Hospital, painting more than 11 versions of this one view. No need to trek to New York when we have one right here.
The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David and Studio, after 1787
In my opinion, this version of the Death of Socrates is more interesting than the famous signed version hanging at the Met. It allows us to see the process that was involved in the original painting and to gain insight on how David taught his students. The controversy regarding this painting is fascinating. Whether David painted this himself, added the finishing touches after his students did the more rough brushstrokes seen as the focal point of the painting or used this painting as a teaching tool remains contested. Regardless, it’s cool to be able to get a glimpse into the process of creating one of the most famous paintings of the 18th century and to see the layers behind the finished product.
Brillo Box, Andy Warhol, 1964-1969
While not often associated with sculpture, Warhol did create a very iconic Brillo Box series of sculptures. Both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art have Brillo Boxes on display. The boxes were also included in the Regarding Warhol show last year at the Met. While the Brillo Box is not as iconic as Warhol’s Marilyn screen-prints, which can also be seen in the museum’s collection, it has led to the question of where the line can be drawn between art and commodity. Warhol produced these boxes with an assembly line in mind and referred to his studio as the Factory. Although they didn’t go over well with art collectors at the time, they now sell for upwards of $4.7 million.
Christ before Pontius Pilate, Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch or a Member of His Circle, 1520
What do piercings have to do with Jesus Christ? Bosch (or whoever scholars have most recently decided is the painter) painted them both in this piece. Bosch’s work is generally crazy, grotesque and all around weird. This is no exception. The gruesome faces with large knobby noses with gold nose rings and sharp jaws with stern mouths and lip piercings are straight out of a nightmare. Many of Bosch’s paintings are of hellish landscapes, so provided that it can be attributed to him, it’s pretty unique.
Selection from a group of 35 medallions, David D’Angers, first half of the 19th century
While small and easy to just pass by, these medallions are representative of what can be seen in the David D’Angers exhibit currently at the Frick Collection in New York. D’Angers, though famous in Europe, is not particularly well known in the United States. In fact, the show at the Frick is the first exhibit of D’Angers’ sculptures in the United States. His anonymity in the States is surprising because he was France’s leading Romantic sculptor and there’s a museum entirely devoted to his work in his hometown of Angers. For his entire life, every time David D’Angers would finish a piece he would send a second copy of it to the museum in his hometown. The medallions, which were meant to be handled and passed around, display the types of people he associated with — including Victor Hugo and Eugene Delacroix.
Jean Cocteau, Amedeo Modigliani, 1916-1917
Leon Indenbaum, Amedeo Modigliani, 1916
These two works from Modigliani show funky and disproportioned portraits of some of his acquaintances. X-rays have shown that Modigliani may have originally used each of these canvases for different paintings that he later painted over with the ones seen in the museum. Between the paintings, the museum has included a mask from the Ivory Coast. Modigliani drew inspiration for his portraits from African masks, and the juxtaposition allows visitors to compare the facial features of his work and the mask.