Collection From Jersey City Museum Makes Its Debut at the Zimmerli

Artist Sheila Pepe recreates her 2005 installation "Tunnel" at the Zimmerli.
Artist Sheila Pepe recreates her 2005 installation "Tunnel" at the Zimmerli Art Museum.
Donna Gustafson/Rutgers University

Rutgers University’s Art Museum to Spotlight More Than 80 Contemporary Artists in American Stories 

This fall, the Zimmerli Art Museum unveils artwork from the former Jersey City Museum, a major addition to Rutgers University’s permanent collection that offers a variety of perspectives on American art and life through a New Jersey lens. 

Image of "Jersey City/Nasser City" (2002) by Dahlia Elsayed
"Jersey City/Nasser City" (2002) by Dahlia Elsayed
Rutgers University

American Stories: Gifts from the Jersey City Museum Collection, on display from Sept. 1 to Dec. 30, features nearly 100 paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures. The public is invited to a free opening celebration during SparkNight, the Zimmerli’s monthly evening event, on Thursday, Sept. 8, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick, N.J. The event features a tour (5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.), a scavenger hunt (5 p.m.-7 p.m.), remarks from the museum director (6 p.m.) and a dance party with DJ Derrick Braxton, DJ Wes, DJ Ali Coleman and Germain Brito. 

“We are honored to have the opportunity to share this collection with the public,” said Maura Reilly, director of the Zimmerli.

"Mother and Child" (1994) by Chakaia Booker
"Mother and Child" (1994) by Chakaia Booker
Rutgers University

Reilly said the collection includes work by some of the most important artists of the past six decades – Emma Amos, Dawoud Bey, Chakaia Booker, Mel Edwards, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and others, "which, when combined with our stellar American art collection, provides a more comprehensive picture of American art and society.” 

In 2018, the Zimmerli expanded the scope of its Art of the Americas holdings by accepting the collection from the Jersey City Museum, which closed in 2012. The exhibition is an introduction to more than 80 artists from that collection. 

Donna Gustafson, chief curator at the Zimmerli, noted one of the most poignant works in the collection is Luis Cruz Azaceta’s 1992 print, Lotto: The American Dream, which foreshadows today’s headlines about income inequality and the precarious financial conditions of many Americans. 

Other works in the exhibition include: 

  • A selection of prints made at the workshop of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña during the 1960s and 1970s 

  • Big Daddy Draped, a 1971 feminist and anti-war painting from the Big Daddy series by May Stevens 

  • David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (red head on world map), a 1982 painting that is a meditation on the individual’s relation and responsibility to a global community 

  • Juan Sanchez’s 1992 print, Para Don Pedro, which associates the image of Pedro Albizu Campos, the hero of the Puerto Rican independence movement, with traditional religious imagery of martyrdom 

"Lotto: The American Dream" (1992) by Luis Cruz Azaceta
"Lotto: The American Dream" (1992) by Luis Cruz Azaceta. Courtesy of George Adams Gallery in New York.
Rutgers University

The exhibition includes a re-creation of Sheila Pepe’s Tunnel (2005), an installation of shoelaces and nautical rope that references the mostly immigrant laborers who dug the tunnels between New Jersey and New York, as well as those who commuted through them to work in the city’s factories. On Thursday, Oct. 13, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the public is invited to hear Pepe and Reilly discuss the artist’s work and the exhibition. 

Big Daddy Draped (1971) by May Stevens
"Big Daddy Draped" (1971) by May Stevens. Courtesy of the estate of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery in New York.
May Stevens

American Stories also presents an opportunity for the Zimmerli to collaborate with the Public History Program in the Department of History at Rutgers–New Brunswick: Undergraduate students researched the artists and composed exhibition labels, which will be in English and Spanish throughout the galleries. 

In addition, the Zimmerli features two exhibitions drawn from the historical aspect of the collection: Picturing Jersey City: Nineteenth-Century Views by August Will (Sept. 28-Dec. 30) and “Beauty Among the Ordinary Things”: The Photographs of William Armbruster (Sept. 1-Dec. 30). Both Will (1834-1910) and Armbruster (1865-1955) were important in the formative years of the Jersey City Museum as they documented the city as it rapidly developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.