- Beginning in 1957, the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, slowly evolved into a hotbed for avant-garde art. This was the year that Allan Kaprow, who was teaching at Rutgers College, the men's school, started working on his Environments with sound, lights, and odors, which he fust exhibited at the Hansa Gallery in New York in 1958. In 1958, Robert Watts, who was teaching in the art department at Douglass College, the women's school at Rutgers, began making assemblages that incorporated light and sound. That same year, Kaprow and Watts, along with artist George Brecht, a scientist working at nearby Johnson & Johnson, completed a grant proposal begun in 1957 that they called 'Project in Multiple Dimensions'. It was their hope to receive funding to establish at Rutgers an institute for experimental art that would integrate art with science, among other disciplines.
- While the artists were not immediately successful in their funding quest, that did not deter them from making radical art. Their new art was designed to break down the barrier between art and life. Consequently it was based on real objects rather than on abstraction or on the illusionistic magic of paint on canvas, chiseled marble, or cast bronze. This art married, in the words of George Segal, "physical reality and spiritual insight." It was often a participatory art, where the visitor handled the object and played a role in its creation, confusing the issue of who was actually the maker and who deterrnined the meaning of the work. It was equally often a temporary or ephemeral art, made of throwaway materials that challenged the premise that art was valuable and precious. By 1959, Watts, Brecht, and Kaprow had created Environments, Happenings, and Events, and by 1961 they had conceived Conceptual Art and Mail Art as well. Pop Art had even appeared in New Brunswick by then, if Robert Watts's 1958 appropriations of commercial logos can be considered 'proto-Pop'. From 1958 to 1960, Kaprow's prize students, Robert Whitman and Lucas Samaras, were keeping pace with their seniors - Whitman by making constructions of disposable materials, as well as Happenings that he called theater pieces; Samaras by making art out of smoke on tinfoil, or razor blades or nails embedded in wood covered with toilet paper, paint, or feathers. Roy Lichtenstein was a conservative, Abstract Expressionist painter when he arrived at Douglass in 1960, but the radical climate at the University transformed him into the Pop artist we know today. The following year, George Segal, who had been teaching extracurricular drawing at Rutgers, developed the work for which he would become famous: white plaster sculptures installed in found environments. And in 1962-63, Geoffrey Hendricks, who had been teaching at Douglass since 1956, began making assemblages of found objects.
'Preface', in Joan Marter (ed.), Off Limits. Rutgers University and the Avant-garde, 1957-1963 (New Brunswick NJ 1999) xi ff.
- EXHIBITION CATALOGUES
- Erika B Gorder
Archival Assemblages. Rutgers and the Avant-garde, 1953-1964 / an Exhibition by Erika B Gorder. Rutgers University. Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives (Rutgers University Libraries: New Brunswich NJ 2001). Exhibition catalogue (September - December 2001).
Geoffrey Hendricks (ed.)
Critical Mass. Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958-1972 (Rutgers University Press : New Brunswick NJ 2003). Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Mead Art Museum, Amherst MA (February 1-June 1, 2003), and Mason Gross Art Galleries, New Brunswick NJ (September 29-November 5, 2003). The exhibition was (online) reviewed by Benjamin Genocchio for The New York Times (October 12, 2003).
Joan Marter (ed.)
Off Limits. Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963 (Rutgers University Press, pubished in Association with The Newark Museum : New Brunswick NJ 1999). Catalogue for the exhibition at the Newark Museum, Newark NJ (February 18-May 16, 1999). The exhibition is reviewed by Brook Adams for Artforum (Summer 1999).
- Ten from Rutgers University: Brecht, Hendricks, Kaprow, Kuehn, Lichtenstein, Orenstein, Segal, Vasey, Watts, Whitman (Bianchini Gallery : New York 1965). Catalog of an exhibition held at the Bianchini Gallery, New York (December 18, 1965-January 12, 1966).
- ARTICLES, ESSAYS and PAPERS
- Joan Marter
'The Forgotten Legacy. Happenings, Pop Art, and Fluxus at Rutgers University', Joan Marter (ed.), Off Limits. Rutgers University and the Avant-garde, 1957-1963 (New Brunswick NJ 1999) 1-47.
- Kristine Stiles
'Anomaly, Sky, Sex, and Psi in Fluxus', in Geoffrey Hendricks (ed.), Critical Mass. Happenings, Fluxus, Performance & Intermedia at Rutgers University 1958-1971 (New Brunswick NJ 2003) 60-88.
- Kristine Stiles
'Battle of the Yams. Contentless Form and the Recovery of Meaning in Events and Happenings', in Joan Marter (ed.), Off Limits. Rutgers University and the Avant-garde, 1957-1963 (New Brunswick NJ 1999) 118-129.