The exhibition "George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer" will open on Monday, July 25, at the Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library on the Princeton University campus. The show focuses on the late American artist George Segal, who spent most of his creative life in nearby North Brunswick, N.J., and draws on materials that the George and Helen Segal Foundation donated to the Princeton University Library in 2009.
The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will run through Dec. 30. A free public lecture "George Segal: Sculptor, Painter, Photographer," with art historian Phyllis Tuchman also will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, in McCormick Hall, Room 101 on the University campus.
While Segal is best known as a sculptor, he also worked in other media such as photography. The Segal exhibition, curated by Valerie Addonizio and Don Skemer of the Princeton University Library, aims to make Segal's photography better known and to show how his sculpture and photography were related.
"Like his sculptures, Segal's photographs capture ordinary people and the mundane details of life. People often seem lost in thought, alone despite being in public places," said Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. "Segal also photographed mannequins in store windows and other plaster-cast figures, perhaps because his own sculpture was based on life casts. But beyond any connection with his own sculpture, Segal was interested in photography as art."
Segal's best known works are distinctive plaster figures cast from life and placed, sometimes with other figures and objects, in tableaux or "environments." In the 1980s and 1990s, he also focused on photography, which complemented Segal's interest in the built environments of New York and New Jersey. Often accompanied by his friend, photographer Donald Lokuta, Segal began taking day trips through the streets of New York, especially the East Village and Lower East Side, as well as Newark’s Ironbound district. He was fascinated by Coney Island and Jersey Shore towns, such as Asbury Park, Keansburg and Seaside Heights.
Segal selected 26 of his photographs for the portfolio "Sequence: New York/New Jersey, 1990–1993." But most of his nearly 7,000 surviving photographs that were donated to Princeton are unknown. They are preserved as part of the George Segal Papers, comprising nearly 80 linear feet of correspondence, business files and original art within the Manuscripts Division of the library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Segal was born in New York City and came of age as an artist at a time when avant-garde art and abstract expressionism were most influential. He began his working life as a New Jersey poultry farmer in North Brunswick, yet continued to paint, sculpt and exhibit his work through the 1950s. In 1957 his farm was the setting for the first outdoor "Happening," organized by the American painter and performance artist Allan Kaprow. This event was a harbinger of the 1960s, when Segal became a full-time artist and played an important part in the Pop Art movement, along with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. In 1961, Segal pioneered his signature technique of sculpting people, sometimes family and friends, by means of applying plaster bandages.
Segal's works are found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian Institution and in many other American and international museums. His 1991 work "Bread Line," vividly recalling life during the Great Depression, and two other bronze sculptures were commissioned for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. Segal donated his sculptures "Abraham and Isaac—In Memory of May 4, 1970" (1979) to Princeton University, and the Segal Foundation recently donated "Circus Acrobats" (1981) to the Princeton University Art Museum.
The Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library is open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, July 25-Sept. 2. From Sept. 5 to Dec. 30, the gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
A description of Segal's papers is available online.
**Media who would like more information about the George Segal exhibition or his papers, or who would like images from the collection, should e-mail Don Skemer.