“George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer”

The exhibition “George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer” opens at the Princeton University Library on July 25. It focuses on the American artist George Segal (1924–2000), who spent most of his creative life in nearby North Brunswick, N.J. He is best known as a sculptor of distinctive plaster figures cast from life and placed, sometimes with other figures and objects, in tableaux or “environments.” But Segal worked in other mediums as well, including photography, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Photography 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, donated to Princeton in 2009 by the George and Helen Segal Foundation, are unknown. They are preserved as part of the George Segal Papers, comprising nearly 80 linear feet of correspondence, business files, and original art, in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The Segal exhibition, curated by Valerie Addonizio and Don Skemer, 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. 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.

George 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 arts 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 in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum; Smithsonian Institution, and in many other American and international museums, including the Centre National d’Art Contemporain (Paris), the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Montreal), and the National Museuum of Art (Osaka, Japan). His “Bread Line” (1991), vividly recalling life during the Great Depression, and two other bronze sculptures were commissioned for the FDR Memorial, in Washington, D.C. Segal donated his “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.

Exhibition in the Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library

Gallery hours: September 5–February 12, Monday–Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm

Saturday–Sunday, 12:00–5:00 pm

Public Program in McCormick 101

Sunday, November 6, 2011, 3:00–4:00 pm

Art historian Phyllis Tuchman will give an illustrated public lecture, “George Segal: Sculptor, Painter, Photographer.”

For more information about the George Segal exhibition or his papers, please contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu.  A description of Segal’s papers is available online at http://diglib.princeton.edu/ead/pdf?id=ark:/88435/tx31qh77q.

George Segal, Manhattan at Night, 1986. © George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. Not to be reproduced without permission of VAGA.