New Jersey was one of the principal laboratories for experimental art after World War II. Between 1950 and 1975, a host of innovative artists flocked to the state’s most desolate locales. There, in its industrial wastescapes, crumbling cities, crowded highways, and banal suburbs, they produced some of the most important work of their careers. The breakthroughs in sculpture, conceptualism, performance, and land art that New Jersey helped catalyze are the subject of New Jersey as Non-Site, which features more than one hundred works by sixteen artists.
It is neither incidental nor accidental that artists came to occupy New Jersey in the years after World War II: much about the state resonated with ideas and themes already in the air. Intrigued by its people as well as its landscape, artists found New Jersey both informative and revelatory. Whether they crossed the Hudson River to collect materials, forge a political movement, or stage performances, artists seemed to agree on one thing: peripheries like New Jersey provide critical leverage not available in cosmopolitan centers, an unfamiliar perspective that disables convention and expectation alike.
Behind artists’ commitment to New Jersey lay something specific: difference. For more than a century, New Jersey’s identity has been measured in terms of its difference—not to mention its distance—from New York. Long considered New York’s “other,” New Jersey was one of the first “other” places that artists explored in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a period when many, including those featured here, started to abandon the insular world of the studio for the environment at large.
Curated by Kelly Baum, Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, New Jersey as Non-Site features work by Amiri Baraka, George Brecht, John Cohen, Dan Graham, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Nancy Holt, Allan Kaprow, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dennis Oppenheim, George Segal, Charles Simonds, Robert Smithson, Michelle Stuart, Robert Watts, and Bud Wirtschafter. Organized around three themes—ruin, cooperation, and displacement—New Jersey as Non-Site considers these artists’ work in relationship to seismic shifts in the world of art and equally dramatic changes to New Jersey’s economy, infrastructure, landscape, demography, and social stability.
New Jersey as Non-Site has been made possible by generous support from Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art; Sueyun and Gene Locks, Class of 1959; Sarah Lee Elson, Class of 1984; and PSEG. Additional support has been provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Elchin Safarov and Dilyara Allakhverdova; the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with further support from the Department of History, the Center for African American Studies and the Department of English, Princeton University; and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum. Programming is made possible, in part, by funds from the Jannotta-Pearsall Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole; the Fisher Lecture Series; and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. The publication has been made possible, in part, by the Barr Ferree Foundation Publication Fund, Princeton University.