The Fertility of Desolation
Artists who ventured into New Jersey after World War II did so not, as Dennis Oppenheim once said, to sit “on a hillside looking at a sunset.” Deterioration suited them more than natural beauty, and, to this end, they gravitated toward some of the state’s most ruined landscapes—the more dismal and dysfunctional, the better. Decay is key to understanding artists’ fascination with New Jersey. Then, as now, the state was home to a plethora of pastoral and industrial ruins, and in this desolation artists recognized great “fertility” (as Allan Kaprow once wrote). A few of them mined New Jersey’s ruins for materials; others used them to stage real-time events and ephemeral interventions. In keeping with their perspective on New Jersey as a whole, artists neither mocked nor disparaged devastation; instead, they exploited decay for its artistic and symbolic potential.