Artist W. Carl Burger admitted he did not expect to be contacted by representatives of the Morris Museum in Morristown about a new exhibition of his work.
After all, the Stockton artist was the subject of a museum retrospective only two years ago. This show took place just 15 years ago after another major exhibition of Burger’s work at the same venue.
“I was surprised when I heard about them,” Burger said. “They did exhibits on me that were well received. I am honored by the museum’s interest in me and the artists of New Jersey.
One of the reasons for the museum’s continued interest in Burger: At 92, he continues to create. The new exhibition – “Spheres of Influence”, which runs until August 18 – includes a piece that was completed only a month ago.
“I’m reprimanded,” Burger said. “There is already so much great art around. Haven’t I done enough? But it’s something I have to do. This attitude may be one of the reasons why the 2016 exhibition of his work at the Morris Museum was called ‘Urge to Paint’.
In total, the museum has about 400 Burger creations in its collection, according to curator Alexandra Willis. She pointed out that, even with two major exhibitions in the past two decades, some of her works remain unknown.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of what Carl has done,” Willis said. “We decided to do ‘Spheres of Influence’ to showcase these unreleased pieces.”
Willis has selected around forty works by Burger. “The main criteria was pieces that hadn’t been on public display,” she said. “But we have also chosen works that reflect the major themes of Carl’s career.”
Patrons may be familiar with Burger’s architectural forms and landscapes, Willis said. “But we also wanted to show his portraits and his abstract work, which are less well known.”
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Also, Burger’s works don’t always fit into one category. Willis noted that some of his architectural paintings have landscape elements, and a few landscapes seem almost abstract. “He is able to merge all of these elements together,” she said.
Art has been central to Burger’s life for over 70 years. The oldest piece in “Spheres of Influence” is a 1940s drawing that Willis says is inspired by his experiences during World War II.
Burger was born in Germany in December 1925. The following year, his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New Jersey. After World War II, he took classes at New York University, Columbia, and Rutgers, among other institutions.
For more than 40 years he worked as an educator across the state. (Currently, he holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Art at Kean University.)
“It was when I was teaching that I started taking painting seriously,” Burger said. “Painting was something expected of you, like ‘publish or perish’ for writers.”
At least one reviewer has noted that Burger’s landscapes aren’t always placid and benevolent. “You can see a field from afar and it’s beautiful,” he said. “But up close it can become a nightmare. This translates into my abstract work.
Willis said the trait of Burger’s work that she most admires is her spontaneity. “In each of his pieces, you see him enjoying experimenting,” she said. “He has the ability to convey that spontaneity in terms of subject and medium.”
For this reason, Willis said she was happy to present these “invisible” works in “Spheres of Influence”. “I want people to realize that this is a work that has been built and developed over a lifetime,” she said.
Burger expressed a more general hope regarding visitors to the Morris Museum or any art museum.
“I go to shows, and people walk past art and then move on to the next, like looking at clothes,” Burger said. “I want people to come up and check every job. I know that my drawings are very detailed, very carefully structured. I want people to see this.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO:
“SPHERES OF INFLUENCE”
WHAT: Exhibition of lesser-known work by W. Carl Burger, a 92-year-old New Jersey-based artist who works in a variety of media. The exhibit ranges from drawings from the 1940s to a piece completed less than a month ago.
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is also open in the evening from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on the second and third Thursdays of the month. Now until August 18. Closed on Independence Day.
WHERE: Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Rd., Morristown.
TICKETS: Free for children under 3, $7 for children aged 3 to 12 and for seniors, $10 for everyone else. Free for museum members. Free for military up to 5 family members. Pay what you want from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second and third Tuesday of the month.
INQUIRIES: 973-971-3700 or www.morrismuseum.org.
“Spheres of Influence” is on display at the Morris Museum in Morristown until August 18.
The exhibition includes around 40 lesser-known works by 92-year-old artist W. Carl Burger, who currently lives in Stockton. The subjects of the pieces range from drawings from the 1940s (informed by Burger’s experiences during World War II) to a work he completed shortly before the exhibition opened in May.