Montclair Art Museum Turns 100

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

The Montclair Art Museum is celebrating its 100th birthday.

The Montclair Art Museum is celebrating its 100th birthday, and everyone is invited. On Jan. 15, the Newark Boys Chorus will sing, the Cake Boss will unveil a new creation and there will be champagne and dancing. Also taking place that evening will be the “lighting” of a new piece by artist Spencer Finch.

Finch’s previous public works include “The River that Flows Both Ways,” created for New York’s High Line. “Yellow,” his new site-specific installation for the Montclair Art Museum, consists of compositions displayed on light boxes mounted in four ground-floor windows on the museum’s temple-like façade. The classical revival architecture of the Montclair Art Museum was very much in vogue in 1914 when it opened, but nowadays it seems a bit formal. Lora Urbanelli, the museum’s director, says that Finch’s new work counteracts this impression.

“Spencer thought, what a lovely thing to put these window boxes in that would read as yellow, domestic, interior, soft light from the exterior,” says Urbanelli. “From a certain distance, if you were driving down the street, you would look at the front of the museum and it would look like the lights were on and people were home.”

Listen to a Jersey Arts Podcast interview with Lora Urbanelli, director of the Montclair Art Museum

“Yellow” is the second of two major artworks commissioned by the Montclair Art Museum to celebrate its centennial. In September 2013, the first piece was completed. “Host” by artist Jean Shin, consists of tree parts and branches made of tens of thousands of spoons, knives and forks collected from the residents of Montclair.


This short film provides a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Jean Shin’s sculpture “Host” for the Montclair Art Museum. Produced by RAVA Films.

These two new pieces are part of the museum’s redesigned outdoor sculpture park. Each invites people in, whether symbolically (the lights are on) or by invitation (please bring your odd pieces of flatware!). Montclair is known as a diverse, artsy and beautiful small town. It’s just a short train ride from Manhattan, and world-class musicians, artists and actors have been calling it home since the 19th century. The Montclair Art Museum has always reflected and engaged with its unique community. The installations by Finch and Shin signal the museum’s plans to continue and deepen this connection going forward.

Opening in February is another important exhibition, the New Jersey–based works of Robert Smithson, the artist best known for “Spiral Jetty” (1970), the massive earthwork built on the banks of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Montclair Art Museum will feature pieces by Smithson made with materials from the Passaic/Clifton/Montclair area; these were integral to the development of his later large-scale earthworks.

The Montclair Art Museum’s birthday celebration takes place Jan. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m., and includes an opportunity to ask questions of the Montclair Art Museum’s archivist, Judith Hinds. Robert Smithson’s New Jersey opens Feb. 22.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 p.m.