an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Mark Rodrick Lauds the Late Tom Sokolowski’s Work to Save the Jersey City Museum’s Collection

My recent tributes to three artworld luminaries whom we recently lost—Alan Shestack, William Gerdts and Thomas Sokolowski—triggered many fond comments from CultureGrrl readers who knew these scholar/curators and valued their work. But the warmest expressions of gratitude were occasioned by my eulogy (linked above) for the youngest of the three, as I tweeted here:

Yesterday, six days after I had posted about Tom’s sudden passing on this blog, I received the most moving response to what I had written—a message from Mark Rodrick, former chairperson of the Jersey City Museum and now a member of the board of overseers for Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ.

Mark Rodrick

Thanks to Tom’s efforts, the Zimmerli has acquired the works from the Jersey City Museum’s collection, highlighted by American art, colonial period through the present, and representing “the importance of immigrant communities in the cultural life of New Jersey,” according to Rutgers’ press release.

Here’s how Rodrick, in his note to me, paid homage to Sokolowski’s emergency intervention:

We are forever grateful for Tom Sokolowski and Rutgers. I did speak with Tom a few times in recent weeks about finding a sponsor for the upcoming Jersey City collection show in 2021, and I am so sad and so angry he is gone.

It is wonderful this accomplishment is in the news release from Rutgers and in your tribute! Tom knew every artist by name, by simply looking at the work in the Jersey City Museum collection. When Tom came to our rescue at the Jersey City Museum, we were actively moving (March 2018), as piece by piece was being packed away in a truck, probably never to been seen again. He was there to make sure the entire collection would find a new home, at the Zimmerli.

If not for his foresight and fortitude, the collection surely would have been lost. My hope is we can find a way to memorialize him, and all of his contributions.

Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University

The story, little known outside of Rutgers (and previously unknown to me), of how Sokolowski preserved a failing institution’s holdings (which seemed otherwise destined for dispersal) provides a counter-narrative to the recent loosening of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ previously ironclad strictures against art museums’ alleviating their financial difficulties by selling works from their collections.

Here’s how Rodrick described his board’s and Sokolowski’s heroic efforts to preserve, intact, a part of New Jersey’s cultural patrimony:

It took myself and our board years over eight years to finally find a home for our wonderful collection. Tom was fantastic. We needed to upload TMS [The Museum System, a computer program for collection management] to present to Rutgers our works of art, and the artist names were all missing!

I paid $4,000 to retrieve the data after it was fried on our hard drives when our electricity was shut off, and now it was incomplete. So, on the day after we moved—the day after Tom saw all of our most important works being packed away—one of our volunteers went back to the building to gather our old CPU’s and retrieve the data Tom needed to convince Rutgers to accept the collection.

This was a big expense—the storage at Crozier Fine Art, the sheer mass of the collection—and He Did It…

…and the general public and Rutgers’ students are the beneficiaries of this accomplishment. As a New Jerseyan, I’ll mark my calendar for the 2021 exhibition (when scheduled)!

A NOTE TO MY READERS: If you appreciate my coverage, please consider supporting CultureGrrl by clicking the “Donate” button in the righthand column. Contributors of $10 or more are added to my email blast for immediate notification of new posts.

an ArtsJournal blog