One day last year, Matt Gosser, who teaches architectural graphics at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), read in a magazine that the Pabst Brewery was being demolished. Gosser, who is also a photographer with an interest in vanishing buildings, decided to take photographs of the old brewery. After all, he thought, the giant beer bottle that stood atop the brewery’s roof was for decades a fixture of the Newark skyline.
But when Gosser walked inside the brewery, which was being demolished, he found what to his artistic eye was a treasure trove of objects: the original architectural drawings for the building; engineering drawings for the machinery used to brew the beer; 80 years of employee records as well as machine parts, conveyor belts, gears and metal work. Inside the old abandoned buildings, he even found paintings apparently done by a homeless man – a squatter - who had lived in the brewery. He found the man’s clothes, too. The paintings were deteriorated, perhaps by a leak in the ceiling, and Gosser was eager to save the paintings.
“There was so much cool stuff lying around the brewery that I couldn’t resist collecting it,” said Gosser. “I visited the brewery once a week for a year and a half. And when I found those paintings done by the homeless man, I was inspired. I knew that I wanted to one day exhibit his paintings, along with the artwork I intended to make from the stuff I found at the brewery.”
Now, 16 months later, Gosser’s dream exhibit has become a reality. The New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA) gallery at NJIT is hosting “AR+CHAEOLOGY: The Death and After-life of the Pabst Brewery,” an exhibit featuring sculpture, furniture and collages that Gosser made from the objects he found in the brewery. It also features photographs and videos he took of the brewery. The paintings done by the homeless man, as well a sculpture that Gosser made from the man’s clothes, occupy two walls of the exhibit. Nine other artists, all of whom made art from objects from the brewery, have pieces at the exhibit.
The NJSOA gallery is open to the public from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on weekdays, and the show runs through mid-November. Most of the 85 pieces on exhibit are for sale. Visit Gosser’s website to see images of the exhibit: www.gosser.info. The exhibit is also part of the Newark Open Studio Tour (http://www.newark-opendoors.org/), which runs Oct. 13-16. Journalists can call Robert Florida at (973) 596-5203 to visit the gallery or interview Gosser.
The exhibit is a touching evocation of a vanishing bit of Newark history. Gosser crafted a death mask from the hundreds of black and white photos of Pabst employees he found at the site. He made a lounge chair from conveyor belts; a chandelier from old metal bottling parts; a 10-foot tall flower from metal pieces and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans, and a large-scale model of the brewery constructed from old circuit boards.
“We feel that Gosser’s exhibit is historic and reflects an important part of Newark’s history and economic development,” said James Dyer, associate dean at NJSOA. “The exhibit welds architecture, history and the city of Newark into a highly visible presentation. We are confident that many fond memories of Newark’s pre-eminent role in brew-making will come to the forefront by way of Matt’s creative and unique work.”
Gosser, 34, an adjunct faculty member at NJSOA, is a practitioner of an art form known as Ar+chaeology - a combination of conservation, found-object art and historic preservation. Ar+chaeologists like Gosser look for abandoned sites that have cultural or historical significance, and they create art from what they unearth. Gosser visited the Pabst brewery once a week for a year and a half; he was given permission by the demolishers to remove the objects he coveted.
Ten years ago, Gosser started taking photographs of urban buildings that were being demolished – buildings that he views as contemporary ruins. More recently, he started plumbing abandoned buildings for pieces of history that he could transform into art, thereby commemorating the buildings and the people who had inhabited them.
Gosser has lived in Newark for the last 12 years. He graduated from NJSOA in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. He received a master’s degree in infrastructure planning from NJSOA in 2002. He belongs to the Newark Arts Collective, a loose affiliation of Newark-based artists. Having lived, worked and been a student in Newark, it was only natural that the razing of the Pabst Brewery would catch Gosser’s attention, which is drawn to the plight of vanishing things.
“More than 50,000 people worked at the brewery,” said Gosser. “I know: I saved their files from the wrecking ball. I was even able to save the architectural and engineering drawingsfor the brewery and the machinery. And now the brewery is disappearing. Over the past year, the bottling, packaging and shipping areas, as well as the administrative wing of the brewery, have been destroyed. Next up might be the giant bottle - a longtime mainstay of the Newark skyline. In the end, I will miss the brewery, but I feel fortunate to have gotten to know it so well over the past 16 months.”