Artspace show explores history

Curious about what George Washington looks like with his pants down? Interested in seeing photographs of Germans who choose to dress up as Native Americans? Ever wonder what Saddam Hussein’s head would look like on the $20 bill?

These are just a few of the subjects chosen by artists now on display at Artspace’s current exhibit, “Don’t Know Much About History.” The exhibit, which opened Nov. 18 and will run through Jan. 20, promises to be “an exhibition exploring the recontextualization of history by contemporary artists.” Denise Markonish, the curator of Artspace, said she got her inspiration for the theme of the exhibit after seeing many contemporary pieces depicting historical moments.

Artspace’s latest exhibit, “Don’t Know Much About History,” examines the “recontextualization” of history and will run until Jan. 20.
Christopher Young
Artspace’s latest exhibit, “Don’t Know Much About History,” examines the “recontextualization” of history and will run until Jan. 20.

“I started looking at some contemporary artists and noticed that they were dealing with history in a very contemporary way,“ she said. “I then worked on synthesizing their ideas into a common theme.”

The title, she said, was taken from the first lines of Sam Cooke’s famous song, “What a Wonderful World,” written in 1960.

Pieces of the exhibition are spread out across newly painted, gray-colored walls of the gallery, making Artspace look much more conservative than it has in the past.

“Some people have said that when they walk by, it looks like a more traditional gallery,” Markonish said. “It’s not until they look closer at the exhibition that they realize it’s not so traditional.”

Markonish was referring to the satirical, often absurdist, quality of many of the pieces. For example, artist Justin Richel’s work includes small paintings of George Washington performing sexual acts with Colonial-style houses. In the large painting “New Revolution,” Titus Kaphar ART ’06 highlights racial marginalization in American history by adapting John Trumbull’s 1786 depiction of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

But the artwork is not just limited to paintings. Markonish said she aimed to include art from a variety of different media, including drawings, sculptures, paintings, photography and even an interactive chalkboard piece, which asks visitors to take quotations from a nearby stack of books and then write them on a chalkboard.

“[The chalkboard] piece shows history for what it is,” she said. “It is constantly being rewritten,”

Matthew Farina, a New Haven artist and assistant at the Yale University Art Gallery, said Artspace defies the common conception associated with more traditional art galleries.

“It’s not a museum,” he said. “It’s very much a contemporary space with a contemporary point of view.”

A participant in October’s Open Studios festival, Farina said he appreciates Artspace’s efforts to create a dialogue between artists and the New Haven community in an accessible manner. Admission to the gallery, located on 50 Orange St., is free.

Despite the gallery’s location on the other side of the New Haven Green, Rachel Khong ’07, an intern at Artspace, said more Yale students should venture out and see the display.

“Yalies should definitely check it out,” she said. “It’s really colorful and the works are all quite different.”

The next exhibit from Artspace will be called “Why Look at Animals?” — a title inspired by an essay by John Berger. It will open Feb. 3.

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