After buildup, a quiet opening

One University police officer stood on the steps to Green Hall on Chapel Street on Tuesday morning. There were no crowds, no signs and no demonstrations.

In the mid-morning, the officer watched as television satellite trucks pulled up to the curb. Men with shoulder-mounted cameras stepped out and others with microphones grabbed passers-by for man-on-the-street interviews.

Aliza Shvarts’ ’08 controversial senior project was absent yesterday from gallery space in Green Hall after she did not publicly call it a “work of fiction.”
Paul Needham
Aliza Shvarts’ ’08 controversial senior project was absent yesterday from gallery space in Green Hall after she did not publicly call it a “work of fiction.”

“Everybody’s been here,” the officer said when asked which news organizations had paid a visit to Green Hall.

Everybody, that is, except Aliza Shvarts ’08.

All day, the flow of traffic in and out of the space was low. Alone or accompanied by a few friends, students — as well as prospective students and other visitors — stood looking at pieces mounted on the white walls for a few minutes before wandering out.

Ironically, few wound their way down the two sets of stairs required to enter the portion of the exhibit space that students said would have played host to Shvarts’ piece.

Realistically, though, a small trickle is standard fare for an undergraduate art exhibition. Students setting up said friends of the artists tend to dominate gallery traffic.

In interviews with the gallery-goers, nearly all said they were aware of the controversy surrounding Shvarts’s project, but had come for other reasons.

Shvarts ignited a fire of controversy last week when reports of her final art project — which the senior claimed included video footage of and blood delivered during repeated self-induced miscarriages — dominated headlines in media outlets throughout the country. After the University declared the project a piece of performance art, a “creative fiction,” Shvarts defended her original statements in a column in Friday’s News.

Over the weekend and into Monday, the stalemate persisted. Yale College Dean Peter Salovey announced that the University would not display Shvarts’ project unless she agreed to a host of demands: renouncing her project was “a work of fiction,” admitting that she did not inseminate herself or induce miscarriages and promising that no human blood will appear in the project.

Shvarts — who last spoke to the News on Friday morning — kept mum. Repeated messages left on her phone went unreturned.

The stalemate will continue into today; as of Monday night, the University said it had not reached a resolution with Shvarts, and Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Tuesday night that it was still unclear whether Shvarts’s installation would eventually go on exhibit.

“No determination has been made,” Klasky wrote in an e-mail message.

But earlier Tuesday, at 10:00 a.m., the gallery playing host to senior art majors’ final projects opened, but not to the public. In an unusual move no doubt aimed at ensuring the gallery’s security, the doors of Green Hall were locked to anyone outside the University community, who could only gain entry with their coded ID cards.

By 1:00 p.m. a small band of media had gathered outside the School of Art for a hastily-convened press conference. Two camera crews and four photographers — one a freelancer for The New York Times — joined a handful of print reporters on the street waiting for some sort of official statement.

The conference began when Associate Director of Public Affairs Dorie Baker walked up the Chapel St. sidewalk to the gaggle of media. But Baker had no official statement from the University. Her first answer to a reporter’s question was a series of shrugs.

“I have no comment,” Baker said.

But Baker did let the group into the building. Inside, the press was met with an empty gallery and School of Art Director of Undergraduate Studies Henk van Assen, who promptly referred all questions to the Office of Public Affairs. In turn, Baker reiterated her no comment.

Inside the austere gallery, works of oil, print and photography hung from the walls. In one corner near the Chapel Street side of the gallery, a portfolio was laid out carefully as though the artist had walked away in the middle of arranging the pieces on the wall. Artists lingered, examining the placement of their work on the gallery wall and adjusting a piece here or there.

Evening would draw close before Shvarts made her first appearance at Green Hall — to attend a class. The pariah of the national controversy is, after all, still a student.


  • Yalie 07

    Will Aliza get credit or a grade for her project? If yes to either, Yale will be sanctioning the project.

  • please

    this is such lurid garbage. this piece, presumably about senior art theses, says not one word about the other projects being displayed. can the YDN, who largely started this circus, get over themselves and stop spoiling shvarts with attention she doesn't deserve?

  • Attica Folsom

    Can't we just move on? If garbage is art, then our society has taken a woeful downward spiral. What next fecal matter and urine pots, perhaps male erectile dysfunction, or slides of skin cancers. Art used to make a statement about the human condition and often, politics were involved. However, Shvarts chose to be self serving (the PR stunt to make a name)and in light of that, she has to take her lumps. I am sure a private gallery somewhere will snap up this "Project" and she'll make the big bucks she aimed for.

  • Cornell onlooker

    … and so Yale caves on intellectual freedom.

    1. This chillingly demonstrates that a woman cannot say what she wants about what she did or did not do with her body. Yale has sent the message that women must publicly account for their bodies, or face censure.

    2. Once the University confirmed that Ms. Shvarts had not risked her mental or physical health, all they needed to do to cover themselves was to highlight that the media reaction and media manipulation was part of the artwork itself. Shvart's ongoing refusal to "make it right" by giving lie to her project is part of the art itself. She is rightly refusing to give an account of what she did with her body… even if all she did with it was sit in class and think about how to stage a convincing fake miscarriage on film.

  • Marcus

    OK, so where's the art? I thought there was meant to be some art on display but didn't find any.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the above comment - it's disappointing that no mention was made of the other 21 seniors who put hard work in the show. It also would have been nice to give credit to those whose artwork was visible in the photograph.

  • yale 2010

    I feel like they should give Aliza credit for two reasons:

    1. To get her out of Yale's hair
    2. Because her advisers approved it. While her project was inappropriate for a senior project, fault for its academic inappropriateness lies with her advisers.

  • joey

    There will be hugs from the Knights that say cheat for this soon. there will be fence mending with the area Catholics,perhaps a position with the United Way.They yell and scream at the clinics but it's all political show

  • To Attica Folsom

    To Attica Folsom,

    There are actually plenty of art pieces that use things like feces, so maybe you should get some awareness of what you're talking about before spewing ridiculous comments.

    Also, how do you know this was a PR stunt? Have you seen the piece? Do you know what actually went on? Have you talked to Aliza? Have you tried to think of the art rather than your ridiculous moral revulsion?

  • Anonymous

    "Shvart's ongoing refusal to "make it right" by giving lie to her project is part of the art itself."

    She's no hero, she just wanted the university to be an accomplice to her lie. They refused, and not only called her bluff, but told her to tell the truth. Apparently, being a conceptual artist and all, telling the truth lessens her art piece.
    Thus an art piece which should stand on its own depends instead on inflammatory lies.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry folks, but this was indeed art. To a high degree.

    In one fell swoop Ms. Shvarts was able to ridicule those who believe any woman would lightly decide to undergo an abortion, the 24/7 media climate that waits with the helicopters fueled and ready to go in anticipation of the next Columbine killings, and our Yale University which predictably caved to political pressure first with regard to the Taliban student, and now with regard to Ms. Shvarts senior project.

    Bravo Ms. Shvarts. Those you punked deserved it mightily, and you did it in an incredibly artful way!

  • The Yale community

    Re: The other 21 projects

    We don't care. Sorry.

  • Art on Art

    If this is true…
    "In one fell swoop Ms. Shvarts was able to ridicule those who believe any woman would lightly decide to undergo an abortion"
    Please explain how someone believing you is a bad thing. I thought we were always supposed to believe the woman.

  • doesn't matter

    Attica Folsom:
    Trying to define art, especially based on the narrow terms by which you define it, is setting yourself up for failure.

    Cornell onlooker basically summed up everything I wanted to say. Way go to, Aliza, and shame on Yale for showing blatant disregard for free speech to save face.