Shvarts submits alternate project

Aliza Shvarts ’08 has submitted another art piece in place of her controversial senior project that purportedly documented nine months of self-induced miscarriages, the University said this week.

The announcement — which came Monday, a week and a half after Shvarts’ initial project inspired nothing short of a national controversy — puts to rest the question of whether the Davenport College senior’s art exhibit would ever be displayed. Last week, the University forbade Shvarts from installing it unless she admitted the piece was a work of fiction. She did not.

In the announcement, University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Shvarts requested permission to substitute a different piece of art in place of what Klasky termed “the performance piece” she had originally planned as her senior project.

“We welcomed the solution that Aliza proposed,” Klasky said, “as we had been unable to determine with clarity whether Ms. Shvarts had in fact undertaken actions injurious to her health in carrying out her original project.”

The director of undergraduate studies in the School of Art, Henk van Assen, approved her request, the statement said.

But the matter of whether Shvarts’ project actually entailed nine months of self-inseminations and repeated miscarriages, as Shvarts claimed, or was merely ill-conceived performance art, as the University said, remains unresolved.

Shvarts did not return telephone messages this week and has not spoken publicly since defending her project in an op-ed piece in the News more than a week ago.

The announcement ended an eight-day stalemate between Shvarts and the University, which had refused to allow her project to be displayed unless she met several conditions — namely, that her installation would not include human blood and that she would admit her story of self-inseminations and pregnancies was not true.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey outlined those demands in a written statement on April 20. Shvarts never commented publicly, and the University repeatedly offered nothing more than to say that nothing yet had been determined about whether her project would ever be displayed. But it was clear that the saga would not drag on forever: The Undergraduate Art Senior Project Show closes today.

But no agreement came.

On Tuesday, the show opened. A flock of reporters and photographers from various outlets rushed to it — but Shvarts’ project was nowhere to be found.

As the impasse dragged on, it appeared most likely that if any agreement was to come between Shvarts and the University, the beginning of this week was when it was most likely to happen. On Monday, faculty from the School of Art were scheduled to critique and evaluate her project, as is customary with senior projects for undergraduate art majors.

With no project on display, it was believed that Shvarts would have received a failing grade for her senior project. The project is a requirement for art majors, according to the Yale College Programs of Study.

Perhaps that possibility, observers mused, would be enough to compel her to agree to Salovey’s demands. Whether or not the possibility of failing played into her decision was unclear; van Assen has not commented publicly on the matter, nor has Shvarts’ adviser, School of Art lecturer Pia Lindman.

But whether Shvarts would have failed may have been a moot point, since her failure to complete the Art major may not have affected her eligibility to receive a diploma.

According to the online Yale College directory, Shvarts is also enrolled in the English major. As long as she had at least 36 other credits to her name — not including ART 495, the senior project course — she would have remained eligible to graduate next month as an English major.

Shvarts’ replacement exhibit is not on display in Green Hall at her request, officials said.

As much as Monday’s announcement provides some closure to the ongoing melodrama surrounding the exhibit, it offered no hint of what will ultimately happen to Shvarts’ original project. As Shvarts described it, she planned to display a four-foot-wide cube made from PVC piping that would be shrouded in hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting and hung from the ceiling of the gallery. Between the layers of the plastic sheeting would be coatings of Vaseline mixed with the blood collected over the previous nine months, Shvarts said.

At the time, Shvarts said she had no plans to display her work elsewhere if the University would not permit it to be installed at Green Hall.

Yet whether or not this announcement really will end the controversy over Shvarts’ project still remains to be seen. The saga generated more media inquiries than anything since the tempest over the admission of former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi in 2006, a Yale official said.

Within hours of its posting on the Web site of the News on April 17, The Drudge Report linked to the story about Shvarts’ project, an article that was prompted by a news release the student sent the previous day. The hundreds of thousands of readers who immediately flocked to the site — crashing it repeatedly throughout the day — were only the beginning.

Over the last two weeks, the story has received widespread coverage abroad and in major national publications in the U.S., including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, not to mention countless blogs.

Writing April 24 in The Journal, Michael J. Lewis went so far as to pose the question, “Has any work of art been more reviled than Aliza Shvarts’ senior project at Yale?”

The coverage continues this week, although Yale’s public statements on the matter have been removed from their prominent place on the home page of the Office of Public Affairs.

The latest publication to weigh in on the saga is Newsweek, which includes a story on Shvarts’ project in its May 5 edition. “Yale’s abortion artist is the latest to try — and fail — to start a conversation,” it declares.

On the magazine’s Web site, the story was the second most-read on Tuesday.


  • Hieronymus

    So…Shvarts is, apparently, willing to DIE for art, just not to FAIL for it. Weird.

    Klasky said, “…we ha[ve] been unable to determine with clarity whether Ms. Shvarts had in fact undertaken actions injurious to her health in carrying out her original project.”

    And you STILL don't know. IMAGINE the liability here! Liken it to, say, how a family sues if a student commits suicide or dies of alcohol poisoning. If Ms. Shvarts indeed undertook--AS SHE HAS STATED--"actions injurious to her health," and the university does NOTHING then they are likely open to future lawsuits (e.g., when Ms. Shvarts proves infertile or contracts an STD or, heck, decides to file one).

    So, Yale, which is it: did she, or didn't she. Inquiring minds want to know…

  • Anonymous

    Ditto to #1 and I add, Shvarts has no respect for authority - moral or administrative. The university continues to enable her self absorbed ego by accepting the alternate project. I thought "make-up" work stopped in high school.

    At least forbid her to walk at graduation. It sickens me to that honorable students and her families must endure that. She'll "steal the show" when she's booed. Nice memories, eh?

  • @ Hieronymous

    We're never going to know. This is not Yale's fault: how are they supposed to figure out what really happened if they were led to believe by her advisers that the project was a performance art that insists upon a repeated lie (as YALE has stated, which unless you have some incredible reason to believe otherwise, is at least equally as valid as anything Shvarts has stated)? It's impossible to determine if she endangered her health or not, impossible to determine the true nature of her project or the true motivation behind her behavior and editorializing.

    And that's why the furor on both sides is absurd at best, and dangerously stupid at worst. It is mind-boggling that certain groups and individuals on campus (apologies for the sweeping generalizations, but from what I can tell these include several Women's Center leaders past and present, hipsters, and people who are generally "anti-administration") have rallied behind Aliza Shvarts when the nature of her project makes it such that the truth is purposefully obscured. This is activism at its worst: advocating an amorphous cause that becomes whatever its supporters want it to be and has no provably true characteristics of its own.

    As for self-proclaimed opponents of Shvarts, their behavior is equally problematic but at least not as politically self-serving as her supporters. If one were to take Shvarts' original statements at face value, I think moral outrage is justified, because the project endangered her health, violated safety codes, is repugnant to pro-lifers and equally repugnant to the pro-choice movement it has jeopardized. The problem, of course, is that we cannot take her statements at face value, which is why outrage at this time is misplaced.

    The best thing for both sides would be to agree that the truth about this project is never going to come out. There is absolutely no evidence to indicate that the University lied but Shvarts didn't, nor is there evidence to indicate that Shvarts lied but the University didn't. Under those circumstances, choosing a side is idiotic: both parties have their reasons for withholding information from us, and both should be equally condemned for it if you really want to know the "truth."

    And if it is the case that people wish to support Shvarts despite this lack of evidence, or people wish to support her because they see merit in what Shvarts opaquely termed the "ambiguities" of her project, this is my response: if you believe ambiguity is "performance art," that's your opinion, but such art should not be used to politicize feminist or anti-administration sentiment, for the simple reason that political views should be based on true, not false or ambiguous, information.

  • snowed in out west

    and why wouldn't she display her new work publically? perhaps because it is as well thought out as the first one?? and did the 1st one even exist outside of a senior project form? booo. If you can't make it good, make it big - and if it still sucks, paint it red.

  • Hieronymus

    That the university has not "placed" Shvarts on administrative leave pending medical proof that she has not hurt herself (i.e., covered their butts with a doctor's note) indicates that they believe her schtick to have been, indeed, a hoax; however, they should force her hand (and free themselves from future liability) by demanding a full medical exam.

    And, as several other commentators have noted, it is indeed possible to prove/disprove pregnancy (and thus, at least, whether one portion of her actions succeeded); also, any lingering damage from any so-called abortifacients could be noted at that time as well. A psych eval wouldn't hurt either.

  • Anonymous

    yeah, there's no art gallery ANYWHERE, not even in New Haven, that would POSITIVELY LEAP at the chance to gin up a showing based around something that garnered this level of attention. methinks little miss isn't trying hard enough- strike while the iron is hot, baby girl, becuase even if your project was kind of a jump rope rhyme at a Shakespeare festival, you can play this for weeks to come. serious- if your art is second rate, let your promotion be top notch. work on it!

  • W. Garret West (Arthurs Glen)


  • Guanipa

    What's Aliza's alternate project? a cartoon of Muhammad?

  • anonymous

    To those of you who could not seem to see the moral implications involved in Ms Svart's original project, please read the folllowing descriptions.

    Second Trimester D&E Abortion

    "The procedure changes significantly at 21 weeks because the fetal tissues become much more cohesive and difficult to dismember. This problem is accentuated by the fact that the fetal pelvis may be as much as 5cm in width. The calvaria [head] is no longer the principal problem; it can be collapsed. Other structures, such as the pelvis, present more difficulty….A long curved Mayo scissors may be necessary to decapitate and dismember the fetus…" (From the medical textbook Abortion Practice – Dr. Warren Hern, p.154)

    “The doctor grips a fetal part with the forceps and pulls it back through the cervix and vagina, continuing to pull even after meeting resistance from the cervix. The friction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman. The process of evacuating the fetus piece by piece continues until it has been completely re-moved.” (US Supreme Court, Gonzales vs. Carhart, April 18, 2007, describing the D&E procedure).

    "Let's just say for instance we took a different view, a different tact and we left the leg in the uterus just to dismember it. Well, we'd probably have to dismember it at several different levels because we don't have firm control over it, so we would attack the lower part of the lower extremity first, remove, you know, possibly a foot, then the lower leg at the knee and then finally we get to the hip."

    "And typically when the abortion procedure is started we typically know that the fetus is still alive because either we can feel it move as we're making our initial grasps or if we're using some ultrasound visualization when we actually see a heartbeat as we're starting the procedure. It's not unusual at the start of D&E procedures that a limb is acquired first and that that limb is brought through the cervix and even out of the vagina prior to disarticulation and prior to anything having been done that would have caused the fetal demise up to that point."

    "When you're doing a dismemberment D&E, usually the last part to be removed is the skull itself and it's floating free inside the uterine cavity…So it's rather like a ping-pong ball floating around and the surgeon is using his forcep to reach up to try to grasp something that's freely floating around and is quite large relative to the forcep we're using. So typically there's several misdirections, misattempts to grasp. Finally at some point either the instruments are managed to be place around the skull or a nip is made out of some area of the skull that allows it to start to decompress. And then once that happens typically the skull is brought out in fragments rather than as a unified piece…" (Sworn testimony given in US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (Madison, WI, May 27, 1999, Case No. 98-C-0305-S), by Dr. Martin Haskell, an abortionist. He describes legal activity.)

  • Anonymous

    Whether this is true or not, it's horrifically disgusting. Why hasn't this story made to mainstream media??!! Is it because there's so much money, prominent families associated with Yale, that all costs will be taken to protect one of our own from public/national scrutiny?? Absolutely ridiculous. Bravo Yale! Bravo!

  • Anonymous

    Here's my question: why would Aliza Shvarts even deserve to graduate -- nonetheless a second chance?

    THe nature of her project is seriously indicative of a disordered psyche -- not a fine example of Yale material. But then again, maybe that's exactly what she is.

  • nanikore

    We're never gonna know but what does it matter? It's like asking "So… did O.J. Simpson DID IT, or DIDN'T HE?"

    Uhhhh huh. For the rest of her life Miss what's-her-name would be known as a mentally-ill and morally bankrupt individual, just as O.J. would always be known as… You know. I bet that'll do wonders for her employability! Just like O.J., maybe 20 years from now she'll write one big flop of an autobiography (except it won't sell as well as the one by O.J. of course)

    That was a really STUPID thing to do, Miss Whoever.

  • Debi

    Klasky said, “…we ha[ve] been unable to determine with clarity whether Ms. Shvarts had in fact undertaken actions injurious to her health in carrying out her original project.”

    "Injurious to her health"… Since when does injury take precedence over murder? When will murder be called murder? If two people go to court, one for murder, another for assault which one would receive greater punishment? The one who committed murder. But for some reason, in this story, we overlook the murder itself and focus in on the potential injury the murderer may have inflicted on herself while committing the murder. Quite perturbing.

    Amid my own anger though, I stop to realize that I am capable of committing such atrocities. In fact, each one of us is…What wretched people we are!! Who can save us from these bodies of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • hine nui te po

    How gutless of Yale to require assurance that Shvarts' art was indeed a fiction. The university would have looked better simply condemning Shvarts' work outright (ie fiction or not) rather than perching on the fence as it has. By refusing to endorse the prospect of art being from time to time outrageous -- no matter whether you like or agree with the putative values being expressed -- Yale has effectively turned its back on modernity. The puppies that G.G. Allen strangled on stage were real, as the death of Jean Moulin at the hands of Klaus Barbie. The horror, the horror.