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.

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