Artspace attracts New Haven youths

Artspace. It exists in an area that most Yalies would tremble at the thought of (at college, four blocks is “miles”). Other sturdier souls might know it as “around about where Miso is.” But if you’re ready to brave whatever local mythology places between the Yale campus and 50 Orange St. (kids on bicycles, panhandlers etc), you’ll be surprised with what you find.

Upon entering the gallery, one of Connecticut’s foremost contemporary art museums, the first striking thing (aside from the nonchalance of the receptionist) is an exhibit entitled “Hawaii,” the product of Artspace’s 2008 Summer Apprenticeship Program, a three-week-long subsidized program for New Haven youth.

The walls are covered with bursts of color, swirls, faces and a myriad of other works designed by the 15 high-school apprentice artists under the direction of William Downs.

The room utilizes the space of the gallery better than any other exhibition currently showing, but its highlight remains the quirky high schoolers’ designs, which one could spend hours enjoying.

Downs’ own work is presented in the room opposite in an exhibition entitled “Fly away Fly away.” Based on a similar principle (drawings on scraps of paper), images are interspersed with shotgun-quick typewritten witticisms and glued-on objects that recreate Downs’ summer residency in New Haven, his hopes and fears as he wandered around an unfamiliar city. This is the first time that this work has been shown, and it speaks to the viewer with a magical immediacy that is tempered only by the scattered and nomadic narrative of the installation.

Also noteworthy is “Down Paradise Way,” a collection whose works seek to highlight the ordinary structures and sights that we often pass by in our daily lives. Local artist Suzanne Siegel’s watercolors of mass retail stores are perhaps the most pleasing of the works of the four artists on display. In each of her paintings, everyday structures, such as the Walmart roof viewed from the parking lot, are illuminated as simple light forms, transcendent shapes that lift the spirit.

Artspace is a superb gallery, and if the idea of local artists makes you cringe, don’t let it. There are talent and flair here that demonstrate that even the sprawling suburb that stretches miles up the coast in either direction doesn’t entirely suppress creativity.

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