International art finds new home at Yale

Although Yale’s art galleries are largely comprised of Western works, School of Art Dean Robert Storr is pushing to bring international diversity to the University’s collection.

Storr, who curated the 2007 Venice Biennale, which exhibits contemporary art, proposed that the new School of Art gallery, the building adjacent to the recently renovated Sculpture Building on Edgewood Avenue, solely feature contemporary international works. After discovering that many of his students felt their cultures were underrepresented in campus art, Storr said the gallery offers students both a shift away from the Western world and a chance to play a curatorial role in all the exhibits.

International art finds new home at Yale at the Sculpture Building.
Erica Cooper
International art finds new home at Yale at the Sculpture Building.

“Students want to see art from their backgrounds represented,” Storr said. “Our purpose is to bring the world here.”

The new gallery’s first exhibition, Shifting Shapes — Unstable Signs, displays recent work by 13 artists and includes one artist’s collective from India and the Indian Diaspora. It was curated by student Jaret Vadera ART ’09.

Artists will understand both the challenges curators face and the choices they make in fostering cross-cultural shows, Storr noted.

“It’s an informal crash course about how to make an exhibition,” he said. “Very few students understand what their relationship with curators is.”

In a panel discussion presented in conjunction with the new exhibit last week, Fereshteh Daftari, an assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art, said that it is the role of the curator to create exhibits that overcome stereotypes and familiarize the American public with new artistic styles.

“The American public is not familiar with the contemporary art of other countries,” she said. “There is a need for vigilance against cultural stereotypes.”

By enabling students to have hands-on experience with the art they study, the gallery helps deepen understandings of the cultural and aesthetic complexities of works from different nations, Storr said. Unlike other subjects where students are able to learn from slide shows and projections, Vadera added, art students need tangible works in front of them, especially with obscure art from other nations.

Vadera and Storr collaborated on the current Shifting Shapes exhibition through what Vadera described as an “extended dialogue between them.” Given the globalization of the world, Vadera emphasized the importance of increasing people’s understanding of international art and, in turn, other cultures.

“In this exhibition we were dealing with art that bended and twisted categories of older works as related to nation and culture,” Vadera said. “As borders of the world change, we wonder how we can talk about contemporary art in a cosmopolitan context.”

Though people may be familiar with older international artwork, Daftari explained that there is less familiarity with 20th century international movements. Contemporary art, she argued, should be viewed on a case-by-case basis.

People often categorize international art and view it as a way to define a specific culture, Vadera explained. With Shifting Shapes and its cultural milieu of artists, he is trying to break free from this mold and engage viewers in a conversation about stereotypes of Indian culture.

“In this exhibition we’re trying to anti-essentialize a lot of cultural categories,” Vadera said. “Some of these artists grew up in Brooklyn, Toronto and India.”

Storr said the new gallery will house approximately four exhibits a year.

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