Smilow’s interior features modern art

Provost Peter Salovey gazes at “Wall Drawing 692” by Sol LeWitt, the main art installation in the mezzanine lobby of the Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Provost Peter Salovey gazes at “Wall Drawing 692” by Sol LeWitt, the main art installation in the mezzanine lobby of the Smilow Cancer Hospital. Photo by Lauren Motzkin.

Modern medicine and modern art came together at the Smilow Cancer Hospital, which opened Wednesday afternoon.

In a collaboration between the Smilow Hospital and the Yale University Art Gallery, “Wall Drawing 692” by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt has been installed in the lobby of the hospital, providing patients and visitors with a colorful welcome to the building. Gallery Director Jock Reynolds first suggested that the hospital’s interior designers consider a LeWitt drawing and then spearheaded efforts to acquire this particular piece for the hospital.

LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing 692” is composed of a multi-colored geometric background with a superimposed black grid in color ink wash. Six people installed the drawing over the course of about 20 days. The LeWitt piece came as a set of written instructions, which the draftsmen interpreted and scaled to fit the Smilow mezzanine wall, explained Matthew Capezzuto ART ’08, who worked on the project. The team then painted the wall and drew the grid, following LeWitt’s specifications, Capezzuto said.

“Every time a drawing is done, it turns out a little differently,” he explained about the process, noting that he and the team were ultimately pleased with the results.

At the beginning of the Smilow Hospital’s interior design process, the hospital called for proposals from different design firms and ultimately chose the New Haven-based interior design group Cama Incorportated to select the art for the hospital.

Roz Cama, the president of the company, said her group was brought in because the hospital wanted to create a “healing atmosphere” in the building through art.

“There is a lot of research in support of evidence-based design, which says that there is a correlation between the design of a space and the health outcome,” Cama said. “The board of the hospital understood that art creates the right kind of distraction for patients and the right kind of atmosphere for healing.”

Reynolds suggested to Cama’s team that they visit the Sol LeWitt retrospective at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which Reynolds himself helped to organize, and look at possible LeWitt wall drawings that could fill the blank wall on the mezzanine level at the hospital.

“Wall Drawing 692” caught the eye of committee members because the softness of its colors would create a rhythm in the subdued color scheme of the building, while the grid would make the drawing fit the grid-like glass facade of the space, Cama said.

Reynolds said he went to see the drawing and immediately understood why the group was so interested.

“The building has a beautiful window-scape, and the black grid of the LeWitt resonates with architecture,” Reynolds said. “It’s easy to understand visually why the committee would want it in the space.”

But Yale did not own this particular wall drawing; it was on loan from a Chicago businessman named Martin Zimmerman.

Reynolds contacted Zimmerman, who, after months of negotiation, agreed to sell the piece. . Last spring, the gallery’s collection committee approved the acquisition and the first payment on the piece was made. The second and final payment will be made in the next fiscal year, officially transferring ownership of the piece to the Yale University Art Gallery. The gallery declined to disclose the price of the acquisition.

“It’s a fantastic and beautiful piece. I can’t imagine a better piece for that space,” Reynolds said.

The gallery will loan the drawing indefinitely to the Smilow Cancer Hospital. But “Wall Drawing 692” can be installed in more than one location and is currently still on view at the Massachussetts Museum of Contemporary Art retrospective until 2033.

“Wall drawings can be installed in more than one place at once,” Reynolds explained. “Owning a LeWitt is like owning a musical score. You can play it in more than one concert hall, but you hope that it’s played well in both places.”

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