A blue sky with swirling white clouds stretches into the distance. A patch of green — grass or the top of a tree — barely grazes the horizon.
Welcome to the Yale College Dean’s Office.
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The walls of the Dean’s Office are now covered with paintings, like this one by Christine Ng ’05, and other works of art by undergraduate students. The installation is part of an initiative led by Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan to increase the visibility of undergraduate art at Yale.
“The Dean’s Office is a symbolically meaningful space,” Cahan said. “Displaying pieces here is a demonstration of Yale’s commitment to the arts.”
The pieces currently on display were produced by students in School of Art professor Robert Reed’s Institute for Studio Studies in Auvillar, France — which offers a four-week intensive art program for undergraduates during Yale Summer Session. The program, Reed said, is a “boot camp” for students who want to learn about studio art first-hand. The works in the Dean’s Office are drawn from the program’s last three years.
From now on, Cahan hopes the space will be the venue of two cohesive undergraduate art shows each year, she said, adding that she has not yet thought about from whom the next installation will come.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller, the Sterling professor of History of Art, said it is “wonderful” that the blank, wood-paneled walls and stuccoed plaster walls of the Dean’s Office are now adorned with student art.
“There are many places in the office where one might wait to see a dean, which gives you the opportunity to meditate on the work of art,” Miller said. “It gives you something interesting to look at on the wall, the same as you would [look at] a book of poetry that might be sitting on a desk. It is a way to step outside yourself for a second.”
The School of Art gallery in Green Hall on Chapel Street has traditionally been the exhibition space for student artwork. Though the gallery will continue to feature student work, Cahan said the placement of pieces in the Dean’s Office in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall will significantly increase the visibility of undergraduate art at Yale. Faculty members, parents, alumni, undergraduates, potential donors and Yale administrators are regular visitors at the office each day.
“This work will be seen by people who play important roles in the University,” Cahan said.
Deputy Dean Joseph Gordon, whose office is in SSS, wrote in an e-mail that the Dean’s Office will now become one of the few spaces on campus where undergraduate works of art can be viewed together.
“There are not many venues outside of the Art School building on Chapel Street to see a variety of student works all at once and almost none at all north of Grove Street,” Gordon wrote. “So this exhibit extends the outreach of student art. We can show off to the local community and to guests what great works of art are produced by our undergraduates.”
Though the three student artists interviewed said they are excited to have their work displayed in an important Yale space, they added that they are skeptical the show will significantly increase awareness of undergraduate art.
“I don’t know how much of an impact this will make on visibility, but it is a step,” said Julie Zhu ’12, who has three paintings currently on display. “One thing about art is that it’s very closed off. Artists are in their own worlds, like I’m in my studio all the time and people never know where I am. Artists don’t really do much advertising.”
The artwork makes for a more interesting and beautiful work environment, Gordon said, and administrators who work in the Dean’s Office are happy to have the paintings there.
“I can’t walk down the hallway without stopping to take the time to look at the paintings,” said Teri Barbuto, an administrative assistant in the office. “I see something new every time.”
Silvia DeCastro, another administrative assistant, said she is especially fond of the series of abstract black and white paintings on the wall near her desk, which are by Zhu, Jacquelyn Truong ’10, Sofia Ortiz ’11 and Matthew Broach ’05.
“I’ve been waiting for so long to have something on this plain wall,” she said.
Though the art is mostly displayed in public spaces in the office complex, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he decided he wanted to have a piece in his personal office.
“There was a whole row of them leaning against a wall, and I was immediately drawn to this one,” he said, pointing to the black-and-white painting hanging near his desk.
The piece, painted by Zhu, was inspired by the artist’s interest in calligraphy and complements Gentry’s Asian-influenced decorating scheme. Zhu’s painting mirrors the brush strokes and monochromatic color scheme of a Chinese hanging scroll painted for Gentry by the father of a professor in Beijing.
The current exhibition will be on view until the spring.