Art at Yale goes global

Though Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock will still attract students to History of Art classes and visitors to the Yale University Art Gallery, “Seated Buddha in Meditation” and African helmet masks might become the new staples in the arts as Yale goes global.

Next year, the History of Art Department will offer a third introductory survey course: “Introduction to Global Art History: Art of the Buddhist World.” The new course marks a landmark in Yale’s continuing effort to internationalize the arts, Department Chair Alexander Nemerov said. The History of Art Department, Yale University Art Gallery and School of Art have been broadening their focus to include more regions of the world, in line with the University’s mission of internationalization, all seven administrators, professors and curators interviewed said.

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“Introduction to Global Art History,” to be offered for the first time in the spring of 2011, will be taught by Mimi Yiengpruksawan, a professor in the History of Art Department who specializes in Buddhist art and iconography and modern Japanese art, Nemerov said. The department, which currently requires that majors take either the pre- or post-Renaissance survey course, will now ask that majors take two of the three surveys that will be offered. Though the global art survey will focus on Buddhist art next year, Nemerov said they plan to vary the area of focus in subsequent years.

The addition has been a long time coming, Yiengpruksawan said. Though department chairs have committed to internationalizing the department, she said much of the impetus for the addition came from students themselves, who were very vocal in asking for change.

“I think this makes it a stronger major,” Yiengpruksawan said. “We’re really better off offering a more internationally minded curriculum to students who want it and who want a broader focus.”

The addition of a new survey course is not the only way the History of Art Department is going global. Last year, the department hired Tamara Sears, an assistant professor specializing in Indian art, to fill the gap in the department’s faculty.

Sears said her hire was in line with Yale’s tradition of working internationally.

“Yale has long had a strong emphasis on what is sometimes problematically called ‘non-Western art’ for much longer than a lot of other departments at other institutions,” she said. “There’s a nice mix of junior and senior faculty members working on Africa and Asia and Latin America, and it looks like Yale is just expanding in those areas.”

The Yale University Art Gallery is also expanding across continents: In addition to the creation of the Indo-Pacific department this past year, the gallery has continued to develop its other non-Western collections in line with University President Richard Levin’s emphasis on globalization, Chief Curator Susan Matheson said.

The gallery established a department of African art in 2004 and has since continued to augment the collection through gifts and acquisitions. Most recently, this past January the department received a gift of ancient terra-cotta sculptures from Joel and SuSanna Grae.

“Yale has always seen it as important to expand beyond the borders of the U.S.,” said Frederick Lamp, curator of African Art. “Yale would like to take a greater place in the global world, which is the world of the present, but even more so the world of the future.”

David Sensabaugh, curator of Asian Art, said the growth of collections often depends on the needs of the University itself.

“We’re a teaching museum, and with the emphasis the University is placing on China and India, we want to have a collection that can help support teaching of both China and India,” he said. “We of course want to be a part of that and have things in the collection that will help that initiative.”

Since his 2006 appointment as dean of the School of Art, Robert Storr said he has worked to make the school increasingly internationally minded. Storr said he uses his connections in the art world to bring artists to Yale when they are in the area, such as world-renowned multimedia artist Pierre Huyghe and performance artist Marina Abramovic, who both visited Yale this year. Last year, Storr also helped found Arts Arena, an exchange program with the American University of Paris in 2009. The program brought French installation artist Annette Messager to the school this past fall.

Storr said it is not just the appreciation of other cultures that encourages him to expose School of Art students to the international arena — in this day and age, it is often a necessity, he said.

“American artists can no longer afford to find a small slot in the East Coast art scene anymore; it’s not economically feasible,” Storr said. “You have to be aware of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Vancouver because that could be where your work is displayed. That could be where you live and work. Everything important in the art world isn’t in New York.”

Renovations at Yale University Art Gallery, slated for completion in 2012, will provide larger gallery space for the African, Asian and Indo-Pacific Art collections.

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