Art aims to trick, thrill

Most art historians would agree that there is never just one correct perspective for looking at a piece of art. But New Haven will soon play host to an installation that is an exception to that rule.

This coming June, the plaza outside New Haven’s Shubert Theater on College Street will feature a public installation, titled “A Square and Four Circles,” by Paris-based Swiss artist Felice Varini. The installation — a perspective puzzle like Varini’s other famous works — was commissioned by a local arts initiative, Site Projects, which will hold a gala Saturday to raise funds for Varini’s piece and other future projects.

The planned art project would create an optical illusion by painting on walls in perspective.
Felice Varini
The planned art project would create an optical illusion by painting on walls in perspective.

“We saw a need to celebrate visual arts in the city,” Site Projects president Laura Clarke said. “We’re bringing the city together, opening the city up to art, making art more visible.”

The group, made up of nine arts administrators from Yale and New Haven, was founded in 2002 in response to a perceived underrepresentation of visual arts in the city’s annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas, Clarke said. The purpose of the non-profit project is to attract attention to the city by installing a different renowned artist’s work every year, so as to enrich the local arts scene while exposing the city’s residents to visual arts.

“A Square and Four Circles” will involve applying red paint to the Crown Street parking garage spiral ramp, the walkway between College and Temple streets, the back of the Ann Taylor store and the side of Zinc restaurant. Only when standing at the one correct spot — which the artists have predetermined to be located in the plaza — will viewers be able to perceive the jumble of red as an enormous square with four circular cut-outs, seemingly suspended mid-air somewhere between the walkway and the garage.

“It’s an anamorphic projection,” Site Projects board member Maria Kayne said. “The idea goes way back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci using perspective to [create] one whole vision.”

Kayne said the goal of the project is to encourage viewers to interact with the piece, to get them walking around until they find the surprise vantage point where the piece finally makes sense. She added that because of the way we detect perspective, viewers will first have to relax their eyes so the optical illusion can work.

“It will put New Haven on the map as a center for international quality public art,” said School of Architecture critic Dean Sakamoto ARC ’98, who is also a Site Projects board member.

So far, Site Projects has been slightly off its annual goals, completing just three short-term installations since 2002: a 2004 light display by Leo Villareal ’90 in the Scoozzi restaurant courtyard; a 2007 performance piece by Matej Vogrincic in the block surrounded by Orange, Grove and Audubon streets and Whitney Avenue; and a 2006 balloon sculpture project by Jason Hackenwerth that was up for two weeks in the Great Hall of Dinosaurs at the Peabody Museum. Clarke said it normally takes the board months to years to choose an appropriate artist for the city — one who has an international reputation and work that is both interesting and accessible to New Haven residents.

“The balloon project was transformative,” said David Heiser, head of education and outreach at the Peabody. “It gave the hall an artistic presence.”

He added that the project boosted attendance at the Peabody by 30 percent across all age groups. The piece was originally slated to stay up for just one week, but Peabody administrators asked for it to stay up longer due to the work’s appeal. Heiser said the ephemeral nature of the art is what made it special. By the second week, the balloons had lost so much air that they had to be taken off display.

The other two site projects have also been temporary, both designed to last only a few months. Site Projects does not have the budget for permanent installations, which require weather-proofing and special engineering, Clarke said. She added that New Haven’s city zoning regulations make it difficult to get permanent projects approved.

“But there can also be a very light and whimsical spirit about temporary projects,” Clarke added.

A block away from the Shubert plaza on the corner of Church and Crown streets, is the 1906 Beaux-Arts building that once housed the Connecticut Savings Bank, where the fundraiser gala will take place Saturday. Its main hall, which features a 65-foot vaulted ceiling, will turn into “a really fancy flea market” and dance party, Clarke said. The gala is estimated to raise roughly $30,000, with auction items ranging from dinners at Union League Cafe to a footstool by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds will be in attendance, along with other art notables, dealers and collectors, Clarke added.

Tickets for the gala range in price from $25 for the after party, to $100 for both the auction and party. The coming installment will be washed off after a year.

Comments

  • bnt789

    My favorite view in New Haven just got that much cooler. AWESOME!

  • Joe W.

    Maybe we should try to make art that is about something–Goodness, Truth, Beauty, etc– rather than elevating fun house tricks to the status of civic art.