Abstract canvases with splashes of color and bold lines are the new neighbors of the traditional oil portraits at the Yale College Dean’s Office.
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Paintings, videos and sculptures by students who participated in this year’s Yale/Norfolk School of Art program — a highly selective summer art program that this year admitted 26 art students from around the world, three of whom were Yalies — are currently on display at the office as part of an initiative by Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan to showcase Yale’s commitment to the arts.
Though the Dean’s Office is not an immediately obvious choice for displaying art, Cahan said, this very incongruity is what makes the office the perfect setting.
“I wanted the art to stimulate the people who work in this environment, to energize them,” she said, standing in front of an abstract painting made Jackson Pollock-style using latex house paint. “I want them to walk in and see this abstract spray painting and feel calmer, happier and more purposeful. I wanted to give the people who work here a fresh surprise every single day. “
Cahan’s quirky sense of design is evident in her placement of the Norfolk participants’ artwork: She transformed an ordinary waiting room by placing a blackened tree stump, carved and painted by University of Oregon student Jamey Herman, against one wall; an oversized wooden ruler by Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts student Lindsay Robbins against another; and paintings of trees in between — all to create a contrast she said is meant to represent the uncertainty of what is behind the walls.
The artwork will formally be showcased at a reception later in the fall, but the exhibit has already proved a success, five officer workers interviewed said. Cahan said many Yale administrators have expressed interest in purchasing some of the pieces, one administrator even going as far as keeping a painting under her desk, Cahan said. The paintings, though, are not for sale.
The artists are all students in their junior and senior years in college. For many of them, this will be their first exhibition, Cahan said, adding that one of her goals as dean of the arts is to foster a greater sense of awareness of undergraduate art.
Grace Needlman ’11, one of the featured artists, said she liked seeing the work from the program in a venue unlike the customary art class critique.
“It’s much more exciting because I can see the embodiment of all my friends’ work, and I can appreciate them as a whole,” she said.
Needlman’s work in the exhibit is a frame-within-a-frame photo collage in the tradition of French painters Eugene Delacroix and Henri Matisse: She superimposed a photograph of herself in costume on top of a photograph of room-sized abstract paintings, which she also made. The result, she said, is meant to explore family traditions over time.
Anna Moser ’11, who said her ink, graphite and oil paintings explore the positioning of the body in landscape, had more reservations about the unusual venue.
“It seems a little strange to see our art displayed in the Dean’s Office,” Moser said. “It’s a little out of context of the situation in which it was made. I mean, on one hand, it is an environment that fosters creativity. But on the other, it is so traditional and has so much history that it seems a bit incongruous.”
Izzy Chafkin ’11 — the third Yalie who participated in the program this summer — documented the relationship between a mother and daughter through photographs of daily life, showing the role reversal that takes place between the two as the girl grows up.
The summer school program at Norfolk began in 1949 and takes place over an intense four weeks of morning-to-night workshops.