Faculty art show lets students be the critics

A watermelon sits on a white pedestal in the gallery of 1156 Chapel St., the Yale School of Art’s exhibition hall. Beside it, a set of instructions: Hold the watermelon against your stomach, assuming a pregnant posture. Walk to the center of the room, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a shape. “Be this shape,” the sheet reads. Replace the watermelon and draw the shape with chalk on the wall.

The new faculty art show at the School of Art, “Hands off — Hands on,” features pieces from over 30 professors from the school, in media ranging from paint to pencil on paper to watermelon.

The show gives professors a unique opportunity to present in a space normally reserved for students and visiting artists. Indeed, the show does not happen annually, or even every other year — and one professor interviewed said he wished it happened more often.

“We should do this more often,” said Peter Halley, the soon-to-be-retired director of graduate studies in painting and printmaking. “In nine years, we hadn’t had a faculty show.”

Faculty members also did not have a strict deadline by which they needed to install their works in the gallery, making the exhibition a casual, low-pressure experience for featured artists, said Clint Jukkala, the director of undergraduate studies for the art major.

A new art show of Yale faculty's works of prints, drawings, and works on paper has opened at Green Hall.
Emily Suran
A new art show of Yale faculty's works of prints, drawings, and works on paper has opened at Green Hall.

“There’s an openness to the show where it seems one could work on a piece throughout the show,” he said. “Some people haven’t put their work up yet.”

In fact, the placards next to the pieces simply identify the artist and his or her position within the school, leaving information such as title, medium, or date a mystery.

Though it was last Wednesday when Jukkala began work on his own piece — a colorful matrix of horizontal and vertical strips of tape placed directly on the gallery wall — he said he went into the show without a set production schedule.

Ben Donaldson ART ’01, a photography professor whose work is also in the gallery, said he also valued the show’s casual nature.

“It’s taken a long time to get everything up on the walls,” he said. “It shows a kind of looseness that I think is good.”

Despite its “looseness,” the show has motivated Donaldson to pick up his work on an old project.

He chose to install a photograph of a woman in a red sweater, focusing her gaze on her own hand. The piece is part of a 2-year-old project in which Donaldson photographed people who are hypnotized. In that moment, the woman in red said she believed she was seeing the most beautiful vista of her life, Donaldson said, even though she was simply staring at her palm.

Halley also presented at the show, choosing to exhibit four bright digital prints, which represent a previous body of work — they are reproductions of studies he had created for an installment at a New York University art exhibition in 2008. He said had he been given funding by the School of Art for “Hands Off — Hands On,” he might have printed the pieces in the size of the prints he showed in 2008, which stand over 6 feet tall. Instead, the prints on display at the School of Art are about half the size of the originals.

In addition to providing a venue for surveying the diversity in the School of Art faculty, there are educational benefits to faculty shows as well, Jukkala said.

“Students are usually pretty interested in what the faculty do,” he said. “I know I was when I was a student.”

Donaldson said that though he saw the advantages of showing his students his own work once in a while, he did not want to hinder his students’ own artistic development by impressing upon them his personal aesthetic.

“It’s good for the students to see what their professors do,” he said. “We don’t always get around to it. But I don’t want them to make work that looks like mine. I want them to find their way in the world.”

The show runs through Nov. 8.

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