Student-organized art exhibitions are not the norm at the Yale University Art Gallery, but a rare one did open there this past Friday.
The gallery is currently hosting a new exhibition titled “Embodied: Black identities in American Art,” the result of a collaborative curatorial effort with the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. The show is part of an ongoing series of student-curated exhibitions — a five-year-old effort that is part of the gallery’s educational program. A team of six students — three from each university — worked to develop the show, which first opened in September at Driskell.
Pamela Franks, the deputy director for collections and education at the gallery, said the themes for such student-curated exhibitions are selected after the permanent curators determine which areas of the gallery’s collections are “particularly rich and asking to be shown.”The current exhibition is centered around the representation of African-American culture in art and includes a variety of media such as painting, photography and sculpture.
The gallery took into consideration how its African-American collection “has grown dramatically in the last ten years” Franks said, choosing to use a theme that would pull focus to works within the collection. The three students were then permitted to select art from Yale’s permanent collection to use for the show. The current show’s focus on African-American art also fit well with the focus of the Driskell Center, which primarily collects works by black artists.
The exhibition is divided into three sections, each of which is built around one key work.
The first section, called “The Absent Body,” deals with the concealment of the black body in art. This segment is focused on Lorna Simpson’s “Wigs (Portfolio),” a piece that consists of lithographs of wigs printed on white felt. The wigs — some white, some dark, some braided and curly — float without bodies, forcing the audience to make assumptions about the identities of their owners, according to co-curator Lei Lisa Sun ’10.
“Embodiment of Art and Artifice” is the title of the second section of the exhibition, which emphasizes the theatricality in some African-American art. The highlighted work in this portion of the exhibition is an untitled painting by Kerry James Marshall that shows a powerful black figure posed as a painter, staring at the viewer.
This part of the exhibition calls attention to the “artist staring out, working a direct connection between the artist and the viewer,” said Horace Ballard DIV ’10, another co-curator of the exhibition. Ballard added that you are set to “[think] of the artist as a hero” and went on to refer to ideas expressed by David Driskell, an African-American artist and scholar, that characterize African-American art as being related to memory. A screen print by Driskell himself, titled “Dancing Angel,” is on display at the exhibition.
The third portion of the exhibit, “Displaced Embodiment,” is built on “movements of black communities and individuals to create and style themselves,” said co-curator Anna Arabindan-Kesson GRD ’13, a Ph.D. candidate in history of art and African-American studies at Yale. The prominent painting in this section is “Afro-Parisian Brothers” or “APB’s,” a painting by Barkley L. Hendricks depicting two black men he once saw in Paris. Other works in this portion include pieces by Elizabeth Catlett and John Woodrow Wilson, artists active in Mexico where local cultural influence and artistic techniques such as the prevalence of linocuts and murals became hallmarks of their works.
Before the exhibition was held at Yale, it was on view at the Driskell Center this fall. “Embodied: Black identities in American Art” will be on view at the gallery between Feb. 18 and June 26.