On the fourth floor mezzanine of the Yale University Art Gallery, “study” has taken on a new meaning.
The Jane and Richard Levin Study Gallery, which was unveiled in December 2012 with the gallery’s re-opening, offers a space for professors to curate exhibitions of artwork related to their course material. Using works from the YUAG’s collection that were not previously on display, professors select a group of images to be hung in the gallery for the semester, during which students can freely come in to examine the pieces. Professors then design assignments based on the works on display, said Kate Ezra, the gallery’s curator of education and academic affairs.
Elihu Rubin, an assistant professor of urbanism at the School of Architecture, is using the study gallery this semester for his seminar “Ghost Town: City Building, Abandonment, and Memory.” He pointed out that the study gallery provides a learning experience for students and professors alike.
“This program not only offered a great opportunity to take advantage of the art gallery’s resources, but also inspired me to expand the parameters of the course,” Rubin said. “I found that as I looked at different photographs or engravings, they sparked ideas in my own mind about the kinds of ghost towns that I was interested in exploring.
While this semester is the second that the Levin Study Gallery has been in use, the YUAG has had exhibition space devoted primarily to study since fall 2009, Ezra noted, when the first study gallery was created on the fourth floor of the Kahn building. Since then, the gallery has hosted 50 course exhibits and has been receiving requests from an increasingly diverse range of courses, she added. Of the nine classes using the study gallery this semester, only one is exclusively a History of Art class — others are either cross-listed between History of Art and another discipline or relate to another field entirely.
Among the classes using the space are Ned Blackhawk’s “Writing Tribal Histories” and a finance course taught jointly by the School of Management and the history department. No STEM courses have used the study gallery so far.
“There isn’t a blanket invitation for every faculty member,” Ezra said, explaining that the YUAG staff instead sends out a call for proposals to faculty members who have expressed an interest in the gallery in the past, or who have curricula that would suit the gallery’s material.
When Rubin was working with Ezra and other YUAG staff to select material for display, he collaborated with a team that made its selections from an initial batch of over 100 relevant photographs.
In the end, the group arrived at a collection of images ranging from engravings by Canaletto and Piranesi to contemporary black-and-white photographs depicting ramshackle homes across America. One work by Jerome Liebling depicts a group of five boys standing by a boarded-up building, laughing. This re-appropriation of abandonment tells an interesting story about the versatility of play, Rubin said.
“The use of photos is a good fit [for the class] because the interest in ghost towns lies not just in the places themselves, but also in the ideas of abandonment and emptiness, and how they are represented,” he explained.
As a part of their interaction with the gallery, Rubin’s students have each been assigned a piece of art within the exhibit on which to write a short analytical essay. Bruce Hancock ARC ’15 will examine a grouping of black-and-white photographs in Mark Ruwedel’s “Dusk” series.
Hancock said the “very stark, almost completely similar” photographs offer a unique perspective into the notion of abandonment — a perspective that is best observed at the gallery, in front of the works themselves.
Another student in the seminar, Meghan McAllister ARC ’15 said she is excited to discover architecture through the alternative lens of art.
“Art, especially the pieces that [Rubin] curated, definitely shows architecture through a very specific and personal lens,” McAllister said. “There is an added level of framing issues or human interpretation of architecture that can be provoked through art.”
The renovations on the Yale University Art Gallery were completed in 14 years.