For the eighth year in a row, Yale School of Drama students have displayed their art in the Yale University Art Gallery. And this year, the exhibit Gallery+Drama brought bright lights, music and vibrant projections to the gallery, to halls full of Greek statues and Dutch paintings.
Gallery+ was a series of four installations reinterpreting some of the YUAG’s existing works through interactive technologies. The exhibit sought to explore what it means to really engage with art using all of your senses. All four moments worked with pieces from the collection, layering sights and sounds, some subtle and some quite startling, on Rothkos and Pollocks.
The exhibit began in the Ancient Gallery with “Behind the Whites,” an installation responding to questions like “What’s behind the statues?” and “What happens far away?” A large, two-sided mirror reflected the somber ambiance, standing among ancient Greek pottery, Byzantine mosaics, Egyptian burial masks and grand Roman statues. From a cleverly concealed projector, images of statues in the room and from around the world sprung up, mixing with video footage of gardens and ancients sites where, no doubt, many of the works originated. As I leaned towards the mirror, the projections took on a holographic quality, rapidly distorting and reappearing in varying shades and shadowy forms. The mirror did not show my heart’s true desire, as J.K. Rowling’s Erised would have, but it did serve to “unmask” the statues, revealing a history and emotional context I would otherwise not have discerned.
The next installation, “Hearing Rothko”, in the Modern Design and Contemporary Gallery, featured two large paintings by Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Two iPads and a set of headphones allowed the viewer/listener/wearer to “experience a personalized soundscape and enter the color-dipped, transformative world of Rothko.” The tablets prompted me to select a number of adjectives describing my initial sensory perceptions of the art. Descriptors like pomegranate, sunset, sunrise and fiery appeared on the screens, each matched with its own music. The two paintings, canvasses bright as the sanguine heat of a passionate blush, came alive with the emotive music flowing into my headphones.
After the squeaky clean brightness of the Rothko paintings, the “Alphabet City” installation was startling and refreshingly gritty. An exploration of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1980’s, “Alphabet City” included a projection spiraling on the floor in front of the painting. I stepped on the projection and the “funky” beat, inspired by classic hip hop from the streets of the Bronx, changed and pulsed.
I had trouble finding the final Jackson Pollock installation, “What does a painting sound like?” I wandered around the third floor before discovering the black gaffer tape arrows on the floor. The arrows led to an elevator leaking an eerie red light, and when opened, an intense crimson wash flooded the hallway. Otherworldly music surrounded me as I entered, and strange sounds slithered around me as the elevator descended. This installation was the most outlandish of them all and I’m still not sure how it related to the tangled, chaotic mass of gray skeins in Pollock’s “Arabesque.”
Gallery+Drama was an extremely satisfying exhibit. It fit with the existing art seamlessly and provided a refreshing sensory experience. As millennials, we are no longer content with just one artistic medium at a time — we want the music, the video and the motion all at once, and that’s precisely what Gallery+ delivered.
I was fifteen when I first thought about the way people look at art. In mid-September of 2011, my dad took me to a retrospective of the German photographer Thomas Struth in a small gallery in East London. We walked through hushed, white rooms where large, glossy prints seemed draw us into their scenes. Struth had photographed intimidating, intricate machinery and seductive, green jungles, and we found ourselves tangled in outstretched mechanical limbs and elegant fronds. But we were most caught up in the photographs that seemed to pose as mirrors in the gallery. We were captivated, watching snippets of lives that seemed to resemble our own. Struth’s photographs from the early 2000s, a series titled “Audiences,” were life-size photographs of gallery-goers caught in the act of looking.
* * *
I’m now sitting in the Yale University Art Gallery. I’m in the room with the Romans and the Greeks, surrounded by ancient stones and the dull eyes of past powers. Light falls through the tall windows and stripes the floor with shadows. This is the first room when you enter the gallery, and for that reason it seems that people don’t really stick here. They merely glance around, unsure of what to look at, before moving on to the big stuff: the Titians, the Manets, Van Gogh’s “Night Café” — everything that people know and can marvel at with ease.
The room is pretty empty right now. Everyone seems to have his or her attention directed elsewhere, but maybe that’s because it’s a Friday evening and there are 15 minutes until closing time. There are one or two who wander in and pay a bit more attention to the surrounding relics, like the man who clasped his hands together, smiled and bowed his hairless head to me as I held the door open for a group of accented tourists — “Thank you very much darling.” He idles between busts and portraits with those hands now clasped behind his back, his posture straight and chin lifted while his eyes study Marcus Aurelius through his glasses. His slow, soft steps are deliberate along with his poise, giving him an air of assurance. Then, there are those who come through the Ancient Art room just searching for an exit. Those are the more elderly visitors: white tufts of hair and spotted faces that smile at me. Their cheeks crease, eyes crinkling as they meet mine.
Upstairs in the corridors of European Art, I look for the names that I know, the brushstrokes I can try to decode and identify with. Sometimes, if the surface of a painting particularly intrigues me, I walk up to it and, standing quite close to the canvas, search for evidence of the artist’s human touch. Sometimes a work of art becomes so well known and revered that it almost seems to have come into this world fully formed, as if no man or woman’s hand could possibly create such an icon.
I can’t remember the first time I picked up a pencil, crayon or magic marker. My fingers have always known the grip of a pen, and my back has always been familiar with the sensation of hunching, shoulders forward, as if poised to dive into the picture-plane of my creation. I’m comfortable making art, but looking is an entirely different matter. My knowledge of art history consists only of the few facts I remember from a high school class on the subject, none of which are relevant in small, hushed galleries like that one in East London. There, all that is needed is a single glance from one of the gallery’s employees, someone who knows that he knows more than I do, and I am left exposed.
If galleries and museums leave artists and art-enthusiasts alike feeling lost and uneducated, why do we keep going back? Why did my dad and I, on a dreary Saturday in mid-September, take the Tube from central London and ride the rattling tracks all the way to a small, out-of-the-way exhibition in East London?
* * *
Crossing the hall, I leave behind the late 19th century for the likes of Hals, Rubens and Uccello. This side of the gallery is empty; I drift farther back in history and away from familiar faces, names, color palettes and anatomically correct figures. A member of the staff dressed in black and blue interrupts my reverie to inform me that “The gallery is closing soon.” I nod and head for the elevator with the guard following slightly behind, padding across the wooden floors with his black, patent leather loafers.
Looking around the elevator, I see many of the same people from Struth’s photographs. There are men and women clutching brochures at their sides, their eyes scanning the interior of the elevator with varying levels of engagement, their clothes not too far from the average styles of 2004 and 2005: blocks of color, garish floral prints and baggy trousers. There are children holding their parents’s hands, and adolescents casting their eyes to the ground. Nobody moves to interact with the other gallery-goers. They are all wrapped in their own observations.
I step out of the elevator and into another gallery. Soft chatter hums in one corner while the sharp report of boot heels against a hardwood floor punctures the still atmosphere. As I glance around me, I see people focusing on what they see before themselves. They are searching, with eyes that dart to and fro and meander through landscapes of paint; they are searching with bodies that crouch over and lean in and step back to take in the whole scene. And then, at some point or another, a change occurs. The searching eyes widen, a smile shimmers across the cheeks and the back straightens. It has been found, that familiar thing they were searching for, that which they can’t tuck away in a tote bag but which they will hold on to. With such a souvenir acquired, they will leave feeling like the afternoon at the gallery was worth their time. I’m also looking for something to take home, something I can use myself. I’m looking for those hints of human, a mistake, a structural line, an exposed layer of old paint, an exposed layer of old ideas, ancient people, a different time.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Da Vinci’s synesthetic suggestion found favor on a recent rainy Thursday at the YUAG, where art, poetry and music came together, allowing an audience to see, hear and feel the ethos of the Romantic period.
The poetry and music were part of “The Critique of Reason”, a new art exhibition put on by the YUAG and the YCBA next door — surprisingly, the first collaboration between the two. The evening began with a concert in the YUAG’s auditorium, consisting of two string quartets performed by students from the School of Music. The audience was next treated to readings of Romantic poetry meant to complement the paintings exhibited four floors above.
After a tiring day of math class and number-crunching, I, for one, was ready to enjoy some beautiful Romantic melodies. “The Harp,” Beethoven’s string quartet in E-Flat Major, balanced melancholy with occasional and much-appreciated bursts of vigor and energy, and was followed by the haunting tones of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor. The sudden shifts between tension and tranquility in both pieces evoked a strong and unique emotion, perhaps the “sublime” state that Romantic art often strove for. The masterful rendition of both quartets was uplifting, yet I could not help feeling that my enjoyment didn’t deepen or broaden my appreciation of the actual exhibition.
In this pleasant but confused state of mind, I made my way up to the fourth floor for the second (and undoubtedly more exciting) part of the evening: the artwork and poetry. Six undergraduates who had taken Paul Fry’s “Romantic Poetry” last semester stood by their paintings of choice in different rooms of the exhibition. Each recited one or two works of poetry from the same period as the painting they had chosen.
Well-matched paintings and poems gave me a new appreciation for the aura of the Romantic period. Some combinations, like Alison Hutchison’s ’15 recital of Percy Shelley’s “Clouds” against John Constable’s “Cloud Studies,” exemplified the Romantic spirit and its traditional associations with landscapes and the celebration of nature; the image that the poem created in my mind perfectly matched Constable’s painting, enhancing the effect of both. In contrast to that classic Romanticism, Devika Mittal’s ’15 subtle and poignant recital of two Byron compositions alongside Pierre Paul Prudion’s “A Grief Stricken Family” and Ary Scheffer’s “The Retreat of Napoleon’s Army from Russia in 1812” exposed me to the more human side of Romanticism, far removed from ideal scenes of natural splendor. Although the subject matter diverged from Hutchison’s pairing, the synergy remained: The wounded soldiers in Scheffer’s painting seemed to have emerged straight from the conclusion of Byron’s “Lara.”
Yet not all poems were meant to recreate the scenes they accompanied, and many made me look differently at the paintings in front of me. Eleanor Michotte’s ’15 articulate performance of Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” against George Romney’s “Ann Wilson with her daughter, Sybil” — perhaps my favorite moment of the evening — juxtaposed a simple mother-daughter portrait with a wistful dream of an ideal childhood, untainted by industrialization, many Romantics viewed skeptically. And Hutchison’s recital of Wordsworth’s “Idiot Boy” against Gustave Courbet’s “Hunter on Horseback” breathed life into a rather still scene by weaving an imaginary story around the figure in the painting.
Despite the enjoyable music and the effective pairings of paintings with poems, the exhibition’s three components seemed somewhat scattered, and it was hard to find a single cohesive message or idea connecting the three: The music that opened the evening seemed somewhat out of place, and upon arrival on the fourth floor, viewers were allowed to wander at will, without a set order. But was this an unintended consequence or a deliberate attempt to celebrate the Romantic “critique of reason” by abstaining from a prescribed order? As the evening drew to a close, I still wasn’t sure. I guess some stories are best left untold.
Like Romanticism itself, the YUAG’s new and exhaustive special exhibition “The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760-1860” is difficult to encapsulate. Drawing from a variety of collections — the Gallery itself, the Yale Center for British Art and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library — the exhibition spans two floors and four galleries and creates a sweeping landscape of the Romantic movement. Sectioned into eight different themes and featuring works by such luminaries as Joseph Mallord William Turner and Francisco de Goya, the exhibition attempts to provide a clearer understanding of the movement’s multi-faceted nature. And while it would be impossible for any one exhibition, no matter how large, to capture the essence of the Romantic period, “The Critique of Reason,” a stunning exhibit, comes impressively close.
Each room in the gallery is painted a different shade of either red or blue, creating a slight tension that keeps viewers on their toes. The delicate contrast between colors alludes to the opposition between the Enlightenment and Romanticism: Light blues and heather greys suggest the clarity of reason and the cool certainty of the Enlightenment, juxtaposed with deep crimsons and vibrant reds that call forth the emotionally charged tempest of Romantic thought.
As the exhibition’s title suggests, Romanticism turned Enlightenment’s own investigative lens onto itself, questioning knowledge and whether reason might detract from the appreciation of beauty. The paintings on view suggest a quest for answers about one’s self and one’s place in the world, answers that cannot necessarily be found with a microscope. The gallery’s layout offers no set chronology or prescribed order in which to view the themes and allows the viewer free reign, encouraging a Romantic-like exploration of the self and the surroundings.
Much of the exhibit is dominated by landscapes: caverns, starry swatches of sky, seascapes punctured by boats, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ominous clouds. Each painting invites the viewer to inhabit the artist’s mind and search for whatever meaning he (the vast majority of artist on view are men) found in the bareness of valleys or the grandeur of fantastical caves. However, viewers can also imagine themselves into the landscape, to see how their thoughts align with any particular painter’s vision. I found myself enthralled in the pulsating stars and the faint horizon of Jean-Francois Millet’s “Starry Night.” The calm of the hazy trees and the deep cerulean sky drew me into Millet’s psyche, allowing me a moment’s break from my hectic life.
“The Critique of Reason” also highlights the intense Romantic fascination with the raw power of nature. Man is pitted against the uncontrollable, the mighty force of natural disasters. One painting in particular conveys this: John Martin’s “The Deluge.” A massive canvas wider than my 5’2” frame, it commands the attention of the room and drew me in immediately not just with its size but with its subject as well: a small island of impotent people at the center of a dark seascape, surrounded by towering waves. I recognized the helplessness of the people, their complete lack of control over their fate, and was captivated by a scene of utter terror for those within it.
The paintings within this exhibition allow us to confront our fears from a safe distance. However the Romantics could also appreciate nature’s gentle beauty. For example, John Constable’s “Cloud Studies” depict a nature as nonthreatening, ever-changing and welcoming.
Although all the works within the gallery are over a hundred and fifty years old, many of the paintings still feel relevant. Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War, an eighty-piece exploration of the realistic and fantastical horrors of war, brings to mind images we see every day on the news; each etching draws the viewer further into a real-life nightmare. Viewing the etchings, one begins to wonder why such terrors persist and why we haven’t learned from the past; Goya’s works suggest that, two hundred years ago, he asked the same questions.
With poise and exuberance, “The Critique of Reason” grapples with pertinent emotions and issues. Wandering the exhibition can be likened to walking through one’s own mind, seeing reflections, both welcome and unwelcome, of the world around us and within us. Whether you’re looking for introspection, knowledge, or the simple pleasure of viewing the work of talented artists, “The Critique of Reason” is the perfect escape.
On the corner of Chapel Street and High Street, the familiar vacancy that was the entrance to the Yale Center for British Art has been boarded up. The gray plywood anticipates the 14-month renovation, which began last week, and, more importantly, indicates the temporary loss of one of Yale’s most unique artistic spaces.
Students and administrators alike will miss the YCBA, which houses works by canonical British artists, such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable. “I’m probably just going to cry a little,” said Daniel Leibovic ’17, who works at the YCBA as a student tour guide.
He explained that the YCBA provided an important space to think and study and fostered a strong sense of community among the student workers. Leibovic will miss his fellow tour guides, as well as his favorite exhibition, “Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention,” a collection of Victorian statues.
However, despite this cultural vacancy, there are other spaces in New Haven that serve similar artistic purposes. The museum belongs to a long tradition of public art that has strong ties to Yale and a strong presence in the New Haven community. The YUAG, the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Lipstick statue in Morse — all are historic components of the New Haven arts scene.
In many ways, the YCBA’s renovation is an opportunity: Students who have yet to visit museums on campus and in New Haven may choose to finally visit the YCBA upon its reopening. And, alternatively, those in search of another art space will have an incentive to explore during the coming year.
Since 1974, the YCBA has been one of New Haven’s most popular artistic institutions. Paul Mellon ’29, a British art enthusiast, purchased and installed around 95 percent of the pieces displayed today. The vast and impressive collection attracts an equally vast and impressive audience: graduates students, undergraduate students, professors, young artists and many locals.
While the museum is home to the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom, the building itself is also a work of art — it was given the Twenty-five Year award by the American Institute of Architects in 2005.
The principal goal of the renovation is to preserve this work of art: the historic Louis Kahn building that houses the collection. After 10 years of researching the history, design and construction of the building, the project is finally underway. The renovation will include updated fire safety code compliance as well as restorations that better service the public. The lecture hall, for example, will now adhere to American Disability Act standards, and a new seminar room will be built upstairs.
Mark Aronson, chief conservator for the YCBA, is enthusiastic about improvements to the building’s physical accessibility. As an art restorer, however, he is more interested in the accessibility of the artwork itself — he looks forward to working on some of the better known paintings during the renovation. In many ways, his work with individual pieces parallels the restoration process the museum will undergo for the next 14 months.
“We can almost never get our hands on ‘The Allegory of the Tudors’ Succession’” he said, alluding to a Lucas de Heere canvas. “Every third grader knows what it is, so whenever a school group comes, they park in front of Henry VIII.” With the restoration, Aronson and his team will finally get to look at it.
Before the YCBA closed, he was reluctant to deprive students of such historical pieces, which present unique learning opportunities. He sees education as one of the YCBA’s most important services to the community and said that museum staff are very conscious of how viewers will benefit from their displays.
Cassandra Albinson, chief curator of the YCBA’s collection, also emphasized its role as an educational institution.
“I really like portraiture of women, so when I’m working on something I’m always hoping it will be of interest to, say, feminist groups on campus,” she said. She hopes that the new seminar room will bring undergraduate art courses into the building, particularly those courses that involve the collection.
Despite her interest in engaging campus groups, Albinson said she wants the YCBA to be a space where both Yale students and younger schoolchildren can learn about British art. She drew attention to the museum’s location — just off Old Campus — which puts it literally and figuratively on the border between the Yale and New Haven communities. The majority of patrons are not associated with Yale, and, as one of nine public museums in New Haven, the YCBA plays a central role in the city art scene, for students and non-students alike.
While the manifold services provided by the Center would be difficult to replicate, other Yale institutions exercise equal influence over the city’s artistic community. For instance, the YUAG’s presence and influence most closely approximate those of the YCBA, its neighbor.
The YUAG, unlike the YCBA, has pieces from all over the world and all ages of art history. But despite these differing collections, the two institutions occupy similar spaces in the arts scene: Both are free and both place special emphasis on their accessibility to the larger community. Pamela Franks, curator at the YUAG, speaks of many programs that resemble those of the YCBA: lectures, panel discussions, exhibitions and programs for school kids.
Franks believes that the YUAG helps young students learn to think differently. She, too, emphasizes the interactive nature of art education — she believes that students learn “visual literacy” and the ability to think of history in pictures.
However, most importantly, the Gallery broadens schoolchildren’s sense of belonging to the Yale community. Franks encourages high school students to familiarize themselves the YUAG’s resources and hopes that they come to see it as their museum.
“The fact that we’re free and open to the public is the main part of our identity,” she said. “We’re part of Yale, but we’re here for the University as well as for the public.”
In this way, though private donations constitute the majority of the YCBA’s and the YUAG’s collections, both are cornerstones of New Haven’s art scene.
Mauricio Cortes-Ortega ART ’16, thinks that before he shows his own art, he has to perfect his technique — in private. No matter how grand a student’s ambitions, school is the place to develop as an artist, cut off from the surrounding community. Cortes-Ortega is trying to learn what he wants to say, and how he wants to say it, before engaging with art in public.
In other words, though Yale’s two major galleries connect the University to the greater New Haven area, Yale students have a different experience of this relationship. New Haven is rich with artistic opportunities — public studios, galleries, murals and classes — and yet, students don’t always participate in this artistic world.
Téa Beer ’17, an Art major, said time prevented her personally from exploring the local arts scene, but she added that her department didn’t encourage a relationship between art students and New Haven.”
“I don’t think [the Yale Art major tries] to incorporate interaction with the town community in the art major curriculum,” she said. “Art is inherently pretty elitist, to be honest.” She didn’t condone this elitism, however, and she hopes to learn more about the art New Haven has to offer this semester.
In fact, most undergraduates interviewed expressed some interest in the local arts scene. They seemed almost apologetic when explaining that they weren’t familiar with many artists, and, like Beer, cited intentions to get to know the community in the coming semester. Some even would like to work on their own public art installations in New Haven.
When asked whether she’s done any public art here, Sam Vernon ART ’15 said she had not, though she has been commissioned to do public installations in the past: Before coming to graduate school, she worked on the Transform Neighborhoods Initiative in Prince Georges’ County, Maryland. Alongside participants from all parts of the neighborhood —the youngest was only three — Vernon painted a mural at a local library.
“It was truly incredible how many kinds of people came together,” she remembered. “I think local governments can and should work to create such dynamic, polyrhythmic environments.” She expressed regret that she hadn’t been able to participate in such collaborative projects in New Haven.
To counter this lack of dialogue between New Haven and Yale artists, Emily Hays ’16 has started the student organization Blue Haven. Hays hopes to create projects similar to the cross-generational cooperation Vernon experienced in Maryland. The group pairs Yale performance artists — slam poets, dancers, singers — with high schoolers who are interested in the same field. The pair then works together to create a new piece together.
“There’s definitely an egalitarian, social justice component — if we’re both creating art together, we’re erasing challenges that we both may have experienced,” she explained.
Though Blue Haven primarily focuses on performance art for the moment, it’s only in its first semester, and Hays intends to incorporate the visual arts in the future.
The collaborative nature of Hays’s project speaks to a new form of interactive public art. While museums such as the YCBA and the YUAG may attract visitors with free admission and student programs, this is a more passive approach. Hays, on the other hand, promotes active involvement, the conscious creation of an even vaster body of New Haven art.
Kwadwo Adae is a local painter with ideas like Hays’ and a studio on the corner of Orange and Chapel. (Orange Street is kind of a hub for art business — almost every other storefront near his apartment is a studio.) Adae believes firmly that art should be accessible to everyone and appreciates the presence of Yale’s museums in the city.
“We are spoiled here because we have resources like the YUAG, which has an enormous collection of art and is free,” he said.
As a public artist, he feels that he has a duty to create equally accessible spaces. He is even upset by the stairwell leading up to his own studio, as it prevents disabled persons from experiencing his art.
This passion for sharing art inspired him to teach, and today, he works in assisted living centers and retirement communities across the county. In other words, his artistic contributions to New Haven extend beyond his personal creations.
He recounted one of his most memorable teaching moments: “There was one woman who used to be an artist and had suffered a stroke. She lost use of her right hand, her painting hand. I was teaching her to draw again with her left hand. To do that, I used my left hand as well. So we struggled together.”
Adae spoke extensively about his students and clearly considers teaching one of the most meaningful aspects of his work. He and other non-student artists seemed sure of their niche in the community, expressing a commitment to active public services: teaching drawing technique, inspiring others to create and providing spaces for artistic appreciation.
His work is not public in the traditional sense; instead of just making art for people, he makes art with people. After all, public art is a changing field: Yale College Dean of the Arts Susan Cahan said, “Public art used to be just art, but outdoors. Now, it’s art that actively engages a broad community of people.”
Both types of artists thrive in New Haven, from those who teach in their studios to those who make outdoor installations.
Jonathan Waters, for instance, does not limit himself to the white walls of a gallery. Most of his creations are geometric abstract sculptures, gray and black stainless steel sheets welded into unique shapes and placed outside. Everything he makes is enormous; no passerby could possibly miss it. That’s why he loves the scale of his work: His pieces aren’t just public, they’re aggressively public.
“I like doing work outside because theoretically, it has a wider audience,” he said. “The casual guy on the street who might not walk into a museum will be able to experience it.”
Adae is also committed to New Haven’s public art. He praises pieces that aren’t in museums or galleries and believes that beautiful objects contribute to a high quality of life. To him, simply seeing something bright on your way to work can make you do your job better.
He is especially proud of an interactive mural he worked on in a mental health clinic. The bus windows are painted with chalk paint, so children in the waiting room are invited to make their mark on the piece.
Still, some New Haven artists are less invested in active audience participation. They would prefer that viewers meditate on the meaning of a work.
Matthew Feiner is multimedia artist and bike shop owner who has participated in City-Wide Open Studios, an initiative to support the visual arts in New Haven. He said his installation was so popular that on the second day of its exhibition, over a thousand people came. There was only standing room in the gallery. Though popularity would indicate success in the art industry, he was not satisfied.
“People just passed right in front of it; they didn’t have time to even see it!” he said.
This is why some prefer to show pieces in private settings: They don’t just want people to see their art. They want people to look at it.
Yet the private New Haven arts scene is not nearly as developed as its public counterpart. While locals and students have access to many free museums, they encounter far fewer private vendors and galleries.
Fred Giampietro, the owner of the new Giampietro Gallery on Chapel Street, considers himself a pioneer. Since opening in early January, Giampietro has tried to develop lasting business relations with Yale and the community; he has exhibited the works of several art graduate students. He dedicates himself finding up-and-comers, and his favorite thing about owning a gallery is discovering new talent.
His belief in these budding artists brought him into the private arts industry, and he thinks that collectors can build relationships with paintings on their walls.
“A lot of time people don’t think about how they can live with art and how that can enrich their lives,” he said.
The idea of living with a painting brings into question the spiritual value of art as well as the financial one. Before consumers can form intimate connections with a painting, they must spend.
Christian Ammon is a painter, graduate student and waiter from Trumbull, Connecticut. Though he is very busy, he prioritizes his art, and he is determined to make a career in the field. He expressed discontent that public art dissociates art from its monetary value. He showed recently at New Haven City-Wide Open Studios, an opportunity for which he was grateful, but he had reservations about the program.
“I want to be exposed to different social classes and races, but obviously, I want my art to sell, “ he said. “At Open Studios, there were a lot of lower class people kind of bumming around. I think my art would mainly target the middle- to upper-class people.”
To this end, he said he would advertise for Open Studios in the area surrounding Yale, instead of the outskirts of New Haven. He also feels that, as a graduate student, he can identify most with other young people.
It seems particularly difficult for New Haven artists to navigate the industry, to balance artistic vision with financial need. Ammon is still struggling with this, and though he is young, many older artists also spoke about sacrificing accessibility to large audiences in order to profit from their artwork.
To address these issues, the city’s public art institutions sponsor local artists. The YUAG, as part of its community outreach services, employs artists-in-residence for four-week periods several times a year. The artists do research, work on their projects and work with Yale School of Art students as well as undergraduates.
Right now, the artist in residence is Chris Ellis, who goes by “Daze.” Daze said he is enjoying his residency and feels lucky to have the opportunity to focus only on his artwork and his teaching.
When his residency began, he started a mural in the basement of the YUAG, accessible to museum visitors and students, in the same style as his earlier pieces. The mural has been and will be collaboration: Art students will help him with the design and creation.
And he doesn’t limit his students to marginal contributions. A large crowd scene in the middle of the wall, he explained, was an undergraduate’s idea. Daze considers art to be both an educational tool and a means of self-expression, and he didn’t mention any of the monetary concerns that worried Ammon.
The YUAG artist-in-residence position combines the many aspects of a public arts career. Daze has the financial support of a gallery as he engages with the local community through classes and workshops. And, of course, he’s able to create his own art. While there is certainly an artistic separation between Yale and New Haven, this program is a step towards long term collaboration.
Cahan, in speaking about public art in New Haven, cited “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” — the Morse lipstick statue. In 1970, it was still at Beinecke Plaza, and the red centerpiece wasn’t metal. Instead, it was inflatable — every few days, the tube would deflate and become flaccid. When this happened, the artist, Claes Oldenburg, would send somebody, or come himself, to re-inflate it, and, voilà, the lipstick was again erect.
“The piece was made right after Yale became coeducational,” Cahan said. “Obviously, these were gendered references; the blending of the symbol of femininity with the phallic symbol was a direct reference to coeducation.” She then mentioned the protests following the Black Panther Party trials, and the military tanks lining the streets of New Haven — hence the “caterpillar tracks”.
Several students said that all public art is, inherently, political. One even compared it to various news sources.. Another believed that the artist’s understanding of the political issue at hand is just as important as her technical skill.
By all of these definitions, “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” is an excellent example of “good” public art. It represents a whole host of intersections, intersections between Yale, New Haven and a wider political climate. Today, the Morse lipstick is divorced from much of its significance, but just outside the walls of the YUAG, the YCBA and the residential colleges, a vibrant arts world awaits exploration. In fact, it’s not an art scene; it’s an art web.
Correction: Feb. 6
A previous version of this article incorrectly named public artist Matthew Feiner as Michael Feiner.
Two days after the class-canceling blizzard last week, the pristine layers of snow had been trampled away. What had been white blankets turned into piles of brown slush like left-out apple slices. I walked to the University Art Gallery that Thursday to hear a concert paired with their new exhibit, “Whistler in Paris, London and Venice.” I added my own footprints to the gradual stampede.
Inside, an undergraduate string quartet sat in front of a small audience. The musicians performed selections from three works connected to the locations and time period of the exhibit. James Abbott McNeill Whistler is the artist in question, an American-born figure from the Gilded Age. Whistler etched (and sketched) like the snow fell that week, his tiny strokes barely converging into powerful masses. The important difference, of course, is that his art—and the pieces performed by the quartet—can’t be stomped on by rubber boots.
The performance gently placed the audience in mid-19th century Europe. The rivers Whistler often captured with spare strokes felt close, if frozen. Curator Heather Nolin opened the concert by talking about Whistler as if he were a starry-eyed student: at 21, he moved to Paris, got a French girlfriend named Héloise (thanks, Wikipedia), and obsessed over the connections between art and music. Alexander Dubovoy ’16, a student liaison for the YUAG, introduced Camille Saint-Saëns’s String Quartet No. 2 to accompany Whistler’s work from Paris. Saint-Saëns used the piece to “stake a claim” in the French Romantic tradition as young gun composers like Debussy and Stravinsky emerged, and you could hear the stubbornness as the four parts danced in a structured choreography. The performers (violinists Jennifer Gersten ’16 and Emily Switzer ’17, violist Abby Elder ’17, and cellist Benji Fleischacker ’17) knew how to fit the intricate sounds together, especially when the cello’s pizzicato grounded the lilting upper register.
When I visited the exhibit later, the piece’s echoes bounced around my head as I passed through Whistler’s “French Set,” a series of etchings he did in Paris. They didn’t match the sassy joy of the quartet, but they reminded me of what Dubovoy said about the composer. As an old man watching new musical movements tower over him, Saint-Saëns wrote the piece as an outsider. Whistler’s works in the “French Set” have a similar feeling. Their decaying houses, women working in their homes, and other eavesdropped-upon scenes speak in gritty, shadowed detail. The subjects’ faces are hidden, as if entering their lives would shatter something.
As Whistler moved to London to find success, his eyes turned water-ward. His “Thames Set” focuses on the changing waterfronts of the city in the same way current neighborhoods quickly gentrify. His pieces are like paused action, the quick strokes of the angular boats suggesting the direction of their paths. At the concert, String Quartet No. 1 by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams too depicted reinvention, this time with folk songs from Britain. The piece’s chugging, foot-stomping rhythms were smoothed out, peaking out from the veil of the string quartet tradition.
The final section of the exhibit focuses on Whistler’s time in Venice. The aging Whistler left London after suing art critic John Ruskin for libel. Ruskin had criticized the artist’s painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” calling him out for “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” The Venice etchings resultantly look like a string of exhalations — from tension, politics, words. If you go to the exhibit, go for them. The ink grips the paper’s fibers themselves, and the delicate dashes merely guide the colors towards the ships and horizons they represent. There’s even a pastel work so fragile it lives behind a pink curtain, waiting to be revealed by the viewer.
Dubovoy introduced the Venice-accompanying pieces, by Giacomo Puccini and Hugo Wolf, with Whistler’s artistic departure in mind. Puccini’s “Crisantemi” was written in 1890 for the death of the King of Spain, and its melancholy, unified cries make a grave of layered sound. Elder’s evolving viola solo particularly stuck in my mind. The “Italian Serenade” by Wolf mimicked Whistler’s perspective as yet another outsider, trying to understand the Italian culture as authentically as possible. The performers flew athletically through the intricate piece, and the audience noticed. A man with 90’s bleached hair and his female friend looked at each other multiple times, impressed and raising their eyebrows.
I understood that man during the concert and, days later, as I sifted through Whistler’s etched waterfronts and anonymous faces. When the Wolf ended, I looked out the lobby windows towards the YUAG Sculpture Garden. A smooth, rounded layer of snow rested on the concrete steps leading to a higher level, but a path of footprints cut sharply through the middle. The storm was over. The footprints, though, were there to stay, just like the memories of Whistler, his influences and the composers featured at the performance. That’s more beautiful than untouched snow.
Showcased in a spacious room with orange-tinged red walls, “Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of Empire” has a pristine aura to it. Organizationally precise and self-explanatory, the exhibit has different sections, each telling the story of Ancient Rome. The neat structure of the exhibit warmly introduced me, the uninitiated observer, to the complex society of the Roman Empire. But “Roman in the Provinces” avoids the typical narrative of the Empire, describing Rome’s dining and hospitality culture, popular furniture styles, technology, politics and religion, but emphasizing the subtle but distinct cultural nuances of the different regions that made up the Empire.
The exhibit cleverly employed textural and chromatic elements to give the viewers both a broad and a close-up look at Ancient Rome. “Mosaic with Personifications of Wealth and Pleasure,” a piece depicting Romans at leisure, along with other paintings on plaster and on limestone, gives a bohemian touch to the description of Rome’s society. The unfinished texture of the items invokes ideas of a potentially great Empire still in development.
Other sections of the exhibit showcase Roman dining and seating areas. Aside from flaunting the at once elegant and flamboyant nature of Roman taste, these areas offered a commentary on the socio-economic structures within the Empire. For instance, the description accompanying the seating area informed the viewers that women usually “sat or reclined on benches below those of their male companions.” Further, the quality of hospitality offered to guests was an indicator of the particular household’s social standing. The more refined the meat served and the more lavish the dining room setup, the higher the household’s position on the ladder.
“Roman in the Provinces,” while depicting trade and transport, attempts to offer the viewer a broader perspective. A map with the Empire’s major trade routes is on display. The well-connected networks suggest an advanced transport system, which facilitated what seemed to be a burgeoning trade market. Adding to the sense of cosmopolitanism, the exhibit also features several depictions of Julia Domna — a beautiful Syrian-born empress. These depictions took the form of Greek inscriptions about her and a doll head. Her importance, despite her foreign identity, was made clear by the space and the veneration dedicated to her in the exhibit.
The smaller items on display give more intricate and specific depictions of the Empire. These include coins, stones, vases, candlesticks, tumblers, cups, double headed bowls and jewelry items such as bead necklaces. Walking through this section of the exhibit was akin to exploring a present-day flee market in a small town; I felt almost felt an urge to negotiate a price for some of the pieces.
The center of the exhibit displays heads — a portrait of a woman, a portrait bust of a man in a toga, a portrait of an intellectual, and a portrait of an official, among others. The faces of the “Humans of the Roman Empire” — if you will — add a sense of completion to “Roman in the Provinces.” These people — not of the highest or the lowest classes — were those involved in the large-scale trade of these sorts of goods across the Empire. The Roman Empire, though great and mostly remembered for those on the highest rungs, was really made up by common men and women.
“I just want to give you what really happens,” says the projected video of Griffiths Sokuyeka, an older black South African man with a skinny face and a lone front tooth. He’s giving a personal tour of the 1820 Settlers’ National Monument, which honors the contributions of English settlers to South Africa. Sokuyeka shares his struggle to find education and work in the midst of South Africa’s political tensions — on one side of the room, that is. On an opposite screen, he’s giving a separate tour, this time to a public audience — he reviews key dates, points out commissioned murals and speaks of the “common motherland.”
A second man gives his personal and public tours of the Grahamstown Observatory Museum on a separate set of two screens. I check the description of the piece, a little lost in the conflicting and overlapping voices. “Four-channel color projection with sound on 4 HD video projectors and 4 Perspex screens, 18 min., 30 secs.” I let the videos play through again and give the four voices of the two guides another chance to reverberate around me, some of the stories collected, some impassioned — a tortured soundscape that speaks too much, but also perhaps not enough.
Mikhael Subotzky’s “Moses and Griffiths” is one of several experimental pieces featured at the Yale University Art Gallery’s “Contemporary Art/South Africa” exhibit, open until Sept. 14. Organized by past and current Yale undergraduates and Ph.D. candidates, the display coincides with the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s election. Combining some of Yale’s existing collection with borrowed pieces, it doesn’t pretend to give an overview of contemporary South African artwork. Instead, it offers a crisp and thoughtful representation of three conflicted relationships in South Africa’s recent history: art and politics, personal life and social issues, place and identity.
These themes are briefly but sufficiently introduced at the beginning of the exhibit, and then the visitor is left to wander through the two-story display. Since multiple issues are often explored in individual pieces, this organization succeeds. But beyond the tensions identified in the exhibit, this collection is really a story of communication: Through contemporary artwork, South Africa can begin to share the stifled trauma of its past and push forward into an optimistic future.
Barely-muted frustration frequently manifests itself in the exhibit, as in Robin Rhode’s short video “Piano Chair.” The animation presents a man who hammers, burns and hangs a piano. Along another wall, Sue Williamson’s “For Thirty Years next to His Heart” is an arrangement of 49 frames containing photos of passbook pages meant to give proof of employment — some stamped, some bare — which black South Africans were required to carry at all times. These yellowed documents, stretching from floor to ceiling, confront the viewer with the turmoil of apartheid.
But buried within this tension is an unexpected hopefulness, as in Gary Schneider’s “HandPrint Portraits,” one of the exhibit’s most innovative works. Schneider captured the sweat and heat from South African artists’ hands on film over 10-minute exposure periods. At a glance, the images look like X-rays, and you expect to be able to see straight through to the bone. Instead, in the chilly, metallic image, you find conveyed the warmth of the artist’s touch, a desperate drive to create something beautiful. It is this sort of paradoxical emotional complexity that makes “Contemporary Art/South Africa” a difficult but successfully compelling display.
As he finishes his personal tour of the Settlers’ Monument, Griffiths recounts that following a fire at his foundation’s building, his employer unjustifiably brought him to the police station. Now, he says, the building has sprinklers installed. Gesturing at his audience with clasped hands, he says that this kind of treatment has made him “aggressive.”
Still, Griffiths is hopeful for the future. “I love this place,” he says, adding that the employer still owes him an apology.
There’s not enough here to glean a sweeping sense of this artistic tradition — but in setting out to say just a little, this exhibit says plenty through its complicated, thoughtfully displayed emotional tensions. Just a few pieces are enough to leave visitors thinking about what has been in South Africa, and what could be.
The title of Red Grooms’s installation at the Yale University Art Gallery is telling: Larger than Life. As soon as you step off the elevator and into the fourth floor, a makeshift Grooms archway complete with a hasty depiction of the modern, classic New York City life — bridge, building, Knicks, foreign taxi driver, and hipster walking his dogs— crowns your head and resets the rules of reality.
As you walk in, three gigantic artworks seem to extend beyond the walls themselves, double the height of a normal ceiling on either side of your vision, immersing you in people and colors. But it is a joyful, energetic immersion, where nothing is off limits to laugh at or laud — there was a man in his sixties next to me chuckling for a solid ten minutes at one point in the exhibit. Grooms himself is currently 76 years old, and he’s been an artist-satirist for over fifty years now. That’s a lot of time to laugh.
In the three immense wall spaces, the subjects of his drawings are stripped down to their iconic essences: 52 characters in total interacting with each other beyond the canvas. They are extremely recognizable figures, that is, if you have a working knowledge of 20th century artists — or access to Wikipedia. Regardless, Grooms counts with studies and preliminary sketches of the works that generate a map of sorts for the view. Really though, as long as you know of Picasso, there is life to be seen here in Grooms’s big-scale detail.
The largest work is “Cedar Bar” (1986), in which Grooms imagines an isolated world where celebrities of the New York art world interact over spilled drinks, smoke, heels, flats, hats, stools, subtle Stamos and Rothko intrigue, and the Cedar Bar itself. It’s all about the details. Jackson Pollock is shown in his paint-splattered shoes drunkenly wrestling — knee to the groin — Willem de Kooning, a fellow abstract impressionist. To the left of the fighting pair their wives casually smoke together while Aristodimos Kaldis casually flirts with them to no avail. At the same time, it’s the bigger picture: the five huge sheets of colored pencil-and-crayon creation that lend this work an appropriately defined setting for these “larger than life” icons. No one is particularly beautiful; caricatures dominate appearances and interactions, and only the bartender and a hidden Ad Reinhardt confronts us square on. The foreground and background’s shallow spaces pulled me in even more, physically drawing me in to see people’s faces, reminding me that the bar is not a place of emotional depth.
Turning around to admire the sheer height of the final two pieces, I almost had to sit back down and get my bearings. The cartoonish meditations on the life and death of Picasso contain double the amount of frenetic intrigue in “Cedar Bar” and half the logic. “Studio at the rue des Grands-Augustins” (1990-1996) depicts Picasso working in the studio on “Guernica,” and “Picasso Goes to Heaven” (1973) has a little more post-mortem humor. Only after a few minutes of scouring the wall, physically hopping closer and then farther from the work — much to the concern and amusement of the security guard — did I notice the atomic sign in the “light bulb” of Grooms’s interpretation of “Guernica,” an allusion to nuclear warfare. Grooms also adds impressionist cigarette smoke, a tiny globe, and hints of modernism to further beam us into his bursting world.
Drama dominates all aspects of the canvas as Grooms blurs lines blur and invades his art with Picasso’s monochrome monsters. I left the exhibit feeling privileged to have witnessed dead Picasso in red, checkered boxers giving me a thumbs-up from the afterlife, and the color and life force in Red Grooms’s exultant works.
My first motive in writing this review of “Still Life: 1970s Photorealism” — to say “Go, go see this” — is accomplished in few words. The second motive — to say, “This is what I saw” — takes a couple hundred more. Today I recorded the things I saw speaking into my iPhone. This review is the direct transcription of that Voice Memo, with some edits made for clarity and brevity.
The walls are orange. And there is a man sitting in the corner with newspapers and a beer. He is hanging out after a long day of work. Or maybe this is his work. Next to him the headline of the sports magazine reads: “More Bad Luck.” It’s a copy of the New Haven Register. One wonders if an actual New Haven newspaper was part of Duane Hanson’s original sculpture installation.
“It’s Open” reads the poster above the Louisiana Superdome and immediately, from the effects of lights shining on other lights, I think, “This is real.” It really does look like a photograph until I see the Kentucky Fried Chicken scene, whose outlined letters are too sketched and nervous to be real, although that blurring sketchy quality was probably a real property of the original light that just appears fake here. This painting, Noel Mahaffey’s “Louisiana Superdome — Times Square” (1977), makes for a different greeting than the seated man but an equally strong opening impression. And it also immediately raises what seems to be one of the tacit questions of the show (besides the unanswerable question, “What is realism?”) which is: When pursuing this fidelity to the photographic style, why does the artist choose to break from it?
The opening hallway’s drawings and paintings announce some of the problems staged by photorealism. There’s something mechanical, Teutonic and draftman-like in some of the paintings collected from the Documenta 5 exhibition of 1972. These works appear more as exercises than as finished pieces and as I say this, I see that that guy sitting in the chair with his beer is still watching me.
My favorite painting in the show is probably of the tangerines, called “Tangerine Sugar” by Ben Schonzeit. You can see the luscious flesh of the tangerine almost bursting into Rorschach abstraction yet still remaining a most real, chaotic, juicy, membranous offering. It is dripping with some solidity, but it also seems as though it could float away into ephemeral dots of its own pastel at any moment.
In contrast to the lively colors of that tangerine, there are the fruits of John Clem Clarke. He paints a quince (which I’ve been told is a type of pear), a melon and a cucumber. And his weirdly dark arrangement recalls those Spanish still-life paintings by Zurbaran or kitchen life paintings from the 16th and 17th century.
The Chuck Close portrait is also amazing because it is sad. In its attempt to capture everything perfectly, there is something tragic about the fact that the attempt might always be a failure.
There’s a cool Richter at the show as well — “Portrait of Holger Friedrich” — where Richter’s characteristic blur shows the photograph as a process, as a moment in time, as a shake of the hand over a negative in the studio. It reminds me of when a painter chooses to show his brushstrokes, or paint his own hand, painting. And the exactitude of his blurring seems even harder to “get right” than simple clarity would be.
Why a show about photorealism? How can we think through Los Angeles, urbanism, New York, automobile culture, with these paintings?
In one nook, there’s a grouping of cityscape paintings of cars and diners and old homes and streets and small businesses and country Chevrolets that are coming and going and the dust is California, and Sacramento, if you keeping driving, is just around the bend. If you walk around the whole room, it’s like you’re driving up to Sacramento getting all of these sights and snapshots of all the things you see from the car for a second and then remember and then forget soon thereafter. This car-ride effect is the most successful curatorial choice in the show.
On the flipside, Duane Hanson’s “Drug Addict” is the worst-placed object in the show. It used to be placed downstairs on the first floor of the YUAG around a corner, and you used to just turn around and walk into it and that was very surprising. Here he seems denied the agency of surprise. Still, the pain and the shock and the reality of his pain are probably somehow better amplified by the white walls of this museum space than on the street, as just another object.
The last painting I want to talk about is the gigantic face of “Giummo” by Ben Schonzeit, who also painted the tangerines. Giummo is a guy who looks like an aging rock star with black curly hair and big aviator glasses for reading. You can see the black stubble on his beard, and half his face is cast into shadow — it’s a profile perdu and it’s so sad because he’s looking at us but he’s not looking at us. And his nose is red and burned from too much sun, and his skin feels oily and aged and he’s like plastic or cellophane.
You want to reach out and touch him, but when you do, you don’t get anything back. And that darkness is obviously enhanced or lost by his mass of hair and he’s looming like the blurry Richter painting of the photo of Holger Friedrich but he isn’t because isn’t he real?
The Yale University Art Gallery’s new student-curated exhibit, “Many Things Placed Here and There: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection,” is not to be missed. The special exhibition invites its visitors to engage a sliver of unlikely collectors, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel’s 4,000-work modern art collection. The thorough and well-curated exhibit takes its visitors on two simultaneous and interwoven journeys — one through the intimate lives and relationships of the Vogels and the artists whose work they collected, and another through the redefining artistic and cultural revolution that marked the latter half of the 20th century, during which the Vogels were amassing their seemingly impossible collection. The YUAG, a teaching museum, seems the perfect home for these stunning works as the collectors and the Gallery share the same goal of direct confabulation with works of art.
Four skillful Yale undergraduate (Laura Indick ’13, Elena Light ’13, Emma Sokoloff ’13, Nicholle Lamartina ’15) and two Ph.D. history of art students (Bradley Bailey GRD ’13, Audrey Sands GRD ’17) collaborated to fuse the donation Yale received from the Fifty Works for Fifty States program, bringing 50 works from the Vogel collection to one institution in each of the 50 states, with works from the YUAG’s permanent collection by artists that the Vogels also collected. The minimalistic and spacious display of the 75 featured drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures seems a well-needed departure from the crowded one-bedroom home they formerly shared with 3,950 other roommates.
White walls and stands create an inviting maze that allows visitors to wind their way into closed-off sections, but also maintains a general cohesion to the works. Visitors are guided by the wall descriptions but not forced to explore the exhibit in any particular order physically, allowing them to experience the exhibit almost as if they were being entertained at a home — a home more spacious than the Vogels’ one-bedroom New York apartment. The exhibit even features a living room section that departs from the traditional linear wall-hanging style, featuring paintings mounted together in a visually appealing, but structureless form — perhaps an homage to the Vogels’ cluttered home. The centerpiece of this section is Will Barnet’s graphite, “Studies of Herb and Dorothy Vogel,” a personal detail indicating their deep connection to the post-1950s New York art scene.
Additionally, the curators chose to create smaller sections — almost makeshift rooms — by inserting strategic walls engaging the featured works in a further conversation and cohesion of color, subject matter and style. Within these classifications, the diversity of media is astounding. The exhibit features everything from Richard Tuttle’s loose-leaf notebook drawings to Charles Clough’s layered pools of paint, to Loren Calaway’s sculptures that look like furniture, to Peter Campus’ color instant prints.
“Many Things Placed Here and There” pays a special tribute to the Vogels’ collecting process; their style, character and complementary tastes are on full display. While the visual focus is certainly on the stunning works of art — this unique snapshot of a momentous and revolutionary period in art history — the exhibit devotes much of its written material to the personal relationships the Vogels shared with both the artists and their works. The curators paid special attention to giving these relationships pride of place, for example juxtaposing works by father and daughter pair Edda and Edward Renouf, who naturally influenced each other’s art. The Renoufs also played a large personal and artistic role in the Vogels’ lives, Edward even meeting the Vogels through his daughter.
All of the works are brimming with energy, invigorated through color and gesture with the passion that characterized the period from 1962 to 1990, during which the Vogels collected. Even Edda Renouf’s paintings and drawings, all in muted tones of black, white and grey, explore a more dormant energy, a detail not readily apparent in the physical works, but bolstered by the accompanying wall writing. Lucio Pozzi’s “Young King” is more overtly energetic, featuring the oil-painted face of a young warrior, the paint textured with a palette knife, adding movement and depth.
This exhibit is exceptional, particularly for its attentive and skilled curatorial work in the form of extensive primary and secondary research and poignant dedication to detail. Student curators were responsible for creating all aspects of the exhibition, and their final product — both exhibit and catalog — should be an inspiration to their peers.
“Many Things Placed Here and There: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection” is on display through Jan. 26, 2014, in the Fourth Floor Special Exhibitions Gallery of the Yale University Art Gallery.
As the blue construction tarps were lifted off of the Yale University Art Gallery this December, across the street the Yale Center for British Art revealed a new face, too. A photo of its 25 student guides laughing with their arms in the air invites pedestrians into the steely building designed by Louis I. Kahn. (The serious one is on their website.)
This scene of the neighboring galleries reflects their respective images in the Yale community. The YCBA program actively maintains a strong presence among undergraduates, while the YUAG program has been known more by word of mouth.
As the YUAG leaps into its new future as an expanded museum that has received more attention, a light is cast on its often conspicuous student guide program, and its more visible cousin on the same block.
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Although the YCBA guide program is more well-known today, the YUAG program was established first.
The YUAG Gallery Guide Program began in 1998. Fusing the gallery’s missions to engage students with the collection and to educate the community, the Gallery Guide Program focuses on training undergraduates to lead tours of the art gallery for adult groups. The goal is to “teach students how to teach,” YUAG Museum Educator Elizabeth Manekin said, and to respond to the student demand to learn about art by engaging with original works themselves.
YCBA Curator of Education Linda Friedlaender said she admired the YUAG student guide program so much that she started one at the YCBA in 2002.
Their shared origins shed light on their common goal to educate students of all academic backgrounds on art, culture, museum research and presentational skills in a non-classroom setting. Both also wanted the student tours to attract both the Yale and New Haven community to engage with the museums.
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On every Friday afternoon since she’s been at Yale, Hannah Flato ’14 has gone to a class outside her schedule.
The YCBA program is structured like a seminar. The meetings cover everything from the British collection, tour techniques, audience engagement and department visits, depending on the week, Friedlaender said. Each week, all the YCBA guides gather together in the YCBA’s docent room, a small seminar room with a long table. Although Friedlaender has a lesson for every session, she is willing to make everything from art events to Yale news into a “learning conversation,” Flato said.
The YCBA program is “so much more than giving a tour,” Flato said. Each guide engages with the British collection and finds paintings that speak to them, and construct their personalized tours through research and collaboration with curators. Current tours include “Postcards from Paradise: British Paintings of Foreign Places,” “The Painted Cave,” “Artistic Anesthesia” and “Female Strength and Fragility.”
Since 2002, the YCBA program has expanded in size and has hosted more opportunities for the student guides. The Art Club allows student guides to host public events such as gingerbread house-making and T-shirt design twice per semester to engage the community with the gallery. (On Friday, the YCBA will be hosting a high tea where community members can come make T-shirts and drink tea.) After their first year, four to five student guides can participate in Art-in-Focus, which allows them to work closely with curators to put together an original exhibition. The current group is creating an exhibit on St. Ives, a community of artists in England who produced abstract art after World War II, Flato said.
These opportunities have led the YCBA guides to develop more personal relationships and professional mentorship, with Friedlaender able to connect students to internships, Friedlaender said. The YCBA guides can also participate in other YCBA programs, such as “Exploring Artism,” which is a free family program for children on the autism spectrum.
The YUAG program also works as a gateway to other opportunities, such as the Highlights Tour program that teaches guides how to give a comprehensive tour of the whole collection. However, these opportunities are not part of the student guide program itself. Like the YCBA, the YUAG program is also like a class, but specifically focused on the instruction of guides in giving and researching tours. The YUAG requires only first-year trainees to attend meetings, twice per week in the fall and once a week in the spring. Trainees spend one year researching art, engaging with the museum and learning tour techniques, Manekin said. Research includes not only meeting with curators and immersing oneself in the collection, but also writing papers on four artworks on their personalized tours. Current tours include “Back to Basics: Understanding Art through Line, Shape and Color,” “Depicting Infinity,” “Myth-Making” and “Famous Last Words: Modern Art as Philosophical Coda.” After completing the training, the student guides return in their following years to give their unique tours a few times per semester, but do not come to regular meetings as in their first year, Manekin said. Indeed, to build communication between older and younger YUAG guides, the program assigns older mentors to younger mentees and has group events such as field trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and pizza parties, Sokoloff said.
The two programs do not engage much with each other, both student guides and Manekin said. Student guides occasionally visit the other gallery for their respective research, Friedlaender said. Twice per year they have semiformals for the student guides and their friends at the galleries, she added.
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The YCBA program has spiked in popularity in the past five years as a result of increased advertising, Friedlaender said. A few years ago, a University-wide mandate asked museums to try involving more students in the Yale galleries, she said. The mandate was the result of years of meetings and committees of the University’s administrators and faculty that culminated in a President’s Office general report on the University. She added that student museum attendance is a nationwide problem at universities.
To respond to the mandate, the YCBA has hosted a booth at the extracurricular bazaar, holds open houses and organizes other public events to recruit undergraduates. This year, the program received 64 applications for six spots, an acceptance rate of 9 percent.
The YCBA program keeps its size to 25 students, as “the guides like it to be a small group in terms of discussion, field trips social events — there’s camaraderie in the smaller size,” Friedlaender said. All the guides meet together to discuss the applications together, and each applicant is interviewed by at least three guides, she said.
The YUAG program is less heavily advertised, YUAG student guides and Manekin said. Word-of-mouth is the primary path of promotion, with student guides sending emails to panlists and telling friends about the program, Manekin said. The program is “competitive enough” and draws enough highly qualified applicants that it does not need to advertise more than it already does, she said. The gallery receives approximately 30–50 applications for 12 spots, a 24–40 percent acceptance rate.
The YUAG and YCBA attract different students. The YUAG assigns work as if it were an academic class, Manekin said. Since sophomores and juniors have stronger time-management skills and clearer personal goals, the YUAG tends to accept older students willing to commit to a training year, she said. Students such as Daniel Roza ’15 saw the requisite research papers as a sign that the YUAG program was “more intense,” and thus found the YCBA program, which requires students to report their research verbally, more approachable for a non-art major. The YCBA’s presence at the extracurricular bazaar makes it more visible to freshmen, Flato said.
The YCBA guides said they see the program as not only an intellectual endeavor, but also a social opportunity. Regular meetings over four years foster a community that lasts throughout a guide’s time at Yale, Kathryn Kaelin ’15 said. Many begin as freshmen, who then evolve over the years together, Roza said.
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The YCBA program has no plans to change, as it has been successful as it stands, Friedlaender said. Although the YUAG has also been successful, its reopening of the extended wings is providing an opportunity for change in the student activity programs. Manekin said the student guides now have a wider range of artwork to choose from for their own tours. With the new resources, the gallery is beginning to brainstorm other programs to involve students, she said.
As the freshly renovated YUAG and the YCBA invigorate their corner of Chapel Street, the student gallery guide program can continue to serve as a way to bring undergraduates and non-Yalies alike to the collections housed in cream-colored stone and matte steel.