This Thursday, the Yale School of Art opened an exhibit to the general public entitled “Alumni Choices: Works on Paper” which will run through Oct. 28.
The 130 pieces hanging in these three galleries explode with creativity and divergent thought. Here are the products of Yale’s best; they hang on the gallery walls as an up-classed but equally loving version of crayon drawings on a parent’s refrigerator. This is a family affair, and standing in the midst of it all one can’t help but feel a quiet warmth in the experience that’s a perhaps atypical response to modern art.
“Alumni Choices: Works on Paper” is a rare opportunity for the Yale student to feel a part of a truly stunning artistic conversation of which these particular works are only a whisper.
The diversity of the work eludes characterization by one or two examples, but some pieces deserve special attention. “Newspaper Kitchen” by Michael Spano ’78, a black and white photograph of a man reading a newspaper in his kitchen, recalls Vermeer in its ability to convey a sense of quiet solitude. At the other end of the spectrum “Beach Carnival, Summer 2001” by Sante Graziani ’43, ART ’48 uses brilliantly colored pointillism in an updated, Seurat-esque commentary on modern leisure. (Here, Seurat’s corsetted lady and the reclining bourgeoisie find their alter-egos in 21st century beachgoers).
The title of “Works on Paper” is a cryptic one, yet anyone standing within the white-walled gallery rooms of the Yale School of Art will appreciate the reasoning behind this ambiguity. The artworks, which span three floors of gallery space, couldn’t have been more varied.
One wall might display abstraction, realism and cubism; dry point, watercolor and oil on paper; landscape, collage, and still life. The exhibit is a veritable microcosm of 20th century art and would surely defy any title less mysterious than its own.
This dissimilarity between the works was perhaps so striking because of its rarity in the world of art exhibits. Museums tend to organize shows by style, artist or subject matter. In those cases, there is some sort of continuity between one piece and the next, and there is a recognizable stylistic or thematic strand that one rides like a zip cord through the length of the exhibit.
Here, though, the continuous element did not appear in the artworks themselves, but rather on the inconspicuous white rectangles accompanying them. Following each artist’s name was a year of graduation and degree received. As it turns out, the title “Alumni Choices” signifies choices of alumni, by alumni. This art show couldn’t be more purely Yale.
The roots of this exhibition first took hold when the Yale School of Art’s dean, Richard Benson, decided to display a collection of graduate art in the school’s gallery. Wary of the politics involved in the Art School faculty’s hand-picking what would be construed as “favorite” alums, Benson opted to leave the decision to the men and women who truly define Yale’s School of Art — those who have passed through its halls.
Benson sent a form asking alumni to vote for the artist they would most like to see displayed in the school’s gallery. He then invited the top choices to exhibit their work. He limited the medium to paper (which he defined to include photography).