A doctor’s office may seem to be one of the least likely places to pause and appreciate works of fine art, but the Yale Physicians Building Art Place, chock-full of works of art on every floor, is challenging the assumption that medical centers must be sterile and boring. The pieces run the gamut from oil paintings to quilts to fashion jewelry, and the exhibits draw upon works by local New Haven artists, both professional and amateur. The art is placed in almost every free space in the building, so every waiting room is turned into a mini-gallery. Even those waiting for the elevator or the bathroom are treated to views of gorgeous watercolors and collages.
Many of the works selected have a sociopolitical bent. Barbara Barrick McKie’s quilt work “Madama Butterfly” juxtaposes a classical image of a geisha staring out onto the horizon with a border of quilt block images of a cannon, a ship and anchor, and an American flag. On the corner opposite of the geisha is a Kabuki actor with an enraged expression on his white-painted face. The overall effect is a commentary on Western exoticizations of Asian females, American cultural imperialism and native Japanese cultural traditions.
Another set of works offering social commentary is Rashimi Talpade’s series of photo collages. The collages have an almost cartoonish effect when viewed up close, as the cutout images seem to “pop” out of the works. When viewed from afar, however, they appear as solid images. One work, “Wilderness,” seems to speak of ecological destruction. The foreground is scattered with cutouts of fallen logs and bits of cityscape and construction. In the distant background lie pristine rolling green hills and rivers. The way the pieces are layered draws the eye from the foreground to the horizon, generating the effect that the brown industrialism is threatening to consume the entire landscape.
Talpade’s “Cityscape” is crammed with photo cutouts of buildings upon buildings. While normally the urban dweller is accustomed to viewing buildings, streets and windows at perfect right angles, Talpade pieces together building cutouts that are taken at various angles, giving the viewer a sense of being thrown off balance and existing in an overcrowded, jam-packed landscape.
An international flavor characterizes many of the photo exhibits. Penryhn Cook’s black and white photographs depict everyday life in Peru. Several of the images are of “Pisac girls” clutching lambs and wearing beautifully detailed woven head coverings and skirts. A majestic photographic panorama of the Biafo Glacier in Pakistan, taken by Kenneth Hanson, welcomes visitors and patients in the Physicians’ Center lobby.
Paul L. Duda’s striking photographs span the globe — from a Russian square at twilight to Ogunquit Coat in Maine to East Side Manhattan. While photographed at disparate locations around the world, all of his pieces follow a similar harmony of dramatic, rich color crossed with bold shapes — for example, the dark beam of a bridge or shadows in the snow — to create an idea of a universal aesthetic.
The Yale Medical Group Art Place has earned accolades ranging from a Connecticut Commission on the Arts 2003 award to recognition from the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services for the creative and therapeutic properties of the art exhibit program. Even during one brief tour of the building, it’s easy to notice that patients and employees alike seem noticeably cheerful. Perhaps an hour-long waiting room delay seems less tedious when there are such complex and beautiful works of art to contemplate while waiting. While no one ever really wants to get sick and go to the doctor’s office, the Art Place program certainly makes the visit a more pleasant one. I would even say that the quality and amount of work in the building merits a visit of its own — the building welcomes onlookers of the healthy variety as well.