During this midterm season, English majors are writing papers on Beckett, history majors are trying to catch up on 600 pages of reading and psychology majors are memorizing experiments for tests. But instead of sitting in the library, art majors in the sculpture concentration are working on something different in their studios: projects that range from embedding a red light in a wall and mounting a drawer in front of it to transforming a studio into an office space.
While “The Gates” have a lot of people talking about sculpture, a few Yale students are actually creating it. Although there are very few art majors concentrating in sculpture, they are nonetheless producing significant works and bringing diversity to the campus art scene.
Because art-major students aren’t required to declare their concentration until they are seniors, the number of undergraduate sculpture majors at Yale is not certain. In the senior class however, there are four students concentrating on sculpture out of an art-major class of 23, according to the School of Art.
Nientara Anderson ’06, a junior art major with a concentration in sculpture, caused a stir last semester with one of her projects. A transfer student from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, Anderson originally came to Yale to study biomedical engineering before she realized she wanted to get back into art.
For an assignment on the word “masquerade,” Anderson went to class every week and worked on a fake project, while, late at night, she would work on her real project in secret — burrowing a three-foot deep hole through her studio wall with a sledgehammer, pickax and drill.
Students propose their project ideas to the class before beginning them to help prepare the other students for the final product, Anderson said. She, however, decided to hide her actual project so that her peers would come to the studio expecting to see a sculpture and would instead find “just a big hole.”
After some problems with maintenance, the hole has been fixed, but Anderson said the project shows the kind of flexibility the sculpture department at Yale affords. It is this attitude that attracted Anderson to the major.
“Sculpture is the freest medium at Yale. You can literally do anything in the sculpture department,” Anderson said.
Alex Reid ’06, another art major concentrating in sculpture, agreed. He originally wanted to concentrate on filmmaking, but within the art major. After finding that filmmaking was not an official concentration, he chose sculpture instead, as it was the least restrictive concentration in the art major.
“Because there are so few rules as to what sculpture is, the sculptor has incredible freedom in what he uses or specializes in,” Reid said. “Sculpture can cover a huge array of artwork, including film.”
This freedom has allowed Reid to do projects that combine sculpture and film. Recently, he created a stop-motion animation piece featuring a fight between Indian food leftovers and a plate. Another of his purely sculptural projects was origami of an owl sitting in a tree, but instead of small sheets of paper, Reid used large sheets of metal.
Much of the sculpture program is focused on independent projects, and students say professors provide guidance, but not control, of the learning experience. Jessica Stockholder, a professor in the sculpture department, said faculty are hired to “bring excitement” they have in their own work to students.
“You’re mostly on your own, and they just help you,” Iliodora Margellos ’06 said. “But they’re good guides and are really inspiring.”
Anderson, however, said she thought technique should be more emphasized — an aspect of instruction she said is less prevalent in the Yale program, especially compared to her past experience at Cooper Union.
“Yale focuses very much more on thinking and criticism about art — how it’s formed and how it is related to broader intellectual activity,” Anderson said.
Sculpture students do all of their work in Hammond Hall, Yale’s primary facility for sculpture. Margellos, who decided to focus on sculpture after trying other mediums such as drawing, painting and photography, said she enjoys working in the unique environment Hammond Hall provides.
“It’s very old and vintage, but it’s inspiring in a way,” Margellos said. “There isn’t much authority over the building, so its interesting to see the weird little details students have added to the building.”
Reid added that because the building is not well-maintained, students can do whatever they want to do with it.
“You can put a hole in the wall or fill your studio to the brim with mustard,” Reid said.
Despite being an old building, Hammond Hall is large enough to provide each intermediate and advanced sculpture student with his or her own studio, a perk students say is the best feature of the space.
JJ Peet, a first year sculpture student in the Graduate School of Art, says the independent and private studios are one of the best features in what he calls, “unofficially, one of the top three sculpture programs in the country.”
Peet, who is in the process of building a room where objects would float using helium, said he is very happy with Yale’s sculpture program and “wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The main difference, Peet said, between undergraduates and the 20 graduate sculpture students is the practical aspect of how much time they can invest.
“Undergrads take so many different classes, so they can’t commit totally,” Peet said. “We’re just focusing on making work and being in studio all the time.”
Another difference between the graduates and the undergraduates is that the camaraderie between graduate sculpture students is frustratingly lacking in the undergraduate scene.
“The problem with the undergrad program is there’s no real community of undergrad artists, just small groups of artists,” said Anderson, though she added the Student Advisory Committee of the Art School has proposals to try to create a more unified feel, such as a plan to build a student lounge.
Just as sculpture at Yale centers around individuality and freedom, the sculpture students look to the future with a similar free spirit.
“I’m hoping to get some real-world experience, either working at a film studio in New York or L.A., or at a stop-animation studio in the U.K. or Australia,” Reid said of his plans for after graduation.
Margolles is taking a different route.
“Although I’m majoring in art, I’m going to work in I-banking,” she said. “I might end up doing art later on or go to art school, but not in the near future.”
Until then, sculpture concentrators will continue working as a minority at Yale. But, in the coming years, perhaps it will be one of their works that will have the whole country talking.