Seeing great art can be a bit of a production these days. There’s the trip to the museum, the exhausting wanderings through endless halls of Oceanic tribal instruments and the inevitable reincarnation of your least favorite section asshole, now reborn as the vocal art snob always one painting over. There are pleasanter places to observe art, but smaller galleries can’t usually recruit the big names to their humble, crowd-free halls.
The Yale University Art Gallery is a heavy hitter, and Vincent Van Gogh isn’t exactly a lightweight himself, but two of the artist’s masterpieces come together in a remarkably intimate show tucked into the YUAG’s third floor. Free, timed tickets at 15-minute intervals have allowed 700 to 1,000 people a day to spend time with the works without the jostling that usually accompanies such famous art.
Veteran YUAG security guard Nick Esposito said the reception to the exhibit has been the warmest he has seen in his eight years at the gallery.
“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm — we have to hold them back because they want to get so close!” he said.
Esposito estimates viewers spend an average of 15 minutes observing the pieces from different angles, time that he often uses to enlighten them about what they see. His favorite details to point out? These two are Van Gogh’s only unsigned paintings, and the tree in “Starry Night” is the same one in “Cypresses” from a different angle.
The intimacy of the show and the friendliest of its guards is something viewers rave about as they exit, but what they come for are the masterpieces. While both paintings reside in New York, they had never before been displayed together in New England. Associate Director of Public Information Ana Davis said a record number of visitors from neighboring states have come for a chance to see the famous works “in their own backyard.” Esposito reports viewers from as far a field as Australia and the Netherlands.
Even for those who live close by, the show has allowed them to appreciate some of the gallery’s fabulous permanent collection, which includes Van Gogh’s “Night Café.” Lynne Perrigo lives close by in Southport, but had only been to the Gallery once before her two visits to see “Starry Night” and “Cypresses.” She was impressed not only with the swirling colors and textures of the works and the airy, quiet setting in which they were displayed, but also with the Colonial American and African masks collections. Davis said that the chance to introduce the gallery’s many gems to the masses was one major bonus of hosting the popular show.
The joys of seeing the works themselves, free from the flash of cameras and noise of obnoxious tourists, cannot be underestimated. The simple yellow walls that cordon off a small area for the pictures make a humble and elegant home for the familiar images. The paintings themselves are vibrant and tactile, with an animation lost in glossy poster photos. The beauty of the exhibit is that viewers know exactly what to expect, freeing them to stop searching and just look. It’s this kind of “just being” with art that is so quickly lost in the elbowing of the Louvre and the noise of MOMA, and it is a rare privilege to experience it with such masterpieces.
Students interested in seeing the show before it closes Sunday can visit the gallery for an open viewing the weekend.