There won’t be blood inside the sculpture building’s gallery.
Art School sculpture student Katherine Levant ART ’10, who proposed a performance art piece exploring the idea of blood’s regeneration, found another venue for her work after Yale turned down her proposal; it is currently on view at the Zach Feuer Gallery in New York City.
After New York magazine ran a story about Levant’s retelling of the administration’s refusal to display the piece — which culminates with a blood drive conducted by the Red Cross inside the gallery — some media outlets accused the University of artistic censorship in light of the Aliza Shvarts ’08 controversy. Still, Levant and University administrators said it was nothing more than logistical problems.
“It’s different than if it were at Yale, but it’s at a gallery in New York compared to being at a university where there’s a different audience and different participatory body,” Levant said in an interview. “But I don’t feel like I was censored and now I can speak my voice.”
At the project’s inception, Levant said she went straight to the top, bypassing administrators within her own department as is customaryand proposing the project to Art School Dean Robert Storr and Associate Art School Dean Sam Messer. Levant said Storr cited the use of an outside institution working inside the new sculpture gallery as problematic.
“One of his excuses was that we couldn’t allow another institution to run their operation in one of their buildings,” she said. “I was told that this building is for artists doing their artwork and not for some other institution, even though that was my art project.”
But Messer, who also discussed the project with Levant and ultimately made the decision to turn it down, said Yale did not have enough space. Associate Director of Public Affairs Dorie Baker also said the project was turned down because the gallery was booked at the time.
The issue, however, was also with the intent of the piece, Messer said. Messer said he felt Levant trivialized the purpose of giving blood, turning what should be a human issue with a global impact into an art project that does not deal with the gravity of the situation.
“By putting [the blood drive] in the art gallery does that mean it’s cool to do it,” Messer said. “If that’s what it takes, OK, which to me is totally irresponsible and also it keeps it from being what it should be. This is a positive thing where there is a need for it. It’s in dire need in most of the world.”
Although Levant said she never anticipated the qualms over the piece, she noted that other students’ projects are often turned down for being unsuitable within the university setting.
And while Levant said she moved the wrong way up the ladder by asking the deans first, media sites such as Gawker and New York magazine, wrote about the rejection of her idea in relation to a recent controversial bloody art piece — Shvarts’ abortion art senior project.
When Shvarts attempted to display documentation of a nine-month process during which she allegedlyartificially inseminated herself and took legal abortifacients to induce multiple miscarriages, the University banned the project and a media firestorm erupted. Two camps emerged: one questioning the ethics and morality of the piece itself, and the other decrying censorship of Shvarts’ artistic freedom.
Director of Graduate Studies in Sculpture Jessica Stockholder, who discussed Levant’s project with her, said she sees no similarities between the two students’ projects.
“The press is looking for some scandal,” she said, adding that students do not normally have the opportunity to show their work anytime they want.
Levant said the ethics of the piece were not in question, and she only retrospectively viewed the University’s decision in light of the Shvarts blood-fueled piece.
Yet the issues raised by the abortion art media frenzy still linger in the background: What limits should administrators set for art in a university context?
As Levant told New York magazine: “Maybe Yale still had some raw nerve over the media attention that [it] got.”
In a statement on the Zach Feuer gallery Web site, she wrote: “THEY’RE PRETTY FREAKED OUT AT THE ART SCHOOL. I’VE MET A VARIETY OF REFUSALS. .BUT REALLY COMPLEX CONVERSATIONS ALWAYS FOLLOW THE – NO – : I BELIEVE THE MAIN ISSUE IS THAT THEY ARE NOT SURE / AND DON’T TRUST / MY ABILITY TO ACCOUNT FOR THE SCATTERING OF MEANINGS THIS COULD PROVOKE : OR THE ‘REAL’ CONSEQUENCES OF MISINTERPRETATION.”
Zach Feuer, who owns the gallery, could not be reached for comment.
Explaining that art students are not “contained by [their] studies” on campus, Levant said she will encounter an entirely different audience in the New York spot where her piece is housed with several other mixed-media works. The exhibition will conclude with a blood drive, during which, Levant said, participants will receive a limited-edition collection of written work that they can consider after they donate blood.
The blood drive at the Zach Feuer Gallery will be held today and Thursday, and the exhibit “Blood Drive” will be on view until Sept. 4.