Thirty-six underexposed photographs of a pale and hazy clown’s face with a bulbous red nose, blood-red lips and blood-shot eyes are displayed in a four-by-nine matrix at the Yale University Art Gallery.

“Continuous Present,” the first contemporary art exhibition at the gallery since 2002, opened today. The exhibition, curated by Modern and Contemporary Art curator Jennifer Gross, features a selection of work by 11 contemporary artists, including Rodney Graham, Roni Horn and On Kawara. Their work spans a broad array of media, such as film, video, photography, painting and sculpture.

The sound of clomping hooves greets visitors at the gallery. A drop-down screen displaying Rodney Graham’s four-minute loop film, “City Self/Country Self” marks the entrance to the exhibition hall. Here begins the break from the mundane world.

Graham’s film introduces the overarching theme of the exhibition — the capacity of art to influence physical and intellectual engagement with the world. The works illustrate the complexity of the simple things that people take for granted: Peter Fischli and David Weiss, for instance, created a choreographed chain reaction where physical energy is used to activate into motion physical objects such as water bottles and car tires. On Kawara’s date paintings, on the other hand, show nothing but a date.

The various media manage to create an eclectic collection without confusing the viewer, said Elisabeth Thomas ’10, an art history major who helped organize the exhibit.

“I think the exhibit’s especially interesting because there are so many artists and so many different types of media, from video and photography to painting and sculpture, all working with the way we experience the world now,” Thomas said. “It’s thought provoking, but also really playful.”

Curator Gross said she chose a diverse selection of media because she wanted to emphasize a wide array of practices that define what viewers perceive as contemporary art.

“I wanted to do an exhibition that would immediately defy what we think of as contemporary art,” she said. “Contemporary art isn’t just of the moment.”

She added that there is currently a shift from high modernism to more expressive art, and the idea that modern art is synonymous with abstract art is “a myth.”

Many of the pieces focus on the common theme of time, and capture it in unique ways. Roni Horn’s series of underexposed clown photographs, for example, show the futility of trying to preserve an instant as a universal truth, said Nancy Nichols ’09, who also worked on curating the exhibition.

“In declining to fix the moment, Horn refuses to fix her subject’s personal identity,” Nichols said.

Similarly, Gabriel Orozco’s simple pencil drawings exemplify the attempt to express time in a personal manner by channeling the emotion and rhythm in the artist’s body during the act of drawing. With a method reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s, Orozco created his drawings by closing his eyes, drawing his breath and giving free reign to his pencil.

Gross explained that the present of artistic creation process is not limited by time: “Artistic inquiry is often motivated by a singular aspiration. The artist doggedly revisits, repositions this question or vision in his or her studio. The resulting works yield a refraction of the artist’s experience for the viewer and offer the opportunity to live in the continuous present.”

The exhibition will be on display until Jan. 10.