In the front window of the Yale School of Art’s Green Hall, the title “Hands-On/Hands-Off” is stenciled in dried soap suds. The modernly-cropped font is edgy to say the least and far less self-involved than the brightly-colored signs that usually adorn art gallery façades. The objects on display were created exclusively by School of Art faculty members, many of whom are famed artists in their own right. The one caveat? Green Hall’s lack of security means that faculty members can only present uninsured art. The consequent use of materials generally used by student artists — gator board, paper and push-pins — places their work outside the professionalism of the New York gallery scene, giving their work a charming (and deliberate) unguardedness.
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No cameras, no security systems, no double-barred windows protect these artists’ works from getting stolen. So they brought in what they could: assistant professor in sculpture Michael Queenland exhibited an actual watermelon, for example. Pieces that may appear slapdash at first glance — like a zealously colored print of graphic psychedelia that has lost some of its quality through low-tech printing — make more sense when viewed through a low-budget lens. Imperfections ensure the artists’ works are left alone.
But despite these constraints, many of the exhibit’s etchings, prints and photographs successfully perturb the boundaries of art making. One incredibly perverse piece by Daniel Bozhkov, a critic in both Sculpture and Painting and Printmaking, displays what appears to be a traditional painting of a dark-haired, vamping boy holding a basket of fruit. Candy-colored plastic flowers stick out of the canvas which, upon closer examination, isn’t actually a painting at all, but rather, a print touched up with paint and deliberately damaged by water stains. The confusion of mediums throws the viewer, and the piece’s “I couldn’t care less what you think of me” attitude makes it sting.
These unpredictable works also raise the questions of material and process. A photograph by Lecturer John Lehr displays a lightbox advertisement surrounded by black tiles. The image seems to stick out three dimensionally from afar, and the distorted colors beg the question of whether the photo was edited through the processes of print-making — who knows? Artist Marie Lorenz, Assistant Professor in Painting, exhibits an etching that conjures the dark imaginings of a Blakeian traveler lost at sea who spans his horizon of oceanic crags and torturous waves. Not only this content, but also the physically large size of her piece makes the viewer wonder how it was made.
Director of Undergraduate Studies Clint Jukkala used artist tape and an X-Acto knife to create a space that oscillates between two and three dimensions. He said the natural bends and folds in the tape allow him to stray from his strictly formulaic structure of color theory and design. This gives the viewer the simplicity of happenstance instead of dogmatic rules. His color orchestration becomes a kind of opening up, a kind of freedom.
The faculty works on display are muses for anyone trying to make art at Yale. But perhaps more pointedly, it’s nice to know where they’re coming from.
The exhibit, “Hands-On/ Hands-Off” will be on view through November 8.