American painter David Salle visited the Yale School of Art on Monday night to talk to students about ’80s visual art, and the relationship between pictorial and presentational art.
Salle is widely recognized as one of the premiere artists of the postmodern movement in the United States. His works are known for their seemingly random juxtaposition of pictorial images, such as a piece featuring a sketch of a farmer killing a pig superimposed over a painting of the back of a naked woman. In addition to painting, he is heavily involved in other aspects of the art community — directing operas, producing ballets, designing costumes and directing film, primarily in New York City.
Introduced as a sometimes “misread” artist, Salle structured his opening remarks by educating the audience on how to look at his genre of art.
“There is this idea that the two things, painting and pictorial art, are two completely different things,” Salle said. “But the simple day-to-day truth of the ’80s is that they have a lot more in common than what sets them apart. When you look at my work of art as a painting, it becomes interpretable.”
The talk, attended by about 50 students and Art School faculty members, evolved from a discussion of purely pictorial art to a story of the journey of an artist. Audience member John Tallmadge GRD ’78 commented that the lecture was “articulate, interesting, provocative and stimulating in thought.”
“He successfully relayed his evolution as a person and as an artist,” Tallmadge said. “A connection between artistic and personal discovery was implied.”
During the talk, Salle, whose paintings have been featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, showed the audience various paintings in quick procession, analyzing them alongside art students. Before talking about the specific pieces of art, Salle made a point to mention the size, position and spacial elements of the actual works of art.
“Art is more than what is in front of you,” Salle said. “It is the context that it is presented to you.”
After the lecture, he entertained a series of questions which lead to a heated discussion of whether or not art requires intention on behalf of the artist. Salle argued that he feels “uncomfortable” anytime an artist introduces a work of art with by saying, “I was trying to show. …” Meanwhile, many students who spoke at the event stated that they felt all art requires intention and purpose.
“I disagree with him because I think intentionality is necessary when producing any good piece of art,” said a School of Art student who asked to remain unnamed in fear of offending Salle with his dissenting opinion.
In the end, a handful of students leaving the lecture commented among themselves that they felt they were more confused about the art world than they had been when they entered the talk.
“I don’t really know how I felt about the lecture,” Kyle Conligo ART ’12 said. “We always want an artist to give us the answer and he was just like, ‘There are no answers, or there are many answers.’ It was very unexpected.”