Comprising about a dozen photographs and a single canvas painting, new exhibit “Remembering 9/11” fills but one hallway of the Yale University Art Gallery. But quantity matters little in this provocative study of perspectives lost and gained in the wake of a tragedy that has been eternally chiseled in the collective recesses of our memory.
At the beginning of the display is a cityscape by Yvone Jacquette that now has a unique stature in the world of art: It is one of the last pieces of artwork that was completed from the majestic height of the Twin Towers. Instead of depicting the city in its trademark state of hypersonic frenzy, the artist characterizes the painting with a soft mist and a pensive glow. It’s as if the capital of capitalism is asleep, enveloped in the gossamer softness of a bubble of peace that is no more.
Next up is a series of photographs by Nathan Lyons, mostly NYC outfits. From children’s poems to thought-provoking graffiti, Lyon photographed minute details of things around the city that showcase the immediate aftermath of 9/11 — a collective bout of patriotism. Many of his photographs feature different facets of the American flag in the corporate space of multinational companies, sex shops named “Peepworld” and NYPD headquarters. Visitors are invited to continue perusing Lyons’ work in one of his works, “After 9/11,” included in the exhibit.
In every case, the message stood out more than the brightly colored flags: We will rebuild.
While Lyons’ work preserves the overwhelming outpouring of grief, it is also a statement of the creativity that followed a tragedy. Photographs of posters with messages such as “Support New York, Shop New York” underscore the capitalistic swagger of a city whose spirit is still intact. An array of clothing with patriotic designs is photographed in cheap dollar stores and Tommy Hilfiger’s boutiques alike. There are no faces; “After 9/11” is about stuff.
A series of Leo Rubinfien portraits close the exhibit with a more global perspective. The artist, who moved two blocks away from World Trade Center only two weeks before their collapse, visited cities victimized by terrorism and photographed people in Seoul, Colombo, Jerusalem and Jakarta to show the mental imprints of violence. In a disturbing collage of international tragedy, Rubinfien’s photographs are featured along with excerpts from his book “Wounded Cities.”
At a cursory glance, the close-ups of people, though shocking, seem tangential to the subject of the exhibit. But Rubinfien aims to connect post-9/11 New York to cities that have been silently suffering the onslaught of terrorist attacks for decades. From blithe apathy to anguished bleakness, each portrait is the embodiment of a unique set of convictions.
In the excerpts, Rubinfien contrasts the ignored violence that ensnared Iraq to the events of 9/11. The artwork also challenges the evolution of American beliefs which resulted in violation of human rights in Abu-Ghraib jail, Iraq.
The exhibit features similar themes that go far beyond The Loss of Innocence to the global perspectives that made us a more liberal nation.
“Remembering 9/11” is not a simple time travel back into the tumultuous events of 9/11; it is a space for introspection to come to terms with the fact that the day changed all of us in some unknown, definitive way.