Strapped on cash but temporarily rich in vacant space, administrators at the Yale School of Art invited students to play curator in the school’s unused galleries.

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On Jan. 18, a student-curated exhibit opened at the School of Art’s Green Gallery, featuring works selected by three MFA students at the school. In a time of economic duress, Dean Robert Storr and Associate Dean Sam Messer ART ’82 encouraged curatorial candidates to be creative, guaranteeing them no funding but all the gallery space Green Hall has to offer. The objective of the show, titled “Three Card Monte,” was to give students curatorial experience, force them to be resourceful and learn how to iron out technical issues relating to transport, insurance and installation, Messer said.

“I hoped that necessity would bring about creativity,” Messer said. As Storr wrote in a Dec. 17 email calling for submissions from students, “You’ve got nothing to lose.”

The exhibit comprises three separate MFA-curated shows: “Outside Mediation,” curated by Peter Moran ’12, “Down to the Sunless Sea” by Florencia Escudero ’12, and “Distance of Paradise,” curated by Kristian Henson ’12. Messer said he and Storr stipulated that the students curate work that was not their own, creating shows that promoted artistic community and fostered a dialogue between the choices of the artist and the curator.

Henson said his multi-stream video installation “Distance of Paradise” comprises work from friends and past colleagues from the School of Art and his native Los Angeles. The compilation, he said, reflects on the transient nature of Los Angeles, southern California and, more broadly, the American dream.

“The economy of L.A. is based upon dreams, prospecting, and movies,” he said. “All movies made about the American dream are made in California.” Ironically, Henson said, California has also become the end of the American dream, the physical end of manifest destiny and the American frontier.

Henson also collaborated locally, with poet Edgar Garcia GRD ’14, who taught a course called “The Island of California” last semester. The set includes a close-up of a local landmark on the 10 Freeway in Santa Monica (a giant, billowing American flag), sunny fly-throughs from hit melodrama “The O.C.,” live manipulations with oil and water on a TV screen and a recitation of Garcia’s poetry. “Distance of Paradise” paints both place and dislocation, Henson said, a California that is “equally physical, psychological and imaginary.” Henson said he wanted the “challenge” of multiple screens, and that there was no better medium to capture the illusion and gaud of Los Angeles and California than old-school, analog film.

In the vein of Messer and Storr’s advice to be resourceful without a source of funding, Escudero, a sculpture student, wrote in her project proposal that the restrictions imposed by the current economy have forced artists to seek creative alternatives to their methods.

“In a time of economic downfall like this one … the frivolity of art becomes more apparent,” Escudero wrote. “However production of art doesn’t cease, it is just approached differently.”

Escudero said she encouraged the artists in her interactive and multimedia show, “Down to the Sunless Sea,” to reflect on today’s brutal social and political culture through a romantic, minimalist aesthetic. She said her goal was to create a “new wave of romance fueled by the disillusion in technology, progress, race and gender equality.”

Escudero’s picks, which occupy the second room of the gallery, include a pungent cluster of dead fish dangling from their tails at the center of a giant pile of sticks. Elsewhere in Escudero’s show, visitors find works featuring an amputated Barbie doll head attached to a block of faux fur, a video projection of footsteps and a table equipped with materials to make one’s own zine, including a photocopy machine, computer and pens.

Messer said that “Three Card Monte” breeds a “guerilla-style of curation,” a tone he said the School of Art hopes to cement into tradition by making the show the first of many more student-curated exhibitions to come.

“Three Card Monte” is set to run through Monday, Feb. 6.