The McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery is either the art gallery with the most office supplies or the best decorated, small middle-management office in America.
Right now, it is showing “Rendezvous,” an exhibit that boasts 50 pieces across no less than 25 media. When I ride the elevator up to the gallery’s entrance, the first thing I see is a receptionist. Her desk is decorated with photos of her kids, a calendar and one of those spiral-cord office phones (You might wait for her to answer it and say, “You’ve reached Dunder-Mifflin, this is Pam.”)
In short, not the most intuitive façade for an art gallery.
“Rendezvous” is the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s annual members show. It’s been up since July 10 and will go down next Friday. Each of the 50 works displayed is by a member of the council, which seems to be one of the only common threads underlying the works.
The office setting makes for a unique viewing experience, to say the least. As I look at the art, I try not to peek inside of the cubicles behind them. The pieces wrap down the paths between cubicles and into a conference room. The show ends by the back corner office. The whole thing can be done in about 75 steps, and along the way I see everything from stoneware to watercolors to acrylic paint canvases to digital photographs.
I linger on “Teapot with Hinged Lid,” by Hayne Bayless, a Connecticut potter. I am drawn to the pot’s contrast against the mass of two-dimensional works but am grabbed even more by its imaginative curvature and speckled print. The handle is shaped with a flourish, and the “hinged lid” topped with a large apple-inspired stem. It’s both tasteful and imaginative: think the tea party in “Alice in Wonderland”, but for the rich and classy parents.
In the conference room, I stop at “Subway,” an oil-and-pen piece by Frieda Howling. The work features faces drawn in black ink within an oval, all within a rectangle. The train appears to be floating in crimson paint, with thin straggled black lines creating waves behind it. Occasional red and blue circles create a sense of disorientation.
I love metros: I love the speed, the people-watching, even the grime and the pungent smell of urine (They make me feel tough.) And the more I look at this canvas, the more I feel the sensations of the underground. “Subway” recreates the feeling of being among these strangers, hurtling through space in a dimension below the reach of sunlight, a dimension silent except for the absurd: a crazy man who may or may not realize he’s singing, a couple who’s lost themselves in an argument, an unemployed single mom who tells you about it and asks for some change.
“Denise, Maurice called. Do you want me to take a message?”
This sound, from the other side of the conference room wall, jars me: back to reality. Back to the office/gallery.
On the other side of the conference room, I find an acrylic painting, “Abe & Nate” by Joan Jacobson Zamore. It hangs next to a watercolor, by Abbie Rabinowitz, of “Harold & Kiki.”
Abe and Nate are two young men wearing yarmulkes, their arms draped over one another, smiling as though for a camera. Harold and Kiki are a naked, elderly couple spooning in bed. Kiki is the big spoon. Her leg is up around Harold, and you can see the side of her breast, the rolls of her full skin. It is peace. Their eyes are closed. They are smiling. Harold feels safe and Kiki feels satisfied.
I think I hear a fax machine.
Harold and Kiki are lost. I’m no longer watching a peaceful moment of pure intimacy. I’m just an intruder in an office, someone who’s looking at a lot of different kinds of painting while listening to a fax machine. I wander over to the back of the room, toward the woman in the corner office, who politely redirects me. She isn’t part of the exhibit.
There are some beautiful moments in “Rendezvous,” including the psychedelic thrill in Kristina Zallinger’s acrylic work “Pick-Up Sticks” and the morphed reflections in Martha Struber’s “Lower Duck Pond.” But there’s no unifying theme. The prices range from a tiny $75 photograph to a vivid $1,000 oil painting. When nearly 50 different, non-collaborating artists produce 50 pieces of art across 25 different media, it’s probably impossible to make them all sync.
Ultimately, it was hard to immerse myself in the art when I felt like I was poking around someone’s workspace. True, there’s something “modern” about pairing the realities of mundane daily life with artwork. In the case of “Rendezvous,” though, I’d wager that the juxtaposition isn’t intentional.
Contact Caroline Wray at firstname.lastname@example.org .