Last month, the “Match Game” exhibition opened at the John Slade Ely House for Contemporary Art. The gallery celebrates the 20 newest local and regional artists to join the Artspace Flatfile — a collection of prints from over 125 nearby artists. The new exhibition represents a proud step forward for the struggling Ely House, which closed in July 2015 due to financial troubles.
The works are housed on the second floor of the Ely House, in a whitewashed, wood-panelled space overlooking Trumbull Street. “Match Game” invites viewers to learn about and engage with the new Flatfile artists through the popular 1970s show of the same name.
Adam Niklewicz, a North Haven-based sculptor and artist, contributed a sculpture print of his work, a glass jar containing sausage links shaped into infinity.
“My work is me responding to the world,” Niklewicz said. “Trying to find those unexpectedly poignant — perhaps even magical — elements in very ordinary manifestations.”
Indeed, some elements in the collection are poignant and magical, despite their arrangement in an exhibition that feels somewhat ordinary. The “Match Game” theme evokes flashy TV-worthy excitement, but fails to capture the same thrill of the original program. The struggles of the Ely House are apparent here: Aside from a lone binder and photo cubes, the game show theme falls flat, and apart from the single room of prints, the house feels eerily empty and bare, in need of dire maintenance.
“The building isn’t completely sound, and we have costly leaks,” said Olivia Creser, member of the Friends of John Slade Ely House for Contemporary Art. “Who knows what winter will bring?”
Creser added that the leaks sometimes bring water into the house, endangering the fragile works within.
Still, despite the seemingly dire situation, the gallery prevails through its stunning, thought-provoking material — all from local and regional artists.
One contributor to the collection, Yikui Gu, featured his prints of hypermasculine soldiers in suggestively homosexual situations.
“The military is one of the last refuges of the macho man,” Gu said. “I thought it would be the perfect way to subvert and mock those patriarchal institutions.”
As Gu describes it, his works function to present machismo in a way that is most insulting to masculine ideals — and his prints succeed masterfully in this mission.
Victoria Crayhon, another regional artist, contributed a print from her “Thoughts on Romance from the Road” collection. The project is an array of photographs — theater marquees with lonely, heartfelt phrases lettered in as titles. One piece displays an abandoned marquee from a Rhode Island drive-in, provoking the viewer with: “How was I?”
“I’m always interested in people seeing things in a place they don’t expect, and not knowing what it is,” Crayhon said. “A lot of times people ask me as I’m putting up the words if the theater is opening again.”
Though the theaters in Crayhon’s photographs may not be reopening, at least her prints can be housed in a space once lost, now tepidly reclaimed.
For gallery curator, Sarah Fritchey, the collection is a long-awaited revival in a space too unique to leave vacant.
“It’s unorthodox — the dramatic staircases arrange the way you enter the space that is exciting and unpredictable,” Fritchey said of the house. “The John Slade Ely House is the most exciting space to show and look at art in New Haven.”
While one intimate gallery may not prove Ely House to be the “exciting” space Fritchey envisions, nevertheless, the space is still worth contemplation and exploration. Built in 1905 in the English Elizabethan style, the property is a stoic New Haven landmark — proud, but worn.
The exhibition, “Match Game: New Work from the Artspace Flatfile,” will run at the John Slade Ely House, 51 Trumbull St., through Nov. 27. Though the exhibit is unsuccessful in evoking game show nostalgia, to admire the Ely House and its prints, “Match Game” is surely worth a visit.