The Yale University Art Gallery is the first place that comes to mind if one is looking for an artful excursion on campus. But if the constant gaze of the security guards, however friendly, and the somewhat overwhelming feeling of the museum experience is not your thing, you should walk a few more blocks up Chapel and descend into the world of the Green Gallery at the Yale School of Art.
The space is housing thesis shows of School of Art graduate students and undergraduate senior projects throughout the spring semester. The current installment is the painting and printmaking theses. The first group will be up until Feb. 11, and then the second group of artworks will move in for the next two weeks.
This particular show gets better as you continue through the exhibit. When considered on their own, the individual pieces of the first floor of the gallery are very beautiful, but due to the demands of the space they compete for attention rather than complementing each other. The foil swing in the middle of the room hanging from thick black ropes begs to be the center of attention, but perhaps this is because I have a special affinity for swinging. On the wall facing the swing is a mixed-media piece of plastic bags and ceramic figs, a mingling of the natural and the artificial but ironic in a way because the plastic bags were most likely “found,” and the ceramic figs were actually made to order.
On the other wall behind the swing are three paintings of anthropomorphic figures. I hesitate to call them “human,” because their shaven heads and exaggerated curves look beyond (wo)man. The center painting is reminiscent of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Four purple figures are staring at the viewer, inviting but threatening. They have the same otherworldly quality as the “demoiselles” — a fearless gaze in their eyes.
The first level of the basement is similarly on the edge of humanity. This time the paintings are look like they are from the same artist’s collection. Together, they transport one into a surreal world bathed in red light and outlined by shadows. One painting in particular is reminiscent of the archetypal Madonna and Child, yet the baby’s skin is in an orange and green animal print, and the mother looks like she was frozen in time. Other figures in the collection also have their skins printed, but it doesn’t resemble clothing, rather some kind of a luminous illusion. I cannot make up my mind whether it is overly impressionistic, and the bodies are supposed to be transformed with the light surrounding them, or whether they are downright surreal and are meant to be emerging from the wall behind them, which has the exact same print as their skin.
Down a psychedelic staircase is the final floor, which resembles an artist’s studio more than anything. Most pieces are installations except a wall of zoomed-in details of postcards, spread out as if they were mixed-up pieces of a puzzle set. It is very satisfactory to try to match the paintings on the postcards to the notes written behind them. I cannot say whether the details come from actual paintings or are just imagined so well that they feel real.
The installations feel somewhat unfinished but in a good way. Walking in, I feel like I’m invading the personal space of an artist, seeing something still in-progress and not polished enough yet for the public eye. This is such an exciting feeling; it is like traveling to a museum based in a famous person’s home where everything is kept exactly as they left it.
On the corner of this room is a house of a tiny textile worker. From the outside it is a wooden construction with small round glass windows on one side. Peering in, there are fabrics upon fabrics of all kinds. A beige hand towel covers part of the ceiling, the walls are melting with ruched pieces of clothing, and a necklace made of fist-sized coal pieces is hanging at foot-level. The light is red again, adding to the chaos — or the expected chaos. The whole space, despite being too small for a single person to lie in, feels neither claustrophobic nor unsettling. It is so meditative that I want to move in, burn some incense and rest my head against the soft walls.
There are shoes left outside the front door of the house, with prized possessions hidden underneath their heels. For an imagined house it feels so lived in that I believe whoever created this room spent hours inside deciding what to hang on the walls. Walking around the structure, looking above the column of circular windows, I notice an ominous word spelled out in letters cut from white fabric: SIN. See for yourself and decide if it’s fitting, but the sensual extravagance of the room and the pleasure I get from it would perhaps be sinful after all.
Walking back up the psychedelic staircase once again into the blizzard, I realize that the artworks are on their own, there is no artist’s name or a title to claim them. The poster at the door lists all the artists whose pieces are on view, yet there is no indication of which artist each artwork belongs to. I want to know whether the maker of that textile house ever lived there and to ask about the figures painted out of light on the second floor. The pieces are so vulnerable and complex that I feel a part of their meaning is deeply tied to the people who made them. This show deserved nameplates.
Contact Eren Kafadar at email@example.com .