For three days last weekend, a vacant building next to the School of Nursing transformed into an art hub.
The facility — untouched by renovations following Yale’s acquisition of West Campus from Bayer Pharmaceuticals over a decade ago — housed the work of nearly 250 Connecticut artists for the Citywide Open Studios Alternative Space Weekend. This annual pop-up event uses art to transform underutilized, industrial buildings into lively spaces. The New Haven gallery Artspace organized the event, which drew a large crowd to West Campus on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“This year we selected the theme of well-being for Citywide Open Studios,” said Helen Kauder, executive director of Artspace. “That is because, not only are we adjacent to the nursing school and wanted to foster collaborations with people who work in healthcare, but because we felt, given the anxious political moment that we’re in, we need to be focused on our own well-being and thinking about how we care for one another and how art can play a role in that.”
Artist Jeff Ostergren, a New Haven resident who showed his work at this weekend’s event, incorporated motifs reflecting Bayer Pharmaceuticals into each painting and sculpture of his 42-piece exhibition titled “Science for a Better Life.” Ostergren was partially inspired by the word “pharmaceutical,” which he noted originates from the Greek word “pharmakon,” meaning cure, poison and paint.
“I wish to emphasize that the concept of well-being is a highly artificial construct, one that is in part built from corporate, targeted influences, and that has a specific, molecular significance that impacts the body,” Ostergren wrote in an explanation of his exhibit.
But not all artists showcased artwork related to science and medicine. In a small office adjacent to Ostergren’s exhibit, New Haven resident Joe Fekieta honored the memory of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in an exhibition titled “26 Journeys Interrupted.”
Fekieta said that he wanted to loosely recreate the crime scene in his art. In his installation, a heap of white bicycles embedded with two school desks littered the center of the room. Along the walls, children’s backpacks hung beneath images of the victims. Flashes of red paint streaked across the floor and pooled under each backpack.
“Inside each backpack is a coloring book, and if people want, they can choose a coloring book and color to help with the closure,” Fekieta explained.
Fekieta noted that white birds “flying up into the unknown” float above the rest of the installation, representing the children’s spirits.
Fekeita said that the work brought onlookers to tears — particularly on Saturday, after an active shooter opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
As part of the exhibition, Fekeita handed visitors bumper stickers that read “Repeal the Second Amendment.” He said that his disdain for gun culture stems from his experiences in the military during the Korean War.
“I just really divorced myself from guns — I really didn’t want anything to do with [them],” Fekieta said of his experience during the Korean War. “I just wanted to get out of there alive and start my new life as an artist.”
On the second floor, Joe Standart of Lyme, Connecticut showcased several photographs from his series called “WE ARE: A Nation of Immigrants.” Last summer, these photographs were displayed on the New Haven Green in large grey frames. Each frame was assigned a QR code that, when scanned with a cell phone, allowed users to access to a biography of the photographed immigrant or refugee on their screens.
According to Standart, the photo series aimed to celebrate America’s immigrants and dispel misconceptions amid political tensions surrounding immigration policy.
“My mother was an immigrant — almost everyone here was an immigrant except Native Americans, and we seem to have forgotten that,” he said. “We seem to have lost a bit of our humanity and sense of tolerance, so I wanted to bring that into focus.”
In addition to the New Haven Green exhibition, a 70-foot photograph of a Guatemalan women was displayed on the face of the Pirelli Building next to Ikea last summer. The subject of the portrait, Paulina, came to the U.S. in 2014 after fleeing poverty and gun violence in her home country. The photograph was visible to drivers and passengers traveling on Interstate 95.
“[American values] values, in my mind, are taken for granted by many Americans — they just think ‘of course we have these, what’s the big deal,’ and they don’t quite understand the desperation that immigrants have,” Standart said.
Artspace was founded in 1987. Its main gallery is located at the corners of Orange and College Streets.
Marisa Peryer | firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Artspace was founded in 1998. In fact, the Citywide Open Studios festival was founded in 1998, but Artspace was founded in 1987.