Courtesy of Artspace New Haven

Artists and galleries across the world have adapted their crafts to the current COVID-19 crisis. New Haven’s Artspace has adapted with an exhibition visible through their windows, meant to be viewed from the street. The exhibition “The View From Here” opened March 20, and, according to curator Sarah Fritchey, centers on ideas of “embodiment, flesh, longing, desire,” while also addressing themes specific to the current pandemic. The exhibition has no set closing date and may grow and change as the months progress.

One of the exhibit’s installations features a collaboration between artists Aude Jomini and Eben Kling. “In times of social distancing, it’s harder to collaborate, and we were interested in doing something very hands-on and messy,” Jomini said. 

Jomini and Kling share an art studio in New Haven. A week ago, the two were approached by Fritchey, who asked them to create an installation for the exhibit. The artists turned to old canvases of Kling’s, cut them up, grommeted the scraps together and stuffed the scraps until they resembled surreal 3-D humanoids. At times, Jomini felt as though she was desecrating Kling’s art and overstepping her bounds as his collaborator, but Kling viewed the ritual as cathartic. 

“I’ve always been interested in components of artworks having the potential to be modulated,” Kling said. “It decreases the reverence of the art object.”

“Great Hang Bad Parts,” Jomini and Kling’s installation, is composed of many roughly-hewn humanoids strung with rope from the ceiling and oriented in relation to the gallery’s windows. Kling said it is essential to view the humanoids from the street; they are meant to make the viewer feel left out of a social gathering. The figures represent the artists’ reflections on what it means to mandate small gatherings and social distance. The way in which the figures hang — mostly obscured to the viewer, with only a fraction of their painted backs visible from the street — reminds Jomini of the control people have over their physical presentation when video becomes the primary mode of social connection.

Jomini and Kling’s work was fueled by the mania of the last few weeks. As they worked, the artists were torn between their conviction that art is essential to coping with disaster and their fear that, by working together, they might accelerate the spread of COVID-19. According to Jomini, they worked on the exhibit even while they felt like the world was ending, sometimes accidentally cutting themselves and bleeding onto the figures they grommeted. 

Though Sarah Fritchney primarily sought large works like “Great Hang Bad Parts” that can be appreciated from a distance, Lilly Zuckerman’s installation “Is/Was and the In Between,” is a small figurative sculpture of Zuckerman’s lower body. Zuckerman initially created the porcelain piece for her graduate thesis show, in which it was meant to show how her mother’s Alzheimer’s affected her. For Zuckerman, the piece adopts new definitions of personal isolation and loss in this exhibition. 

In the past, according to Zuckerman, viewers looked so closely at these figurative sculptures that they accidentally broke the sculptures’ fragile toes. This time around, there will be no breakage both because of the physical distance from the audience and because Zuckerman and Fritchey wrapped the toes in a protective layer. The blue-green foam square, originally taped around the toes to protect them during transportation, reminded both women of a facemask. 

Other pieces include Tom Reilly’s “Install,” Felandus Thames’ “Da Blacker Da Berry,” Abbie Kundishora’s sculpture “Stand,” a painting on wood by Dymin Ellis and two other works by Kling. 

Installing the pieces amidst distancing measures presented a particular set of challenges. Zuckerman described leaving her house early with her sculpture housed in a tub. She deposited the tub at the doors to the gallery, and stepped backward to the sidewalk. 

Fritchey and the artists felt that putting together an exhibition was already risky enough, so they contrived careful means of installation that limited person-to-person contact. Fritchey left a key in the gallery’s mailbox, so Jomini and Kling could install “Good Hang Bad Parts.” Despite following the careful instructions Fritchey wrote for them, the artists managed to trigger the alarm system.

Fritchey and collaborators envisioned “The View From Here” after Artspace was forced to move their annual art auction benefit online and then, after the online auction house Paddle8 declared bankruptcy, canceled the event altogether. The gallery also cancelled the exhibition originally planned for May through June. Both this exhibition and the art auction benefit preview have been rescheduled for September. 

Fritchey said that many other small art galleries also depend on auctions in Spring to fund themselves and are struggling in the wake of cancellations. Lobbying for legislation benefiting freelance workers that allows them to file for unemployment is one way for the public to help, she said, adding that she hopes everyone will consider what universal healthcare could mean in times like these. 

Artspace is located at 50 Orange St.

 

Annie Radillo | annie.radillo@yale.edu