Courtesy of Jessica Smolinski
A new exhibition called “Who Governs?” at Artspace New Haven celebrates the 60th publication anniversary of the book titled “Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City,” authored by late Yale Sterling Professor of Political Science Robert Dahl GRD ’40.
The exhibition, on view from Oct. 30 to Dec.12, features the work of four artists, two of whom were commissioned specifically for the exhibition. Like Dahl’s book, the exhibition is centered around themes of city management, governance and how we live today.
“I think this exhibition provoked some important conversations about the concept of power, where it comes from and how it exists both directly and indirectly in the trajectory of society’s evolution,” said Bayeté Ross Smith, one of the exhibition’s featured artists.
When Dahl wrote his book in the 1950s, he approached city government in America in what was a radical way at the time. Rather than directly examining politicians or the government, Dahl looked into the attitudes of citizens. At the time, the nation was in a state of political upheaval due to a building civil rights movement, transformative Supreme Court decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education, developments in television and radio programming and the looming 1960 election. To understand the local political structures underpinning this upheaval, Dahl turned to the residents of New Haven.
The exhibition “Who Governs?” commemorates Dahl and his book and emphasizes the role of creative thinkers and citizens in critiquing political leadership. Frank Mitchell, who curated the exhibition, said the book’s anniversary comes at a time when these political questions are particularly important.
For the exhibition, Artspace commissioned graphic designer and printmaker Emily Larned ART ’08 to create an installation called “Police Others as You Would Have Others Police You.” The installation examines the work of Kay Codish, a feminist theater director and New Haven activist, and traces her journey as director of the New Haven Police Academy. Codish was the first director of the Center for Women in Medicine at Yale and wrote Yale’s first sexual harassment policy. She worked with Larned to put the installation together.
In 1991, Codish approached Nick Pastore, then chief of police, about the New Haven police’s harassment of gay men. Pastore, who was implementing community policing in the city, invited Codish to help solve the issue. What followed was the creation of an arts-focused, community-based police training curriculum.
The installation includes Larned’s prints showing old newspaper clippings and advertisements, as well as original archival materials. The clippings showcase Codish’s community efforts, including an article about police students attending a workshop by the New York City Ballet. Another part of the installation is an old television set with a collection of VHS tapes of old police training videos. Viewers can ask gallery attendants to play these tapes.
Artspace also commissioned Bek Anderson ART ’17 for the exhibit, who created an installation called “Power Portraits.” Mitchell said the installation depicts “glamorous, campaign-style” portraits of New Haven community members — some of whom led protests in New Haven in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The installation includes a pop-up booth, where viewers can have their picture taken to create their own “power portraits.”
Ross Smith’s installation comprises a series of boombox shells constructed from sugar and cotton. These are part of a larger ongoing series called “Got The Power: Boomboxes,” which includes installations in Hartford, Connecticut, Shafer, Minnesota and Kyiv, Ukraine. The boombox shells are painted in pan-African colors of red, gold, black and green and arranged to abstractly resemble a flag. A narration by scholars — exploring the creation of race as a class distinction in 17th century Virginia and the historical role of the cotton and sugarcane industries — accompanies the pieces.
Also on display is an installation referencing an iconic 1988 collaborative art piece by Bev Richey. Her work commented on the bureaucracy of New Haven government. In the installation, viewers could participate in tiresome bureaucratic procedures — such as filling out paperwork, getting approved stamps and standing in long lines — to get a slice of the “Amazing Bureaucratic Birthday Cake.” At “Who Governs?” t-shirts and photographs from the 1988 installation are on display.
Larned noted that the exhibition interrogates forms of governance and “hopes for the better.”
“What if there were more official, paid roles for activists and artists in city governance?” asked Larned. “Just as Codish was a prominent activist and community leader who was given a position of transformative power, how can that be done today?”
Chief of Yale Police Ronnell Higgins and the Assistant Chief of Yale Police Anthony Campbell, are both graduates of Codish’s police academy.
Annie Radillo | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Nov. 17: In a previous version of this article, Bev Richey was referred to as “he” rather than “she.” Her 1988 work was also depicted as still existing today, when, in fact, Artspace is instead showing archival materials from the installation.