Tag Archive: exhibit

  1. Keeping Museums Young

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    It’s hard to believe that, having spent over 17 years in the New Haven area, I had never been inside the New Haven Museum until Thursday. I had often run past its grand columns and its “From Clocks to Lollipops” sign, but was still shocked when I stepped into the ornate foyer and heard dozens of echoing voices from the balcony above.

    The greeter directed me up an intimidating marble staircase and I grabbed a pamphlet on the way up: “The Nation’s Greatest Hits: 100 Years of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre.” I hadn’t expected many people to attend, but there were at least 100 signatures before mine on the sign-up sheet.

    The free food at the top of the staircase gave me the energy to forge into the crowd of mingling locals. As soon as I turned towards the exhibition, I noticed parallels between its curation and the theater itself. The doorway was clearly marked by a red carpet and bright bulbs (even some flashing ones from a real photographer) — I felt like a celebrity. I chuckled at the doorways leading to other rooms, labeled “Stage Left” and “Stage Right,” before heading towards the various displays.

    Plaques marked each section of the exhibit; the first one described the “Early History” of the Shubert. I was astounded to learn that since its founding in 1914, the Shubert had staged twice the number of pre-Broadway shows as any theater in New York City – I guess New Haven is cool after all! An old black and white photo of the theater accompanied the information, and I felt nostalgia even though I hadn’t even been alive when photos were black-and-white. The authentic red usher uniforms, though intriguing, looked like they wouldn’t be fun to wear – especially the women’s one, which had the waist size of my arm.

    An extensive array of photos from Shubert productions, including a performance of “A Raisin in the Sun,” was displayed alongside the plaques. I sincerely had no idea that so many famous plays, including “My Fair Lady” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” had been put on so close to Old Campus. Each new photograph — including a giant one of Julie Andrews in her debut performance — changed my perception of the city. The arrangement of the black-and-white photos combined with the lights and red carpeting brought such an “old Hollywood” feel to the room that I began to imagine performing at the Shubert (until I realized a few seconds later that I can’t act).

    The display tables held brightly-colored, though slightly yellowed, original playbills from the 1950s and 60s that made me wish I had been at the theater myself to collect them. Even the secretary’s index files of the productions looked interesting (mostly because they were clearly written on a typewriter). In the next room, curators had recreated murals from the Shubert’s basement. The contrast between the colorful paint and the purely black-and-white photographs lent a more modern ambience to this side room.

    After I enjoyed a well-done architectural sketch of the Shubert, the mood of the night suddenly changed. A plaque mentioned that the Shubert closed in 1976 due to declining attendance, and I was sent into a panic. (Don’t worry: it’s been reopened.) Looking around me, I realized I was the youngest person at the exhibition by at least 30 years, if not 50. I could suddenly see museums like this one suffering the same fate as the Shubert — if the younger generation stops going, they’ll shut down. Though many of us raised in the digital age normally can’t pay attention long enough to enjoy a museum, I found the opening exciting. So many people — including the exhibition organizer, Jason Bischoff-Wurstle — had put time and effort into the event and their celebration was a long time coming. As many glasses of wine clinked together, I wondered where all my peers were. No one had thought to attend an opening at a museum dedicated to the history of our home, New Haven. Though classes, clubs, and sports take up so much of our time these days, it’s worth it to head down to the New Haven Museum for an hour — not just to enjoy the elegant Shubert Theater exhibition, but to keep the art of the museum alive.

  2. "Leaf" This Exhibit Off Your Calendar

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    “Marsh Botanical Garden: Yale’s Hidden Jewel,” is, in fact, only a slideshow advertising the garden. I had expected touch screens, interactive displays, and some informational value. But the so-called “media exhibit” at the Center for Science and Social Science Information provided only a series of photos shown on nine screens pulled together into one larger rectangle.  Woe to anyone who walks up Science Hill in the snow just to see it. Nevertheless, for those working hard at the CSSSI during the winter, it creates a pleasant ambience.

    You won’t see anything special at this exhibit. Google “beautiful plants,” and you’ll find photos just as good as, if not better than, those on view. And although the photos are well shot, they sure don’t bring anything special to the subject. I confess that I’ve never been to the Marsh Botanical Garden, but I’m certain that seeing the plants in person would be a more engaging experience than watching them dance across a screen. (Both the exhibit and the garden itself offer free admission, and the trek to each is about equal.)

    You won’t really learn much from the exhibit either. Yes, the photos are labeled; yes, I learned that Ylang Ylang is used to make Chanel No. 5 and that Yale offers some really hands-on environmental studies classes; but aside from that, the exhibit doesn’t offer much educational value.

    There are some photos documenting the garden’s historical roots, but they don’t say much. A letter of correspondence between Darwin and O.C. Marsh is pretty cool, as are some slides showing Marsh’s other notable acquaintances: Chief Red Cloud, Thomas Huxley, Alfred Russell Wallace. It’s interesting that Marsh knew these people, but that’s all you learn from the slides.

    Beyond this brief history, you’ll also learn how much fun some staff members have at the garden. In one slide, Curator of Greenhouse Plant Collection David Garinger holds a cat named Eli. How adorable. (Interesting note: In the bibliographic slide at the end of the slideshow, the botanical garden’s Wikipedia page is referenced as a source.)

    However, I would be wrong to gripe about this exhibit just because it doesn’t deserve its spot on the Yale Arts Calendar. Even though most of the students working at the center didn’t seem to think much of the slideshow, I thought it was a pleasant addition to the study area. It wasn’t really calming, but the nature provided a nice counterpoint to the otherwise academic surroundings. I did notice one guy look at it for five seconds while waiting for his documents to print.

    Although underwhelming, the slideshow was nice, and nice things can always fit into our lives.

    But even after accepting the exhibit’s limitations, I still have one complaint. The screen in the center of the display has a thin line running through it, distracting viewers (if there are any) from the images flicking across the screen. Sometimes the line is red, sometimes it’s green, but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed. I can’t imagine that the Louvre staff would find it acceptable to have a green line drawn through all their paintings. Then again, as we’ve established, the CSSSI isn’t exactly the Louvre.

    Kind of unfortunately, the exhibit closes soon or is closed already. The Yale Arts Calendar says it ends Friday, February 27, whereas the poster in CSSSI says it ends in March. In any case, the timing is interesting. Maybe it’s ending because we can visit the garden now that it’s spring. However, that would be a mistake on the part of the curators. The exhibit is not a wintertime replacement for the garden, and if it’s meant to be that, it’s a failure. The only thing the exhibit does is brighten the CSSSI.

    But this is all just speculation. In the end, I don’t know why this exhibit is here — it remains an enigma. A nice enigma, though.

  3. Art Across the Divide

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    Visiting “East of the Wallace Line: Monumental Art from Indonesia and New Guinea” requires something of a trek and directional know-how (in my case, supplied by a friendly Yale University Art Gallery security guard). The exhibit is tucked away into a little fourth-floor gallery; it feels almost like an intrusion to stumble into the intimate, teal-colored room after strolling through breezy white hallways and riding an elevator far too large for one person. Once inside, I am overwhelmed by over 120 objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, ranging from textile to brass to wood so old it no longer looks like wood; they are scattered along the walls and clustered in islands in the open space of the room, much like the scattered East Indies islands depicted in the map at the entrance to the exhibit.

    “East of the Wallace Line” takes its title from the 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who identified a divide — the Wallace Line — between the flora and fauna on two groups of islands in the East Indies. Although Wallace was concerned primarily with the natural world, the exhibit uses his ecological divide as a framework for presenting the artistic culture of peoples who lived in eastern Indonesia and western New Guinea. I almost wish there were examples of art from the other side, a counterpart exhibit called “West of the Wallace Line,” if only to serve as a point of comparison.

    As I shuffle through the gallery, however, it nevertheless becomes apparent that there are plenty of contrasts to work with here — that we have, after all, an exhibit of distinctions within otherwise indistinguishable pairs, and networks of incongruities that perhaps aren’t so incongruous after all. There is, of course, Wallace himself, who independently developed the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin, though it is Darwin whom we know better. There’s the underlying consciousness of the ecological mechanisms that preoccupied both men, of the diversity of traits individually propagated by the same core laws of evolution — and there is the distinction (and comparison) to be made between ecological and cultural diversity. There are, for the exhibit’s titular emphasis on monumental art — and its examples are captivating, don’t get me wrong — an awful lot of tiny and seemingly mundane (but no less aesthetic, and, in many cases, spiritually resonant) everyday objects ranging from combs to spoons to a woman’s hat. And then there is the exhibit’s assertion that the hodgepodge of cultures represented are somehow united by a single “shared sense of iconography and design.”

    The exhibit does a subtle job of illustrating that our initial perception of these peoples as both physically and culturally isolated is not entirely accurate. It’s true that in the ecological world, physical separation gives rise to divergence, and this would have been the mental framework of Westerners like Wallace who arrived in the region believing it to be cut off from the outside world. We are presented, however, with healthy evidence of trade and exchange. For example, in one corner of the room hangs a particularly vivid shroud, used among the Rongkong Toraja exclusively for wrapping the dead. But when traded off to neighboring peoples, such shrouds took on ceremonial and decorative uses. This is how we start to see a justification for the wide range of objects on display and the coherence in design among different artistic traditions, how huge festival banners of Sulawesi can share the same sense of intricacy as canoe prow ornaments from Cenderawasih Bay. In a pleasantly surprising intersection of ecology and culture, one of the exhibit placards informs the viewer of how bird-of-paradise feathers from the region became a highly sought-after luxury in places as far away as Vietnam. The arrangement of objects themselves about the room is almost haphazard, and the island clusters into which they are seemingly compartmentalized turn out to represent mixes of cultures — masks from Timor are placed near ancestor figures from Flores, curation defined more by aesthetic relationships than by geography. Such adaptations were not only material; we learn also of tribes’ conversions to Christianity and Islam, tribes that still exist to this day. So here we come to perhaps the biggest paradox of all: the relationship between cultural exchange on one hand, and survival or the preservation of identity on the other.

    A friend who accompanied me comments on the pristine condition of the objects on display, despite their age. In the same way, “East of the Wallace Line” reminds us of how cultures and communities can endure after centuries of history; while these objects left behind are now considered relics, their creators shouldn’t be. Before I arrived at “East of the Wallace Line,” I had to walk through another gallery in which a different exhibit was in the process of being taken down; I passed by a workman who was scraping painted letters off the wall into a garbage bag. For me, it was in this context, in a museum and a world in flux, that these objects of wood and textile and age and gravitas took on a strange sense of permanence.

  4. Brave New Urban World

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    I do not know anything about architecture. I do live in a building, and often observe and go into other buildings, but that’s basically the extent of how often I think about it. After visiting the Yale School of Architecture’s “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” exhibit, I sat in my room and Googled the term “architecture,” which the Internet defines as “the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.” This alone encapsulated a mere fraction of what I saw in the exhibit.

    “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” displays the design research of RVTR, an experimental architecture practice based in Toronto that combines academic and experimental research platforms, in the words of their website, to “continually evolve ecologies,” The firm completely reimagines the urban environment as we know it, replacing cities with “Megaregions” that encompass enormous areas of land, people and resources. The exhibit is framed around the “Great Lakes Megaregion” of their construction, a network defined as the most populous and geographically vast in a post-metropolitan world.

    The ideas behind “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism,” while at times highly theoretical and difficult to grasp, have the potential to impact even the least architecture-savvy among us with its sleek coherence. A detailed description of the project greets visitors at the entrance, where the neatly-organized, medium-sized room takes the appearance of a vast landscape. Detailed charts, maps and pictures on wires hang from the high ceilings. To get from one end of the exhibit to the other, you must walk across a large map of the GLM plastered to the ground.

    This configuration invites visitors to stop and admire the detailed, colorful networks sprawling across it. And the exhibit not only depicts plans for the new future, but also the concrete visage of GLM centers, presented as scaled building models with impressive, imaginative designs. In the case of one model, the designers chose to make use of existing water instead of land, presenting an apartment-like complex resting alongside a boat.

    The key at the bottom of the chart delineates symbols for infrastructure and logistics, politics and food. This alone gives visitors a sense of how intertwined all of these systems are. To an extent previously unimaginable, “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” envisions how life could be if these systems worked in accordance with one another (better, I think).

    Not only is this exhibit a spectacle — beautiful and striking to the observer — it is also a calculated, potential reality crafted by architects. It’s not necessarily the sort of exhibit that makes for a fun, afternoon trip to “go check out some art.” We are instead confronted with the disturbing reminder that we, the humans, are messing up tons of stuff here on Earth — to such an extent that a group of people planned a completely alternative urban ecosystem.

    The exhibit tells us that “the urban landscape’s whole image no longer corresponds to the activities carried out within it,” a notion that virtually abandons the part-to-whole governance that shapes our modern government and lives. “Infra Eco Logi Urbanism” acknowledges energy as a collective resource — in people, in culture, in natural resources. This makes for a most efficient and most orderly place, one that bears little semblance to the places we inhabit today.

    Call it art, call it architecture, call me crazy, but I think this exhibit challenges us to reconsider how we organize and conduct our everyday lives. Although it suggests a radical reconfiguration of every aspect of life as we know it, the basic idea that people have the potential to organize themselves and their future world is empowering. At a time when there is more conflict in the world than I can possibly know or grasp, utopian visions of the future can help direct our expectations towards the positive. And it’s always nicer to think of what we can do than what we cannot.

  5. ‘Slow Dancing’ under the stars

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    In my experience, the closer you look at things, the worse they are. Take those magnifying mirrors, for example, which seem to exist only to show you that your pores are much larger than you thought possible, and that you should be exfoliating more. When I learned that the “Slow Dancing” exhibit was an IMAX-sized display of dancing in slow motion, I prepared myself for an evening spent watching people who were barely moving. I was ready to feel uncomfortable. 

    This prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth. The dancers featured in David Michalek’s project manage to maintain — if not amplify — all the grace and beauty associated with dance as viewed at a normal speed. I was amazed at the bravery of the dancers who agreed to this, who would allow complete strangers such an intimate perspective on how their bodies work. Every genre of dance imaginable is shown, from ballet to hip hop to traditional religious dance. 

    The overall effect of the piece makes these genres seem more similar than they appear when viewed at their usual pace. In slow motion, the jerkiness of hip-hop and the smoothness of ballet become the same, rudimentary muscle movement. Each leg lift, turn, pirouette or sashay is reduced to the specific muscle groups that allow the dancer to make the movement. Quadriceps. Core. Bicep. Triceps. What I took away from it was not so much a sense of wonder at the art of dancing, but rather an understanding of how it is, fundamentally, that people dance. 

    Michalek’s intention is, I think, somewhat different from what I garnered. In his artist’s statement, he expresses sorrow that dance is an underappreciated art form in our society, citing the fact that only 8 percent of Americans will see a live dance performance before they die. The goal of his creation would then be, I imagine, to take this experience and amplify it: It was as if the enormity of the screens and the almost excruciating slowness of the movements served as a sort of compensation for the number of people who never would have considered dance to be an art form worth paying attention to. In other words, it’s in your face as if to say, “No one has ever paid enough attention to this before, so now people are going to pay more attention than anyone ever would.” 

    While I do think that the project’s intensity — its act of putting dancers under a microscope — would force those who are indifferent to dance to reconsider its merits, the exhibit cannot be compared to a live dance show. If I had never seen dance performed live before “Slow Dancing,” I wouldn’t think of it so much as an art as I would a form of exercise. The detail in the dancers’ muscles makes it clear that dancing is incredibly difficult. At live dance shows, on the other hand, every movement seems effortless — a different, and more traditional, kind of grace.

    The curation of the piece is artistically-informed. The fact that the dancers are only on screen at night makes for a beautiful backdrop. The effect of the illuminated bodies of the dancers against the dark screen and sky, with the moonlight to top it off, is as breathtaking as stargazing. I came away from my viewing experience wishing, more than ever, that I could actually dance.  

  6. The British Isles in Black and White

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    In my mind, the images of the British Isles in the ’60s are musical. I envision rock and roll bands with color-coordinated suits, meticulously messy hair and electric guitars descending on London and transforming Western culture. I imagine the Rolling Stones playing at Hyde Park to the youthful masses, and The Who stuttering their way through generational anthems. I do not imagine the barren landscapes of northwestern Ireland or thousands of middle-aged, middle-class families vacationing on the English Channel. The Yale Center for British Art’s new exhibition “Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland,” then, came as something of a revelation.

    The exhibition combines the black-and-white photographs, produced by hand in darkrooms, of the two American photographers, both of whom worked throughout the British Isles in the 1960s. Caponigro’s landscapes, taken with funding from a Guggenheim Fellowship, focus on the megalithic monuments and cairns that dot the hills of Ulster and Connaught; Davidson, sponsored by The Queen magazine, instead turned his camera on the un-glamorous aspects of middle-class and working-class life. Moving from Caponigro’s works to Davidson’s is to move from the unknowable mysticism of the ancients and the early Christians to stark portraits of mass culture in the waning days of traditionalism, before the great Sixties cultural revolution.

    Caponigro’s photographs, essentially, are of stones. Only in a few do humans appear. These stones come as cairns, as churches, as megaliths and tombs. The two photographs of Kilclooney Dolmen in County Donegal on the far northwestern fringes of Ireland are his most effective. Some of its compelling nature derives from the oddity of the subject — one massive moss-covered stone balances horizontally on top of four others. The near-silhouette against the ubiquitous grey sky makes the points of contact seem unfathomably small. Nothing but desolate hillside and windswept grass surround the dolmen. One cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity of the ancient tribes. That is the effect of most of Caponigro’s photographs — sheer astonishment that peoples so primitive in building techniques constructed monuments that have lasted for five millennia.

    Davidson’s works are especially brutal in their undisguised realism. This is Britain — unromantic, bleak and often depressing. From that realism derives the effectiveness of the Davidson half. I find Caponigro’s photographs more beautiful, but I spent far longer with Davidson’s dozen photographs of South Wales coal mining communities. In one, a soot-faced miner stands in the Spartan doorway of his house holding his infant child. In another, a group of five men, their filthy clothes ripped and torn, walk along a dirt path, their mine visible far behind them. In a third — this the most memorable photograph — a miner stands on a treeless hillside, his arms crossed defiantly over his white shirt. Two others, their forms dark and indistinct against the grey sky, stand by a cart in the background. With them are two horses. These are the most poignant photographs in the exhibit; hanging over each of them is the heavy, inescapable burden of history. Partly, this derives from my own knowledge — that Brighton and Blackpool are no longer quite so popular, that the South Wales coal mines all  shuttered under Thatcher. It’s like staring straight into the eyes of something about to end after a thousand years and seeing it stare right back. The effect is profoundly haunting and the photographs return far more easily to my mind than does the remainder of Davidson’s half of the exhibit, much of which I found forgettable.

    In the end “Two American Photographers” forces us to consider uncomfortable, penetrating questions. Caponigro’s collection presents the monuments of a far-bygone age: These monuments, pagan and Christian alike, essentially consist of no more than stacked stones, yet have lasted for millennia in harsh, unforgiving terrains. Still we have little idea of what exactly all those stones mean, and Caponigro’s portrayal makes them seem even more unknowable. Davidson, meanwhile, presents modern life, but a sense of twilight permeates throughout his work. We are left with a lingering question, conveyed through the sullen eyes of the coal miners and their children: What will remain? Caponigro has shown us what the ancient Irish left behind, but what will remain from our era? It is an uncomfortable question, and Davidson offers little help in answering it — after all, his photographs show the sort of pre-1960s mass culture that has largely failed to survive even the last 50 years. Permanence and ephemerality coexist in this moving exhibit, and the thought that nearly all of what we have built will one day vanish is indeed a frightening one.

  7. Through Art, South Africa Speaks

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    “I just want to give you what really happens,” says the projected video of Griffiths Sokuyeka, an older black South African man with a skinny face and a lone front tooth. He’s giving a personal tour of the 1820 Settlers’ National Monument, which honors the contributions of English settlers to South Africa. Sokuyeka shares his struggle to find education and work in the midst of South Africa’s political tensions — on one side of the room, that is. On an opposite screen, he’s giving a separate tour, this time to a public audience — he reviews key dates, points out commissioned murals and speaks of the “common motherland.”

    A second man gives his personal and public tours of the Grahamstown Observatory Museum on a separate set of two screens. I check the description of the piece, a little lost in the conflicting and overlapping voices. “Four-channel color projection with sound on 4 HD video projectors and 4 Perspex screens, 18 min., 30 secs.” I let the videos play through again and give the four voices of the two guides another chance to reverberate around me, some of the stories collected, some impassioned — a tortured soundscape that speaks too much, but also perhaps not enough.

    Mikhael Subotzky’s “Moses and Griffiths” is one of several experimental pieces featured at the Yale University Art Gallery’s “Contemporary Art/South Africa” exhibit, open until Sept. 14. Organized by past and current Yale undergraduates and Ph.D. candidates, the display coincides with the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s election. Combining some of Yale’s existing collection with borrowed pieces, it doesn’t pretend to give an overview of contemporary South African artwork. Instead, it offers a crisp and thoughtful representation of three conflicted relationships in South Africa’s recent history: art and politics, personal life and social issues, place and identity.

    These themes are briefly but sufficiently introduced at the beginning of the exhibit, and then the visitor is left to wander through the two-story display. Since multiple issues are often explored in individual pieces, this organization succeeds. But beyond the tensions identified in the exhibit, this collection is really a story of communication: Through contemporary artwork, South Africa can begin to share the stifled trauma of its past and push forward into an optimistic future.

    Barely-muted frustration frequently manifests itself in the exhibit, as in Robin Rhode’s short video “Piano Chair.” The animation presents a man who hammers, burns and hangs a piano. Along another wall, Sue Williamson’s “For Thirty Years next to His Heart” is an arrangement of 49 frames containing photos of passbook pages meant to give proof of employment — some stamped, some bare — which black South Africans were required to carry at all times. These yellowed documents, stretching from floor to ceiling, confront the viewer with the turmoil of apartheid.

    But buried within this tension is an unexpected hopefulness, as in Gary Schneider’s “HandPrint Portraits,” one of the exhibit’s most innovative works. Schneider captured the sweat and heat from South African artists’ hands on film over 10-minute exposure periods. At a glance, the images look like X-rays, and you expect to be able to see straight through to the bone. Instead, in the chilly, metallic image, you find conveyed the warmth of the artist’s touch, a desperate drive to create something beautiful. It is this sort of paradoxical emotional complexity that makes “Contemporary Art/South Africa” a difficult but successfully compelling display.

    As he finishes his personal tour of the Settlers’ Monument, Griffiths recounts that following a fire at his foundation’s building, his employer unjustifiably brought him to the police station. Now, he says, the building has sprinklers installed. Gesturing at his audience with clasped hands, he says that this kind of treatment has made him “aggressive.”

    Still, Griffiths is hopeful for the future. “I love this place,” he says, adding that the employer still owes him an apology.

    There’s not enough here to glean a sweeping sense of this artistic tradition — but in setting out to say just a little, this exhibit says plenty through its complicated, thoughtfully displayed emotional tensions. Just a few pieces are enough to leave visitors thinking about what has been in South Africa, and what could be.

  8. Perfection Unveiled

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    Most people today would probably say that perfection is subjective — a simple matter of perception. But as I looked through “The Perfect Man” exhibit, housed in the Rotunda of the Harvey Cushing Medical Library, I found myself contemplating the possible objectivity of perfection and questioning whether humans — who are generally seen as imperfect — may actually be able to embody such a quality. In 1895, Yale School of Medicine graduate and physical education expert Dudley Sargent believed that he had found perfection in Eugen Sandow, a bodybuilder who Sargent described as “… the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen. He is strong, active and graceful, combining the characteristics of Apollo, Hercules and the ideal athlete.”

    Ten lantern slides in the Rotunda contain photographs of Sandow in various positions –— nude, and proudly placing his flawless body on display. Flexing, Sandow’s figure resembles the bodybuilders of today, but the perfection he exemplifies is not simply physical. Sargent also praised him for possessing the qualities of a “perfect gentleman” and for his vast knowledge of anatomy. To the right of the photographs sits Sandow’s book “Life is Movement.” Its subtitle reads “The Physical Reconstruction and Regeneration of the People (A Diseaseless World),” and the book contains numerous illustrations of healthy bodies, including Sandow’s own. This display is a celebration of physical and mental excellence, a tribute to the idea of perfection, and an exploration of how perfection can be achieved by an individual.

    But among the other posters, books and artifcats in the Rotunda, this section is an anomaly. While the Eugen Sandow display is a testament to human greatness, the other pieces serve as reminders of human mortality. One of the cases holds British Medical Officer James Haran’s notes on plague patients in Nairobi in 1902. Haran studied 48 different patients who contracted the plague, and juxtaposed with “The Perfect Man,” his extensive notes on human sickness are a rather depressing — albeit much-needed — dose of reality. Each patient in Haran’s notebook is an individual who suffered at the hands of the plague, contrasting heavily with Sandow’s idea of “A Diseaseless World.”

    The case directly next to “The Perfect Man” focuses on mental illness by displaying “The Mind Unveiled,” a book containing photographs and information about 22 people who attended the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children in Philadelphia. The book in this case is open to a picture of one of the 22 “imbecile children”. The child is sitting in a chair with an almost pained expression on his face — a stark contrast to the photographs of Sandow contained in the case to the left.

    The other displays contain rare works of medical history like Clarence Ussher’s book “An American Physician in Turkey,” which recounts events Ussher experiences with a hospital in Turkey, such as his witnessing of the Armenian genocide, the destruction of his hospital and outbreaks of malaria, typhus and cholera among the Turkish people. Leslie Buswell’s rare first-hand accounts of being an ambulance driver in France have also been acquired by the Cushing Library and are on display in the case next to Ussher’s.

    But the case at the opening of the Rotunda, containing a testimonial to Dr. Belfast Burton, returns to the more optimistic idea of humans possessing a certain greatness. Burton was born a slave, but practiced medicine in Philadelphia and Haiti and is praised in the testimonial for his “thirst for knowledge,” “sagacity” and “sound judgment”. Although Burton is never given a title like “The Perfect Man,” he still stands as a symbol for human potential, as he was able to rise above his slave status to accomplish great things and receive recognition for them.

    By presenting samplings of ideas like human strength and excellence alongside examples of human weakness and disease, “The Perfect Man” is not only a fascinating journey through medical history, but also a comprehensive display of what it means to be human.

  9. Health in Harmony

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    In 4th grade, I fractured my right humerus in an arm-wrestling match with my elementary school crush and shortly afterward caught a terrific bout of cold. Bed-ridden, arm nestled in a cotton sling adorned with blurred orange and red Sharpie signatures, and unable to write, I lamented my fate with mournful, out-of-tune limericks.

    Peering into the glass display cases in the foyer of the Harvey Cushing Medical Library, those old ditties played scratchily in my head. The posters and songbooks on display are culled from the William Helfland collection in “A Cure for What Ails You,” an exhibit devoted to music about medicine. Pieces are arranged by venue (British town halls) or subjects (children, nurses) in the quiet space near the lobby of the building. Medical students brush past, preoccupied and tight-lipped, while their depictions inside the cases are open-mouthed with song.

    A series of surgical compositions is especially sharp-humored. “Oh Would I Were A Surgeon,” from the 1890s, opens with these lyrics: “You cut and saw and chisel, you cauterize and drill/ you wrench and twist and amputate, and possibly you kill!” Frankly, I think I would prefer waiting room muzak to a medical professional whistling this sort of tune. Nearby is a set of Argentine tango sheet music, with a print of doctors and nurses dancing passionately in blood-spattered white coats.

    Facing each other from the opposite ends of the foyer are two cases, one dedicated to children and the other to nurses. The curator’s notes — written by librarian Toby Appel — discuss the function of medical-themed music in early education: teaching disease awareness and healthy practices. In the nurses’ case, World War I songs praise the white angels of the battlefield, with melodramatic titles like “I Don’t Want to Get Well” and a picture of a sick soldier gazing adoringly at his caretaker.

    In another case, we learn that those Pepto-Bismol jingles are the bubble-gum pink progeny of other medicine campaigns. In an attempt to sell its cure-all Bromo-Seltzer, the Emerson Drug Company distributed popular sheet music with ads on the front and back. “Murphy’s Head, or After Kelly’s Party” is a particularly loud example of this marketing. On the cover is an apish gentleman, clutching his head in pain, waiting at the druggist’s. The refrain runs: “A little Bromo-Seltzer, when we get awake. This is why our heads are cool and why they never ache.” The song follows a particularly long night for Lord Murphy, who is miraculously cured by a seltzer solution. Patrons could pick up these 54-song collections at pharmarcies, or mail in Bromo-Seltzer wrappers and receive a music packet in return.

    But perhaps the most interesting idea that occurs within this crossover of music and medicine is the metaphorical capacity of “sickness.” Hence, we find Irving Berlin diagnosing a case of rag-ititis: complaining to the doctor that “any little rag will start me doing it” and “some peculiar something sets my feet a-jumping.” By the end of the recording, the conclusion is “there is no cure” — everybody, including the doctor, is dancing. In “You’re a Sweet Little Headache,” Bing Crosby serenades his migraine mistress. The performing arts become ‘addictive’, and love can be an ‘ailment.’ In the sheet music on display, then, we find the creative ability to transform medical terminology: to move from the sterile, hygienic rooms of a clinic to the feverish, sweaty, destabilizing realm of human emotion. All of a sudden, Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug” or Lady Gaga’s pleas of “I want your disease” are framed by a robust tradition.

  10. Between Real and Make-Believe

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    Currently at the Yale Center for British Art, the animal and human creations of British sculptor Nicola Hicks exist in an oxymoronic space. The exhibit’s program describes her life-sized creatures as both “realistic and mythical by turn.” The sculptures, which consist of either plaster, straw and plaster, or bronze, look so messy that, at first glance, they no more resemble real beings than hazy pencil sketches. The bits of straw left uncovered by plaster and the bumps on the bronze render these figures unfamiliar, even while we recognize their shapes. Yet this strangeness lends more realism to the sculptures’ textures — more so, even, than if they had been as smooth as the Greco-Roman busts that also populate the museum.

    The exhibition contains seven works, the most compelling among them being those that portray animals with uncannily human expressions; still, the two busts of people are well-crafted, too. The exhibit includes: “Aesop” (2011, plaster), an earthy-toned bust of the animal skin-clad ancient Greek storyteller; “Limbic Champion” (2003, bronze), another bust of a glowering minotaur (evoking images of the Daedulus labyrinth that caged the man-bull hybrid); and “Black” (2012, plaster and straw), a full body sculpture of a bear whose stance suggests both strength and wariness. Most of the collection is fantastic — its only weak element is “Foal” (2009-2010, painted bronze), a creature with a horse’s head and a man’s torso. Here, Hick’s disordered approach to sculpting loses its control and finesse, so the resulting product lacks the detail and emotional presence of her other pieces.

    The most affecting piece is “Who was I Kidding” (2011, plaster and straw), which depicts the donkey from Aesop’s fable “The Donkey in the Lion’s Skin.” The sculpture represents the animal’s state after his lion guise is discovered and he is exposed as a donkey. His head droops, his body slackens and the lion’s skin hangs pathetically from his back. Fittingly, the eyes are not as visible as they are on the other sculptures. The addition of weepy eyes would have Disney-fied this already-anthropomorphized creature. Hicks displays the emotions and the magic of her animals without resorting to cartoonish sentimentality.

    The exhibit not only showcases Hicks’ work, but also places it in conversation with the YCBA’s more traditional human and animal paintings. The animals in the artwork, with emotions in their eyes ranging from humility to affection, are appropriately touching. But viewed alongside Hicks’ at once realistic and otherworldly sculptures, the gallery’s human portraits appear almost unremarkable. Then again, it is perhaps more striking to see human emotion depicted in animals than in humans themselves.

    What works as a better accompaniment for Hicks’ sculptures are the various landscape paintings that inhabit the same space. Their beautiful, almost fantastical imagery successfully places her beings into a mystical yet natural space. But in truth, Hicks’ works at the YCBA do well on their own — any additional artistic support or context is simply an adornment for the vivid world she has created.

  11. Porter, Porter, Bow Wow Wow

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    This year marks the 100th anniversary of Cole Porter’s graduation from Yale. In tribute, the Memorabilia Room of Sterling Memorial Library features “From Peru to Paree: A Cole Porter Jubilee,” an exhibit showcasing manuscripts, newspaper clippings, photo albums and other artifacts from both the public and private life of the celebrated composer. The mixed-media show, which includes a touchscreen monitor-headphones complex, spans his childhood, Yale years and professional life.

    Porter is recognized as one of Broadway’s greatest composers, having penned perennial hits such as “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top!” and “Night and Day.” But he is also the composer of “Bull Dog,” which I belted out for the first time as a freshman at last year’s Harvard-Yale game, packed among thousands of other Yalies in historic Harvard Stadium. I heard “Bull Dog” again in the Memorabilia Room through a pair of headphones in the exhibit’s audio installation. This version was a track off a 1991 EMI CD, sang by world-renowned American baritone Thomas Hampson and the Ambrosian Chorus, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. And while the song conjured images of the pomp and circumstance of another time, it was impossible not to identify with the unmistakable and unshakable Yale pride that Porter wrote into the score. Also up for sampling is “Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor,” a piece composed by Porter for the musical “Red, Hot, and Blue!” — the namesake of Yale’s oldest co-ed acapella group.

    The exhibit progresses chronologically along the Memorabilia Room’s rectangular perimeter, giving the viewer a sense of journey and ultimately returning him to where he began, at the room’s entrance. A long exhibit case stands at the center, containing various scrapbooks and postcards that illustrate Porter’s frequent travels to Europe and other countries across the Atlantic. I paused before one postcard in particular, from Paris. On the front is a picture of Porter and two buddies, sitting on a barrel and raising their tall mugs (of what, I wonder?) to the camera. On the back, the postcard is addressed to Mme. Cole Porter, with only the simple inscription, “Just before having breakfast.” I marveled at it because I realized Porter had sent a pre-Snapchat Snapchat, and had he lived in 2013, I could easily imagine him navigating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and turning those antique scrapbooks into Picasa Web Albums.

    Near the front of the exhibit are a few of Porter’s childhood pictures. In one class photo, a primary school-age Porter wears a stylish, gold-braided coat, while others around him are attired in mundane, solid colors. According to Suzanne Lovejoy, the show’s lead curator, Porter’s mother liked to dress him up.

    There are less than three weeks remaining between us and The Game. Exploring an exhibit on one of Yale’s most renowned musical alumni is well worth the study break — even if you’re just there to listen to “Bull Dog.”