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For the eighth year in a row, Yale School of Drama students have displayed their art in the Yale University Art Gallery. And this year, the exhibit Gallery+Drama brought bright lights, music and vibrant projections to the gallery, to halls full of Greek statues and Dutch paintings.
Gallery+ was a series of four installations reinterpreting some of the YUAG’s existing works through interactive technologies. The exhibit sought to explore what it means to really engage with art using all of your senses. All four moments worked with pieces from the collection, layering sights and sounds, some subtle and some quite startling, on Rothkos and Pollocks.
The exhibit began in the Ancient Gallery with “Behind the Whites,” an installation responding to questions like “What’s behind the statues?” and “What happens far away?” A large, two-sided mirror reflected the somber ambiance, standing among ancient Greek pottery, Byzantine mosaics, Egyptian burial masks and grand Roman statues. From a cleverly concealed projector, images of statues in the room and from around the world sprung up, mixing with video footage of gardens and ancients sites where, no doubt, many of the works originated. As I leaned towards the mirror, the projections took on a holographic quality, rapidly distorting and reappearing in varying shades and shadowy forms. The mirror did not show my heart’s true desire, as J.K. Rowling’s Erised would have, but it did serve to “unmask” the statues, revealing a history and emotional context I would otherwise not have discerned.
The next installation, “Hearing Rothko”, in the Modern Design and Contemporary Gallery, featured two large paintings by Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Two iPads and a set of headphones allowed the viewer/listener/wearer to “experience a personalized soundscape and enter the color-dipped, transformative world of Rothko.” The tablets prompted me to select a number of adjectives describing my initial sensory perceptions of the art. Descriptors like pomegranate, sunset, sunrise and fiery appeared on the screens, each matched with its own music. The two paintings, canvasses bright as the sanguine heat of a passionate blush, came alive with the emotive music flowing into my headphones.
After the squeaky clean brightness of the Rothko paintings, the “Alphabet City” installation was startling and refreshingly gritty. An exploration of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1980’s, “Alphabet City” included a projection spiraling on the floor in front of the painting. I stepped on the projection and the “funky” beat, inspired by classic hip hop from the streets of the Bronx, changed and pulsed.
I had trouble finding the final Jackson Pollock installation, “What does a painting sound like?” I wandered around the third floor before discovering the black gaffer tape arrows on the floor. The arrows led to an elevator leaking an eerie red light, and when opened, an intense crimson wash flooded the hallway. Otherworldly music surrounded me as I entered, and strange sounds slithered around me as the elevator descended. This installation was the most outlandish of them all and I’m still not sure how it related to the tangled, chaotic mass of gray skeins in Pollock’s “Arabesque.”
Gallery+Drama was an extremely satisfying exhibit. It fit with the existing art seamlessly and provided a refreshing sensory experience. As millennials, we are no longer content with just one artistic medium at a time — we want the music, the video and the motion all at once, and that’s precisely what Gallery+ delivered.