A brief visit to New Haven over the summer led to the discovery of Yale University Art Gallery. Two and a half hours from Boston, this institution is definitely worth a visit when in the area.

“Gallery” feels like a bit of a misnomer: Yale’s collection is much more on par with that of a museum. Its collection spans ancient to modern art, is well-labeled and curated, and has rotating exhibitions.

The Southeast Asian collection awed me from the get-go. It was a trip down memory lane, reminding me of my time living in the region. The collection seemed particularly impressive given our location on the other side of the globe, although that brought up questions in my mind of its origin and methods of acquisition. See my post on The Wellcome Collection for further thoughts on that subject.

Yale University Art Gallery
Asian Collection, Photo Credit: Yale Art

Most of all, however, the Modern and Contemporary Art collection was the one that truly “wowed”‘ me.

While there were nods to the “classics” I came away feeling like the curators were still growing the collection, which I don’t often feel is the case at other museums. That made this space feel modern and alive.

Yale University Art Gallery

Stumbling upon works by trendsetters in the current art scene such as Titus Kaphar, Nick Cave (check out the sound suit at the far right above!), and Kerry James Marshall, as well as some hidden gems by old favorites made my visit a truly memorable experience.

Yale University Art Gallery
Titus Kaphar, Shadows of Liberty, 2016

One of two pieces by Kaphar in Yales Collection, Shadows of Liberty portrays George Washington astride a white horse. Strips of canvas bearing the names of slaves Washington owned are nailed to his figure, following the contours of his face and upper torso.

Observing this work, and knowing the origin of the names on those strips, one is invited to consider the true legacy of freedom in the United States. The Declaration of Independence, and the war fought by our founding fathers both were done in the name of freedom, but that freedom was limited to white Europeans. The slaves from before independence remained just as oppressed after the United States gained its sovereignty.

The success, the wealth, the power of the United States was in a large way founded upon the labor of the enslaved. Without this source of free labor, I would argue that the United States may not have become an economic powerhouse as quickly as it did.

Like many others, our first president benefitted from slave labor in growing his personal fortune. The strips nailed to Washington resemble a golden cape from afar. Yet, upon close examination he possesses a prickly legacy: it’s much more complex and less appealing than appearances might suggest.

I applaud Kaphar for this excellent work as well as Yale Art Gallery for the acquisition of this piece as well as Another Fight for Remembrance (below). I hope to see more from this talented artist in the future.

Yale University Art Gallery
Titus Kaphar, Another Fight for Remembrance, 2015
Yale University Art Gallery
Barkley L. Hendricks, APB’s (Afro-Parisian Brothers), 1978

Could Hendrick’s APB‘s look any cooler?! I fell in love with this work the moment I saw it. Perhaps the wardrobes are a bit outdated, but they have gained a retro cool appeal that cannot be overstated. The bold choice of a lilac background as well as the strong light source (the sun) implying an outdoor portrait, yet lacking its proper context, make this work all the more striking.

Yale University Art Gallery
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled, 2009

“Meta” works are always so fun. And what’s more fun than a painted portrait of a woman who is painting a portrait of herself? Marshall’s Untitled is even better: it’s a “paint by numbers” portrait, and the Black woman is almost a dark silhouette against her own canvas… yet she looks out at us, the viewers, with a steady gaze. Her clean paintbrush is poised: which color will she choose next? Will it be the white, which appears multiple times on the palette? Or will it be the black, which is running off the edge? This piece draws you in with its initial playfulness but keeps you looking with its layered symbolism and complexity. Up to you, each individual, to decide what her intentions and message are with the work.

A few others…

Here is a selection of other pieces I enjoyed.

Yale University Art Gallery
Stuart Davis, Comination Concrete #2, 1956-58

I loved the graphics and colors in this piece by Stuart Davis. The combination of words and images makes the work feel timeless.

Yale University Art Gallery
Piet Mondrian, By The Sea, 1909

Mondrian, known for painting blocks of color, painted a seascape? I love seeing artists early work, before they found their signature style.

Yale University Art Gallery
Max Ernst, Paris-Reve, 1924-25

Ernst’s dream of Paris is modern and enthralling. I love the way in which the paint seems to weave together, as well as the mysterious arc at the top. I don’t get it at all, and I don’t need to. I just want to enjoy. The frame, which I assume is the original, also adds to the charm (check out who the black lines on the left and the right don’t even match up!)

I’m eagerly anticipating my next visit to the Yale Art Gallery, with the hope of discovering even more hidden treasures and surprises!