"Making Room" in New Haven

Making Room, an exhibition with Richard Bottwin, Melanie Carr, Kevin Daly, Robert Gregson, Adam Lister, Faber Lorne, Debra Ramsay, Karen Schifano, Paul Theriault, Jill Vasileff; curated by Suzan Shutan, at The Institute Library
As one who sees a lot of art I am habituated to the white cube, so I was intrigued by the concept of Making Room, the exhibition in New Haven curated by Suzan Shutan. The Connecticut sculptor gathered 10 artists working in a largely geometric and reductive manner to respond to and interact with the architecture of a room nearly two centuries old, and to the work each artist has installed in it.  
See that diagonal bisecting the two sets of windows on the third floor? We'll see it from the other side in a bit

The room is on the third floor—a  south-facing space with four large windows, which you see from the outside in the image above—in The Institute Library in downtown New Haven. This really is a library, founded in 1826 and one of the last remaining membership libraries in the U.S. What’s interesting (and wonderful) is that an exhibition space should exist in a place like this.  Let me take you on a tour of the exhibition.

Inside the library: The stacks on the second floor,  above, with a poster for the exhibition, below


We proceed to the third floor
To get to the third floor you climb up from the street and then ascend a fabulous green staircase with glass insets in the risers (a 19th Century way to get daylight into the stairwell below, apparently). Halfway up there's a landing and set of doors. We go through and keep climbing.
We’re met at the top of the stairs by a Richard Bottwin sculpture.  The act of climbing the stairs offers an angular and shifting perspective of a work that has its own shifting angles. What you see is what you see—until you see something else. Nice. I also liked how the "positive" of Bottwin's work is countered by the "negative" of the blue-limned rectangle set into the door. And whose work is that? Ah, a little gift from the universe; it comes with the room.

Richard Bottwin, Hinge #1, 2012; white oak, birch plywood, acrylic color
Standing in the middle of the room, I have moved my camera clockwise around, allowing one work to lead into the next, sometimes leaning in to see a work more closely. I want you to see the space fully, and also to see it as I did. 
We  start at the north wall. The spare and almost Shaker-like lines of the space are a perfect complement to the geometry of the work. From  the Bottwin sculpture at the top of the stairs we move past the blue-outlined window to a sculptural intervention in white tape by Karen Schifano and then to a quiet explosion of neon-colored lath by Faber Lorne.

From left: Richard Bottwin, Karen Schifano, Faber Lorne

Karen Schifano, Tape Section #4, 2012
With white tape Schifano defines a section of wall and floor, conceptual preservation you might call it, as she identifies and claims a piece of the room

Continuing clockwise around the room, we see the full view of Lorne’s installation and come to Jill Vasileff’s construction (painted sculpture? sculptural painting?). The relation of Lorne’s geometry to Vasileff's, with their chromatic symmetry and compatible angles, has me wondering: How did the space get allotted? Was it assigned or did each artist show up to claim a spot? And did each successive arrival claim a space adjacent to a kindred expression? I don’t know, but the relationships here are compelling.

In the northeast corner: Faber Lorne installation in the corner, Jill Vasileff construction; closer views of both below

Faber Lorne,  Erratum #15, 2012, neon color on wood lath and clear liners
Lorne’s colors vibrate so intensely that your sense of where they are in relation to the corner of the room is slightly altered. You want to move in closer, but you're not sure if you'll get tangled in the installation

  Jill Vasileff, Open/Close Derivative, 2012, balsa wood and acrylic
There’s an nice-through-the-looking glass quality to this installation, the fanciful idea that one could enter either portal to transport into another space. Formally there's a planar shift from rectangle to rhomboid, and a lovely play of the room's ornate grillework against the spare geometry of Vasileff's painted construction. Again I have questions: Was this piece made specifically for the room? Or was it a sublime coincidence that its size and height allowed the artist to pair it so perfectly with the grille? Either answer is fine with me.

Just to orient you: With Melanie Carr's light-dappled sculpture in the foreground, we look back to where we have just been
Below, we see Carr's  sculpture in relation to the south-facing side of the room: work by Paul Theriault, Debra Ramsay, Robert Gregson, Kevin Daly, Adam Lister, Karen Schifano
(I know, it's a badly collaged panorama but it gives you the sweeping view)

As we continue clockwise from Vasileff’s work, we come to Paul Theriault’s dark rectangle high on the wall above the what was once a fireplace. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it at first, my brain connecting it structurally to the heater below. Then I realized how it was installed: away from the wall so that it appears to float, aligned with the architecture but not of it, its mottled surface illuminated both from front and back.  

Continuing our view of that wall, we come to a grid of nine Tyvek rectangles by Debra Ramsay. Ramsay’s work is as conceptual as it is material. Here she has cut a square out of the rectangle, and a rectangle out of the cut square. The integrity of the nine larger rectangles is altered, but it is not violated. Indeed, in the way Ramsay has allowed positive to arise from negative, and vice versa, the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts. 

On the floor before the work by Theriault and Ramsay is a sculpture by Melanie Carr: a low ramp made of wood. I almost didn’t see it at first, bathed as it was in the intense light from the window. But it asserted its presence via a roseate glow that pervaded the entire corner of the room. This is one of several works that engage the floor—activate it, really—and allow the viewer to interact with it.

Southeast corner of the room with work by Theriault, Ramsay, Carr and Robert Gregson
Below: Paul Theriault, Ozz, 2008, archival inkjet print on plexiglass 
Debra Ramsay, Love_5, _6, _7, 2012, Tyvek sheet and acrylic paint
Detail below 
Melanie Carr, Pink Ramp, 2012, painted wood construction
This view looks across the room toward the southwest corner

The full-on view of the front of the room below shows you just how much the sun imposed its own strong presence on the installation. (It would be interesting to see this exhibition on an overcast day, or at night.) The changing angles of the sunlight work with and in counterpoint to the fixed geometry of the exhibition. One exception to fixed geometry: In the center of the window bank is a moveable sculpture by Robert Gregson. You can turn it carefully so that its “arms” cut into the rectangles of the adjacent windows and, more interesting to me, slice through the rectangular pools of light on the floor. This is the diagonal line you saw in the window as you viewed the building from the street.

Looking toward the south, with sunlight an active element of the installation
Below: Robert Gregson, Window Treatment, 2012, acrylic on wood 

To the right of Gregson’s “windmill” is a chromatic corner in which Kevin Daly has exposed a plumbing riser and some brick, Plumber’s Crack with Kickstand, he calls it. The cheeriness of the palette is at odds with the destruction of the wall, the painted surface overlaid onto the innards of the corner. It is marveously unsettling. The perfect touch? The “kickstand,” a stripe-painted board leaning provisionally against the wall, was provisionally acted upon by the sun, which appeared to have bleached the color out of the bottom half of the board.

Southwest corner: Gregson, Daley, Lister, Schifano

Kevin Daly, Plumber’s Crack with Kickstand, 2012, acrylic on canvas, latex, vinyl
Details above and below

Continuing along the west wall toward the stairwell are two works. The first is a two-part work by Adam Lister. A painting on the floor is mirrored by one on the ceiling. These paintings are tethered by a string (nearly invisible in the photo below) which, according to the information provided, is two strings—one from the top, the other from the bottom—held taught by magnets. For me the thrill was in seeing a “diptych” in an entirely unexpected orientation, defying gravity while at the same time anchored firmly to the floor.

Adam Lister, Everything You Ever Wanted, 2012; magnets, string, hooks, wood, paint
The angles of concentrated sunlight meet their match in a taped work by Karen Schifano, which engages ten wooden spindles of the banister and extends at an angle onto the floor. However you read this work—as shadow or light, drawing or sculpture—you respond to the formal beauty of the utilitatian banister, the cleverness of the work, the pristine geometry of the room—even the angular Bottwin sculpture on the wall behind it.

Karen Schifano, Bending Some Rules,2012, white tape

Before we head down the stairs . . .

Even after an hour in the space, watching the sun drag its light across the floor and thus interact with the work in ever-changing ways, I kept finding new things to see. Specifically thrilling were the conceptual interstices, the places where geometric elements, including the sunlight, overlapped visually with one another throughout the room. For instance: 

Adam Lister and shadows . . .

. . . Karen Schifano and floor . . .

. . . Debra Ramsay angles in relation to . . .
. . . Richard Bottwin angles . . .

. . in relation to Melissa Carr's acutely angled ramp (bracketed by Ramsay's Tyvek grid behind it and Schifano's tape work in the foreground) 

Faber Lorne's installation as viewed through the spindles of the Windsor chair at the top of the stairs

  And a full view of  Lister's ceiling-hung painting

I think you can tell that I was taken with this exhibition. While some of the work in it is exquisitely crafted, such as the sculptures by Richard Bottwin and Robert Gregson, much is provisional and site specific, like Karen Schifano’s taped interventions, Faber Lorne’s fluorescent bars, and Kevin Daly’s festive slice of deconstruction. Sure, you can see big and bluechip at Gagosian, Pace or Boone, or small and white-boxed on the LES, but this exhibition probably couldn't have taken place in New York City. In Making Room the artists made a room (and provided an experience) that was by turns intimate and expansive, intelligent, coolly animated, amusing, minimally invasive, maximally impactful and exquisitely curated.

Kudos to curator Suzan Shutan and all 10 artists for a splendid exhibition!

Making Room is up through November 3, this Saturday. While weekday hours are 10:00 to 6:00, the hours for Saturday, the last day of the show, are 11:00 to 2:00. This is a show worth seeing.

Update: A call to the Library this morning confrms that no damage was sustained in the storm and that the exhibition is open for viewing.

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And if you’re driving, no more than two miles away is the Giampietro Gallery where Susan Carr and Elizabeth Gourlay have solo shows through November 10.



Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing the way you saw this exhibit, as I'm sure I wouldn't have known what to make of it had I been there as it is so much different from what I make (as an artist) and what usually resonates with me (as an observer).

Anonymous said...

I love this!

Munira said...

Thank you for showing this in a way that makes beautiful sense. I loved it! Amazing work, the installation is very interesting . I love each artists thoughtful and thought provoking use of the space.

About Connie Goldman said...

Joanne, this is very good coverage. I didn't have a clear idea of exactly how this show was installed before. Your pictures and narrative are vert clear. Now I have a much better understanding of how each piece interacted with the architecture. Good job and thanks.

Hylla Evans said...

This is a breath of fresh air, a fabulously special show. Kudos to the curator, the artists, and you, Joanne, for seeing it and writing about it so well!

Anonymous said...


wonderful review. Thank you so much for promoting the exhibit. Everyone is thrilled including the library, all the artists, and the managing curator of the entire space Stephen Kobasa.

Some meanderings you were wondering about....

I took pics of the space, each wall and all the quirky details like exposed pipe, grates, vents, stairs, etc. The artists received dimensions based on their inquiries.

I asked the artists to select 2 sites that motivated them and connected to their work at large. I also asked each artist to tell me what they were thinking of doing in each space in terms of integration and concept, and to try to be as complete as possible visually without having created the work. Obviously this was tough. Nonetheless everyone did the best they could with the understanding that although things might change, they needed to try to work within the perimeters they gave me.

Spreading out all gathered images and ideas on a table. I spent days trying to visualize what could go where and how each work could look next to each other, across from each other. Essentially I had to curate the entire show and design the whole space without the work being created so that it flowed and balanced.

Most of the artists created new work specifically for the space. Two artists readapted prior works to go with an area.

The end brought surprises and some extreme changes where two pieces had to get moved to work better with the space and with work nearby them.

It was a challenge but good work makes a good exhibit and reviews like yours is the icing on the cake for us all. - Suzan (Shutan)

Susan Buret said...

Best post ever! Thank you for sharing your passion

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous show. The consideration of the work and the structure is really wonderful and insightful. Thanks Joanne for your thorough imagery. I'm sorry to have missed it in person. Krista Svalbonas.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for your thorough examination of this show and your obvious enjoyment of it. Congratulations to all the artists on interacting so well with their chosen spaces and sticking within the confines before actually making the work. Special kudos to Suzan Shutan for having the willingness to curate the show twice--first in her imagination and secondly in the reality of the room.

Violet said...

Cool- I live in New Haven & will have to check it out! After being a resident for 17 years, a friend told me about this library club joint & until NOW I had no clue they hosted art shows! 2 birds one stone- not that I advocate animal abuse...