Works from Home

W hen galleries and museums are closed, the internet remains open, which is why you can enjoy the artworks in NXTHVN’s Countermythologies or Kehler Liddell Gallery’s Journeying without leaving the COVID-free comfort of your own home.

The Ely Center of Contemporary Art is perhaps even more accommodating, offering a dedicated platform for virtual art shows. Named Digital Grace in honor of Grace T. Ely, who bequeathed her Trumbull Street home as a center for the arts, the webpage hosts current and archived exhibits including to (be)scare, a series of provocative images that play with the idea of monsters as “others.” Curator Maxim Schmidt says working in a digital space allows the Ely Center to promote a wider range of voices while “amplifying” audience access. It also gives local artists a way of “recontextualizing” their work as submissions from around the world can be more readily shown beside their own.

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Work is rolling in to two pandemic-related shows, What Now?, intended to ask “urgent global questions,” and Your Pet Here, which offers “a little more levity,” gallery director Debbie Hesse says. The center is also working on a hybrid space known as The Collision Room. The “collisions” occur among artists from different disciplines working together, something not recommended physically these days but still viewable online.

Farther downtown, Artspace has launched a different kind of digital project, one designed to bring a “fantastic glimmer of hope” to medical professionals, curator Sarah Fritchey says. After seeing how many hours her partner, pediatric hospitalist Adam Berkwitt, was spending on the video conferencing software Zoom in order to strategize and plan with his colleagues, Fritchey and Berkwitt saw one way artists could help: replacing humdrum wall-and-ceiling backgrounds with something more visually pleasing. At the time of this writing, Project Zoomie has collected 30 original digital backdrops from Artspace-connected artists and is offering them free to medical professionals. Now, instead of a cluttered bookshelf behind a colleague, callers may see Cayla Lockwood’s floating potatoes, Megan Craig’s abstract Manhattan landscape, Tracie Cheng’s rippled lines against a whisper of clouds or some other delightful surprise. “It’s not designing PPE masks, gowns, ventilators,” Fritchey says. “[But] we can bring joy through these acts of creativity and design and quirkiness that remind people that we’re still here, we’re still celebrating life, we’re still creating things, there is going to be a life beyond this moment and mostly, doctors, we are thinking of you.”

Artspace has also scrambled to fill its gallery windows with a last-minute exhibition titled The View from Here, in which some works are shown with the normally stowed padding, bubble wrap and other materials designed to protect them in transit or storage. It’s a statement, Fritchey says, on their vulnerability—and ours. “There is a sense of the show being temporary and designed on a dime and in a sort of moment where we all recognize our own mortality, our own ephemerality,” she says. With its glassy building at the corner of Orange and Crown Streets, Artspace is one place you can still see art in its natural habitat, albeit from outside on the sidewalk. “We realize how lucky we are to be in downtown New Haven and have a set of windows looking out on the city,” Fritchey says.

For virtual explorers, Artspace’s Flatfile Collection is just a click away. The same goes for collections at other local galleries and museums. The Yale Center for British Art, boasting the world’s largest collection of British art outside the UK, offers many thousands of searchable paintings, sculptures and other objects online, as does the Yale University Art Gallery, which has currently indexed an astounding 178,481 items in total. A portion of the New Haven Museum’s locally focused holdings—hundreds of maritime artifacts, manufactured goods, antique signs, furniture, paintings, etchings—have recently been digitized.

This is also a great time to get acquainted with works of art you can’t usually see in person even when the museums are open. Many local artists have beautiful websites displaying their photographs, paintings, sculptures, videos and works of conceptual art. See, for example, the work of Kevin Van Aelst, Jenny Krauss, Christopher Mir, Susan McCaslin and Geoffrey Detrani. And, to put a smile on your face, check out video of Bob Gregson and Melanie Carr’s 2016 interactive work People Puzzle, which recalls a time when people could physically gather around the arts.

Hesse and Schmidt of the Ely Center agree that digital exhibitions can’t replace the experience of viewing art in person. It’s hard if not impossible to convey the same sense of scale, texture, surface and other elements on a computer screen. But the virtual art space has been around for a long time, Hesse points out. And it’s part of the future of art.

“It opens the doors to people that don’t have the same sort of accessibility,” Schmidt says—both artists and independent curators. The current situation may “give more merit to online exhibits and also draw attention to them,” he thinks, adding that it might make “virtual museums” a household phrase—and a customary way to view works of art even in healthier, happier times.

Photo Key:

1. Screenshot of NXTHVN’s Countermythologies webpage.
2. Screenshot of the Ely Center’s to (be)scare webpage.
3. Adam Berkwitt during a Zoom conference enhanced by Project Zoomie.
4. A view of The View from Here.
5. Screenshot of Kevin Van Aelst’s website.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 3 provided courtesy of Sarah Fritchey. Image 4 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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