Is art displayed in a corporate setting “corporate art”?
In other words, is it art that tends toward the conventionally beautiful, safe, and conservative? Art that flatters commonly received notions and perceptions as opposed to pushing the visual envelope?
You can ponder that pressing question, or just take a break from the cold, by ascending to the fourth floor of the NewAlliance Bank building at 195 Church St.. There you encounter Gallery 195, which is essentially one long corridor with working offices at each end and a bank of three elevators facing each other midway on either side of the hallway.
If the Medici bankers of Florence supported Michelangelo and the greatest artists of their Renaissance era, what is a New Haven bank comfortable displaying these days?
Answer: Through Jan. 9 it is showing the large format nature photographs of Joanne Schmaltz and the wood and stone sculptures of Gar Waterman. These works adorn the walls between the offices and enliven the spaces between the drably painted brown elevator frames.
Both longtime local artists, Schmaltz and Waterman were selected for exhibition by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s program director, Debbie Hesse. Hesse and the council, to their credit, have found locations such as Gallery 195, the Haskins Laboratories on George Street and at other business and science sites around town so the art gets out there.
>Schmaltz’s decidedly unschmaltzy photographs are large celebrations of the undulating curve in nature. In this selection of her work the curve takes the form of gauzily lit long stems of flowers.
Think of Wordsworth’s fields of swaying daffodils and then reduce your own size to that of a tiny insect. Your compound eye is now focused on the giant stems of Schmaltz’s flowers curving exotically before you. They are like dancers in your erotic/botanical dream.
Sculptor Gar Waterman’s work is different but related. It appears paired with Schmaltz’s, because he too is interested in the curve. His inspiration appears also to be complicated curves, but in his case, those of the conch and scallop shell shapes, snails, chambered nautiluses, and other such naturally occurring members of the phylum Mollusca. The difference is that Waterman has created in stone and wood shapes that do not exist in nature, amalgamated forms of his imagination.
His art gets off the train of abstraction several stops before Brancusi. These are still nature’s forms, and yet their high finish, hardness, and shine in a sense “denatures” them. They invite touch, a bit like trophy heads. They are safe and will not bite in the same way that Schmaltz’s flowers remind you of Isadora Duncan, not praying mantises in hiding.
Safe and “corporate”? Perhaps. Nevertheless, they are pleasant to look at and relieve the antiseptic corridor.
There is something more of interest, intended or not. The artists’ celebration of the curve is set off in the contrast with the narrow rectangular corridor, the always straight lines of the receding hallway, the architecture of the offices and elevators.
In fact, everything about the art curves, whereas everything about the fourth-floor space of Gallery 195 is a straight line. Does nature favor the curve, while the corporation in a skyscraper, that consummate unnatural creation, incline more toward the goal-oriented straight line?
One employee on her way out to lunch said she looks at all the exhibitions in Gallery 195, as they rotate throughout the year. Waiting for the elevator, she was struck by Gar Waterman’s sculpture of a kind of weapon that hung between elevator banks. It’s about the only piece in the exhibition that seems to suggest a straight line. It’s something between a Blunderbuss, Old Betsy, at one end, of the kind that used to be displayed above colonial fireplaces, and a spear at the other end.
The New Alliance employee said she liked it a lot, but wondered where you might display it at home. Unless, of course, you have an elevator in your house.
Joanne Schmaltz’s and Gar Waterman’s work can be seen at Gallery 195, at the corner of Church and Elm, through Jan. 9, during banking hours.
New Haven artists who feel they would like to be in a two-person show and would want to exhibit at Gallery 195 are encouraged to submit to the Arts Council. Click here for more info on Gallery 195 and to contact is director of programs, Debbie Hesse.