Shock and Awe at Yale

On a recent visit to the newly expanded and renovated Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, CT, this is the first thing that greeted our eyes beyond the glass doors:

Shock and Awe, Judith Shea

We automatically found ourselves looking up. Seeing nothing beyond the intricate pattern of the concrete ceiling, we looked again at the four figures at the end of the gallery, and found ourselves hard-pressed to look away.  Simple, stylized, more like mannequins than humans, they were nevertheless mesmerizing. Blank expressions? Perhaps. But we read changing meanings into them. Were they frightened? Bewildered? Ominous?

Twins, Judith Shea

We spent long minutes gazing at them before we read the gallery description: “Borne out of Judith Shea’s early training in fashion design and her witness of the attacks on the World Trade Center, these mannequinesque forms, tailored in industrial gray felt, seem transfixed on a spectacle above. While their enigmatic expressions may register as wonderment or terror, their sullied, ashen torsos ominously suggest that they are more than just distant observers.”

American artist Judith Shea, born in 1948, called the first two figures she sculpted in 2006-7, Twins. The second pair, 2006-9, she called Shock and Awe. Rightly named! That was our emotion looking at them:

Shock and Awe, Judith Shea

We had come with relatives to see the new gallery and installations, but it was a long time before we were able to tear ourselves away from these enigmatic figures. But such serious concentration isn’t easy to maintain for long. And perhaps we all felt a certain level of uncomfortableness, both from the works themselves and from our memories of 9/11.

So here is what I think is a very natural and human reaction to shock and awe:

Shock and Awe, Amplified

Our woman visitor looks suitably shocked and perhaps awed; the gentleman however looks more like he’s saying, Aw shucks! Time to move on, please!

And so we did. More colorful (and upbeat?) photos of the rest of the gallery visit coming soon.

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21 Responses to Shock and Awe at Yale

  1. Those sculptures are quite haunting.

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  2. Sonel says:

    Your last shot certainly completed up the whole scene. The artist found an excellent way of getting the attention and it’s powerful indeed. Thanks for sharing. 😀 *hugs*

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  3. mightwar says:

    Very interesting pieces. Something about the simplicity of their forms forces me to focus on their facial expressions. I would be really interested to see them put into an open outdoor space and to spend an afternoon observing passerby’s reactions to them. I wonder how many people would unconsciously end up mirroring the stances?

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  4. Pauline says:

    Even without reading the description, those figures made me want to look up and see what gripped them so… they’re eerie.

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  5. Often it is simple exhibits that make me think the most. I would love to see this one in-person. It looks brilliant and powerful at the same time.

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  6. Madhu says:

    What an amazing use of light and texture! And mesmerising is the right word for the expressions on those faces! The look on the gentleman’s face however, mirrors R’s when I have dragged him to one exhibit too many. That’s why I have scheduled time for solo repeat visits to my favourite museums during our trip to Paris at the end of the month 😀

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Smart woman, Madhu! And lucky you — off to Paris. Which are your favorite museums there? Do you know the Cluny Museum? Or the Guimet? (Although I’d say my very favorite was the D’Orsay.)

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      • Madhu says:

        Have been to the Cluny…shall be returning for better photos of the Unicorn tapestries. Guimet and the Marmottan Monet are on the radar this year. Also the new Islamic arts center at the Louvre holds particular interest since I have traveled around the middle East since our last visit to Paris. D’Orsay if i can still squeeze it in 🙂

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  7. Patti Kuche says:

    The form and texture of the sculptures is both overwhelming yet so elegant, particularly with the staring into the light. What modern clothes and shoes do to the human form, as shown by the contrast of the couple in front. A wonderful series, thank you so much Judith!

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