You'll have to Stand in Line for the Work of these Hot, Young Yale Artists
By Amy Elliott
An American institution, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, stands strong in academia, and the School of Art is no exception. Yale graduates are experiencing sold out shows at top galleries in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, and are about to take the nation by storm. We have taken a closer look at five Yale artists, all in their late twenties or early thirties, yet already achieving high levels of success in the contemporary art world.
"You could put a fingerprint on your gallery wall from a Yale artist and it would sell in a day," says Susan Gescheidle of gescheidle in Chicago. "Yale graduates' work is extremely en vogue and people are standing in line to buy it. They are great painters and the school's reputation is well deserved."
A Florida collector, John Morrissey, prefers to buy emerging artists and identified the quality in the Yale graduates' work years ago. His collection is comprised of hundreds of paintings amassed in 15 years of collecting, including works by Yale artists Hilary Harkness, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley and Marina Kappos. "Since I buy young artists' work, those who don't have seasoned careers yet, I must do a lot of research," explains Morrissey. "The graduate schools are a good indicator and I find my finger tends to point to Yale graduates. The statistics of buying graduate painters' work from Yale are very strong, from Chuck Close on down."
From Hilary Harkness's detailed paintings of female empowerment, to Kehinde Wiley's portraiture fusing hip-hop culture and Renaissance compositions, to Mickalene Thomas's1970s inspired figurative paintings, these artists' works are on the forefront of shaping the contemporary art world.
Colleen Asper lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and earned her MFA from Yale University in 2004. Asper often places herself as the subject of her paintings, as she roleplays being president or a celebrity in her works, experimenting with layering her original art throughout the piece. Her work has been shown at gescheidle in Chicago and Alona Kagan Gallery in New York City. One of Asper's works has recently been purchased for The Howard A. and Judith Tullman Collection.
Intrigued by politics, Asper's paintings explore notions in the American federal government, even making herself the first female president in Portrait of the Artist as President. "The idea of myself as president is an absurd solution to the frustration we all feel as individuals trying to imagine how we can affect political change," explains, Asper. "I looked carefully at the official portrait each president commissioned while in office and all invoke tropes of old master paintings to legitimize power. I am interested in directing this power-bestowing capacity on a target so bizarre, in this case myself, that the whole process is unraveled".
New York-based artist, Mickalene Thomas is quickly becoming well-known for her evocative paintings dealing with black power and beauty. A 34-year-old African American woman, Mickalene grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s and her work references this period. She depicts African American women with a 1970s feel including afro hair styles, hoop earrings and layered retro fabrics. The subjects are engaged in intimate household settings and are painted using acrylic paint, enamel and rhinestones.
Thomas' shows at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, have been wildly successful. "I think Mickalene is a star. She's very smart and very serious about her work," says Rhona Hoffman. "Word has really spread in Chicago about her work, and her recent show was amazing."
Celebrating and critiquing black narrative symbols of sexual behavior and gender, Thomas explores the exotic nature of the African American female. "Mickalene Thomas' work is hardened glamour to me," says collector John Morrissey, who owns three of her paintings. "On the surface it's dazzle and bling, but if you look underneath, it's not all gems and jewelry."
Hilary Harkness has made quite a reputation as an artist at only 35 years old. A resident of New York City, Harkness is represented by the prestigious Mary Boone Gallery and averages a show every year or two.
"Hilary produces only one or two paintings a year that are very detailed, scrutinized and arrived at slowly," says Ron Warren, Director of Mary Boone Gallery. "She images a world populated by empowered women in traditional male roles such as operating a submarine or welding. She uses sexy imagery of women in lingerie, for example, acting as soldiers in battle with some form of confrontation and an edge of violence. Her work is typically spoken for before it is even finished."
Collector John Morrissey owns two of Harkness's paintings that are cross sections of a submarine with women inside operating them. "I consider Hilary's work in the 'post-feminist girly art' category, a term I created," explains John Morrissey. "I love rendered females from a woman's perspective and Hilary's work has amazing details. Women are engaged in their own battles of control and sexual dominance."
Los Angeles based artist Marina Kappos received her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1997. As a California girl in a conservative East coast environment at Yale, Kappos loved pushing the envelope and her work continues to reflect that today. "Yale gave me a thick skin from defending myself and my ideas to faculty, where they can shake you to the core. It forces you to reevaluate your work and made me a more serious painter." Now at 34 years old, Kappos is represented by I-20 Gallery in New York City and the Happy Lion Gallery in Los Angeles.
She created her Crowd series of paintings for Miami's Art Basel, to have the art staring back at the visitors as they mill through the gallery booths. Kappos is also very interested in installation and designs her series to be modular."The space and installation is important to me and I create an environment with my paintings," the artist explains. "I like the exhibit to be modular but the paintings must also work on their own."
A Los Angeles native who resides in New York City, Kehinde Wiley is only 29 years old, and already a major force among emerging artists today. The Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago and Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Los Angeles represent his work.
Wiley's portraits are of young, urban black men and based on people he sees on the streets in Harlem and the South Central neighborhood where he was born. Dressed in street clothes like basketball jerseys and gold chains, they are posed like subjects from paintings of Renaissance masters such as Tiepolo and Titian. Wiley typically uses French Rococo ornamentation as backdrops, such as 19th Century French Scenic wallpaper favored by the wealthy upper class, deepening this dichotomy of the past and the present.
"Kehinde's work compares the grandiose past of the 18th Century leisure class portraiture with excesses found in contemporary hip-hop culture," says John Morrissey, who owns three of Wiley's paintings. "He's engaging a cultural style associated with excess where diamonds or bling become the status symbol that may have been a royal crest or emblem on a jacket in the past."
Acknowledgement: American Art Collector would like to thank Susan Gescheidle of gescheidle Gallery for her help in sourcing this feature.
Article Source: Elliott, Amy. "You'll have to Stand in Line for the Work of these Hot, Young Yale Artists." American Art Collector, January 2007, pp. 60 - 67.