Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Artspace's Register weekend was wild, wonderful and way too short

By Ed Stannard, Community Engagement Editor

They came; they transformed our 40-year-old building. Then, suddenly, they were gone.

City-Wide Open Studios’ Alternative Weekend hit the New Haven Register building this past weekend. Our presses, silent since we moved our printing to Hartford, became easels for paintings and photographs. The rooms where we used to bundle the papers to send them to carriers and where we used to insert advertising were reborn as exhibit halls for immense sculptures, jewelers, videographers and other visual artists.

Left behind: An artist added labels to the press controls.
Old honor boxes, many of them retired because they were dented in the line of duty, were used as part of the exhibit.

Many of them, like the woman who made artificial flowers out of old Registers, or the one who remade the control panel from the press, based their artwork on the Register’s legacy of newspaper publishing.

“It was a fantastic weekend,” said Helen Kauder, executive director of Artspace New Haven, which sponsors the three-weekend CWOS event. “We were really thrilled and many, many people told me on the way out that they thought it was the best alternative space in our history.”

She said about 1,900 people attended the Alternative Space on Saturday and Sunday, which was more than the last couple of years, when the space was smaller, but probably larger than when the Winchester or Pirelli buildings served as the exhibit hall.

It kind of felt like an invading army at times.
Kauder said the Register’s history and the massive presses inspired many of the artists. “Using what was there as platforms, as a canvas … there was so much to inspire.” Industrial buildings like ours have “these peculiar, quirky places — kind of nooks within the factory,” which gave the artists a lot of choices to set up their work.

The fate of the building — originally built as the Gant shirt-making factory — also elicited questions. “A lot of people were curious to know what’s going to happen with the building. It certainly generated a lot of wonder and curiosity.”

For the record, the building is still for sale and the 13-acre property has been rezoned so it can be used for retail. Once it sells, the Register staff will move to an undetermined location downtown.

One of those who attended, Brian Robinson of New Haven, said the exhibit went “well beyond my expectations. … I had never been in the Register building. It was a perfect venue.” His three children, 9 and under, “were totally taken with it,” Robinson said.

Jerry Zigmont of Madison said, “I thought it was pretty wonderful. We didn’t know what to expect … and not being familiar with the space it was a total surprise to us.”

He said he appreciated “the fact that a lot of the artists incorporated some of the actual physical pieces … into their own art.”

And then, as quickly as they came, they were gone. The press is unadorned, the back rooms empty. It was a glorious transformation that adds to the rich history of 40 Sargent Drive.


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