Chen, Chen, Chenge…
New Britain (Google Maps location)
CT museum visit #509.
Without checking, I’m going to say that almost all of our state’s colleges and universities have at least one public art gallery. Some have multiple, and heck, there’s Yale with two internationally acclaimed art museums.
Well, Central Connecticut State University isn’t Yale, but you know what? That’s fine. I’ve worked for and with people from both CCSU and Yale and there really is no fundamental difference once you reach your mid-30’s and have been working in a field for a while. But when comparing on-campus art galleries, I’m going to give the nod to the world famous Ivy university. Sorry.
But I came to love CCSU’s art building. Note I didn’t say “art gallery.” No, for me, more than half the fun of poking around the Chen Art Gallery was walking the halls of the Maloney Building where it’s located. The art on the walls in the halls and stairwells is just fantastic.
I first visited the New Britain campus on a Saturday when the Chen Gallery is not open. Helpful signage told me this, but I was there. I was at the Maloney Art Building on campus and the door was unlocked. So I thought, “what the heck, maybe they left the gallery door unlocked as well.” I roamed the art building’s halls in an effort to find out.
What I found was creatively and beautifully painted walls. I have no idea if these are redone on an annual basis – like maybe each senior class of art majors gets to leave their mark for the year or something. (And I think that would be pretty cool.) What I do know is that I was impressed with some of the works by these unknown students.
And the art is everywhere. Around every corner and down every staircase. It’s just… cool, and there’s order to it; it’s not like random graffiti or anything like that. On the second floor I finally found the entrance to the reason I was here: the Chen Art Gallery, and as the signs promised, it was closed. Locked up tight. This meant a return visit during my working hours on a weekday was in order.
It also meant visiting when classes were in session. I am happy I’d had the opportunity to peruse the hallways on a Saturday while the building was empty. I could take my pictures and be a creepy old man without actually being a creepy old man. Even better? I had taken the following Friday off from work and rejiggered my original day-off plans to be sure I could revisit this place.
And that’s exactly what I did. Parking is infinitely more difficult while class is in session, but once I sorted that, I entered the building and made a beeline past several students for the Gallery.
A gallery named, officially, the Samuel S.T. Chen Gallery. Which, of course, makes you want to know who Samuel S.T. Chen was. Fair.
Mr. Chen passed away in 1996 at age 85 and before I tell you about his life, I think it’s important to note that his widow was named “Welthy.” Anyway, he was born in China and from 1965 to 1981 he was professor of political science and international law at Central Connecticut State University, teaching many students international law and Chinese culture. He performed such services in art and culture, that the art center at the University was named after him. He coached student teams that won five straight years at the National Model United Nations competition.
I thought I was going to stop there, but I find him very interesting. He wrote a number of books, including “A Study of the Control System of the Two Han Dynasties”. As a boy, he excelled in school and, when he was threatened by the revolution, was able to escape Jiangxi with a relative’s help and continue his education in Shanghai. After graduating from National Central University, in Nanjing, he followed the lead of a professor and became a graduate student at Harvard University, receiving a doctorate in political science in 1941. With his wife and first child, he returned to wartime China and taught international law at National Chengchi University. Okay, that’s enough. Impressive guy to say the least.
On to the gallery!
The Central Connecticut State University Art Galleries are first and foremost educational galleries. Every semester, we have at least three major shows, one of which showcases CCSU student artwork. In May, at the end of the spring semester, studio art majors exhibit their work, and in December, at the end of the fall semester, art education majors exhibit their work before beginning their student teaching in the spring.
The Central Art Galleries invite artists from all over the country to exhibit and have had the pleasure of showing artists ranging from Central alumni to West Coast folk artists, from cutting-edge New York artists to such acclaimed artists as Philip Pearlstein, Faith Ringgold, and Judy Chicago.
I usually like to catch student work at university galleries. I mistimed that here, and wound up taking in “Roots and Vessels: An Exploration of Ancestry, Lineage, and the Embodied Family Portrait.” Okay then. This exhibit
delves into the intricate tapestry of human existence, exploring the profound themes of ancestry, the body, lineage, and family portraits. This exhibition features works by nationally acclaimed artists Andrae Green, Billie Lee, Daisy Patton, Lisa Iglesias, and Mark Guglielmo. The diverse works of these contemporary artists invite you to explore the multifaceted connections that bind us to our past, present, and future. The artists in this exhibition employ a range of mediums to convey the essence of lineage, reminding us that our roots are not just a place but a profound part of who we are. In many of these works, the body serves as a vessel for these stories.
Okay then. Again.
I entered the gallery and found myself alone. I appreciated the solitude – take that Yale – and skimmed the artists’ statements. I won’t burden you with them, but suffice it to say they speak a different language than I do. I saw the word “pedagogy” a lot.
Wow, I was really alone, as the student charged with sitting in a chair and reading/texting (a staple of college art galleries) had stepped out. Nice. I walked into one section of the gallery where a video was playing. I’ve never been into “video art” at all, so I didn’t give it much time. Though creator Billie Lee says her piece works at “the intersection of art, pedagogy, and social change.” Don’t we all, Billie Lee, don’t we all.
Lee also had some paintings on display too, and I liked them much better. The Chen Gallery is small. But it’s nice enough. I liked this show for the most part, as most of the artists preferred brighter colors and a modernist style. It would be completely absurd to discuss the works and artists because:
a) what do I know?
b) the show will be gone by the time you read this
c) seriously, what do I know?
I will say that artist Mark Guglielmo had my favorite pieces, including The Chef (Making Meatball Parm), 2022 which is just above.
And that’s it, really. If you ever decide to make the effort to visit this gallery, I highly recommend you walk the halls of the whole building as part of your experience. You can even walk across the street and take a stroll around the pond at Stanley Quarter Park if you wish – pro-tip: this is also where you can park for free.
If you know me, I like to park for free and I’ll never Chenge.