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Making Yale Zig Zag

Robert Storr brings Jac Leirner back to art school. A paper chase ensues

The rolling paper shortage that gripped New Haven last spring is long over, but the evidence remains. It’s on plain view at 32 Edgewood Avenue, in the shiny three-year-old gallery operated by the Yale School of Art, where Brazilian artist Jac Leirner has lovingly installed the flimsy sheets in three elegant minimalist grids. For the largest, Skin (Smoking Red), which measures almost 6 by 12 feet, she used 900 papers. Not one to waste materials, she made work out of the packages, too.

Jac Leirner, 10 Level Silk, 2012, wood levels, paper, Plexiglas.


As if buying up every box of cigarette papers in town were not enough to set Yale off kilter, Leirner also did a run on the hardware stores, snapping up spirit levels, rulers, turnbuckles, and other construction tools. These too are pressed into duties beyond their typical functions in in the show, called “Hardware Seda – Hardware Silk.”

The shopping spree came at the instigation of Yale Art School Dean Robert Storr, who had invited Leirner to come to New Haven for a month and create a show in the gallery. Storr met the artist in Brazil 20 years ago, becoming entranced with her rigorous minimalist configurations of ephemeral and scavenged items, like plastic bags and bank notes and those tiny cellophane pull strips on cigarette packages.

Jac Leirner, Skin (Zig Zag Kutcorner Slow Burning), 2012, paper, glue.


“One can almost conceive of her eye as being like the mechanical sensor of a spy satellite or science fiction film robot that scans its environment until it latches onto an intriguing anomaly, at which point gears whir, calibrators pop up, the sensor zeros in and pulls back, and the object’s measure is taken…. ” Storr writes in his essay in Jac Leirner: In conversation with Adele Nelson, recently published by the Cisneros Foundation.

On that visit, Storr was so taken with Leirner’s 1987 piece Lung–1,200 Marlboro boxes strung on two lengths of polyurethane tubing—that he decided to buy it right then and there for MoMA, where he had recently become a curator and was still unfamiliar with the bureaucracy of acquisition protocols. So he took it home in his suitcase, confident that at the very least he wouldn’t have to pay duties, because the cigarette packages were empty.

At Yale, Leirner—who typically works at a slower, more obsessive pace—made 22 pieces over 30 days: steel rulers mounted in rhythmic patterns; turnbuckles, wire, chains, clamps that cascade off the wall; cheerful polychrome sculptures on the floor, and tender watercolor grids that in this context can’t but help evoke Josef Albers.

Jac Leirner, Ortogonal, 2012, watercolor, cotton paper.


Inspired by the process, Leirner sought out many of the same materials and constructed a new set of works for her current show at Galeria Fortes Vilaça in São Paulo.

Then she flew back to New Haven, where she’ll be on a panel on Monday night with Storr and Nelson to talk about her work.

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