Public Artwork in New Haven Bends Shapes and Minds

New Haven-based Site Projects Inc. presents a new venture in genre-defying public art: a 110-foot mural in downtown New Haven by Swiss artist Felice Varini that — depending, literally, on the observer’s viewpoint — can be seen as a configuration of three-dimensional painted shapes or as disjointed segments of shapes on a swathe of outdoor surfaces.

Through June 3, visitors are invited to watch Varini and his team as they fill in the outline of the work, titled “Square with four circles,” which will be created in the pedestrian passageway from Chapel Street to Temple Plaza and the sculptural concrete exit ramp of the Crown Street garage. The site is contiguous to the New Haven Green, the Shubert Theater and Zinc restaurant.

This art-as-process phase of the project, in which viewers are invited to converse with the artist as he paints, will culminate in a grand celebration at Temple Plaza on June 4, 5–7 p.m. The free event is open to the public.

“Square with four circles” will be on view through June 2011.

Born in 1952 and in Locarno, Switzerland, Varini has exhibited throughout Europe, as well as Japan and South America. The artist eschews the term “trompe l’oeil” to describe his public artwork, say event organizers, because the purpose of “trompe l’oeil” is to trick the viewer by creating an optical illusion. Varini, they say, wants viewers to examine his work from many angles not just the single vantage point from which the fragments of shapes come together, giving the illusion of being suspended in space. “Square with four circles” is Varini’s first outdoor public artwork in the United States.

Varini and his team are also working on a smaller indoor project, “Three black circles in air,” at the New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Temple Street. That work will be on view through August 2010.

Two photographs of previous works by Varini will be on view through June 28 in the lobby of the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street.

Related paintings by students at Coop High School who have been studying Varini’s work and who will work with the artist during his residency in New Haven will be exhibited at 210 College Street.

Site Projects is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring temporary public art to New Haven. Their last venture was in 2007, when Slovenian artist Matej Vogrincic created Erector Set-like boats that nestled in the Farmington Canal. The installation was a reminder of the city’s history with the A.C. Gilbert Co., which produced the toy, as well as its industrial heritage.

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Dorie Baker:, 203-432-1345