In the sad, sordid fashion blogosphere, amidst articles encouraging young ladies to eat only almonds or squeeze lemons on their faces in order to have perfect skin, something real was recently said: “Blue is the new black.” Hearing that anything is the “new black” makes me think about seppuku. There is not a less original way I can consider to express one’s feeling that something is trendy, universal, complimentary to all things. In the case of Orange Is the New Black: taken literally, no, you can’t wear orange with hardly anything—I mostly wear sweat pants and tee shirts, and even I know that. Taken to mean something about prison, it’s just disturbing. Does it mean that within the next year everyone will be going to prison?
All of this aside, there’s something that feels better about “blue is the new black”—better, and true. Blue blazers, pants, and outerwear really do seem to be a thing right now, and I can appreciate that for a few reasons. 1) I have blue eyes, and, so, everyone buys me blue things—this may finally be my chance to be “hip,” as it were. 2) I am an Irish WASP and was once called a “Blue Blood asshole.” (This is not at all relevant to the colors one chooses to wear, but I felt a need to share that traumatic experience.) 3) I go to a college where so much is blue (including my curtains, for God’s sake), that if this color makes it into the hip mainstream, Yale will be at the center of the cultural universe. (As if some rad gothic architecture and the best Medieval Studies graduate program in America haven’t already done that for us.)
But, seriously, the fact is that Yale, through her infinite powers of intuitive perception, seems to have picked up on the ascent of her native color, blue. From Jan. 18 to April 19, the Beinecke exhibition “Blue: Concept and Color” will showcase “the cultural history of the color blue in nineteenth- and twentieth-century arts and letters.” Better yet, the exhibit’s curator, Nancy Kuhl, explains that she was “well into the planning of the exhibition when [she] discovered that Jessica Helfand was teaching the ‘Blue’ seminar.” Kuhl calls the timing a “wonderful coincidence.”
Kuhl’s exhibit draws upon the Beineke’s collection to complicate and enrich the ways we relate the color blue to the many concepts of blue we hold on to—there is Freud’s Morning and Melancholia and Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie (blue here a British term for pornography). It sits in the same case as a set of instructional cards, printed on a light blue cardstock that brings to mind nurseries and robin’s eggs, describing how to make the best shadow puppets. There are references to blues music, the feeling of sadness, and enough blue cyanograph images to make one’s head spin. Langston Hugh’s enamel cigarette case is there, too, and it’s blue, and has the kind of righteous graphics one would expect. More still, there are blueprints and bluebooks (the antiquated, less contentious print form) that aren’t really blue at all. If not chromatically, they fit because, as Kuhl puts it, these artifacts contain “cultural meaning somewhat removed from the specificity of a color.”
The exhibition’s well worth the trip, really. As blue is the new black these days, it takes just 15 minutes to get hip.