As the new chief conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery, Ian McClure, who was appointed to the position last month, will foster expansion in the gallery’s behind-the-scenes conservation efforts and oversee the creation of a joint program between the YUAG and the Yale Center for British Art in constructing new conservation and treatment facilities for paintings, objects and works on paper, gallery administrators said this week.
McClure, who currently holds directorial positions at the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, said he plans to combine a historical approach with scientific techniques to both care for the museum’s paintings and offer formal conservation training for those interested on campus.
“Before you conserve you have to know [the work of art’s] past, because what has happened might affect the treatment,” he explained. “[In England,] I got increasingly interested in not only teaching conservation but also disseminating ideas about techniques and materials of paintings. There was so much enthusiasm for doing this sort of thing here.”
Director of the YUAG Jock Reynolds said in a Jan. 29 press release he is “thrilled” about the possibilities for the “innovative research, interdisciplinary scholarship and expert treatments” that McClure will cultivate.
The practice of conservation has recently shifted from a “backroom operation to a more public arena,” said Mark Leonard, head of paintings conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Leonard, who has worked with Yale galleries on conservation projects in the past, said McClure will bring not only his experience as a restorer but also his experience in a university setting to New Haven.
School of Art Dean Robert Storr agreed that McClure’s expertise will be felt outside the confines of the museum’s conservation labs. Conservators’ interpretations of a work’s sustainability, he explained, can aid an artist as he or she chooses creative materials.
“The information of conservation doesn’t only look to how things were made in the past, it looks to the future so as to make things that have chances of survival,” he said. “[McClure] will be here to interact with the artists.”
Mark Aronson, the chief painting conservator at the British Art Center, said Yale’s collections are growing by “leaps and bounds,” and that the University’s staff and display spaces must grow with them. He hypothesized that Yale may one day make room for such additional spaces on the recently acquired Bayer West Campus.
Aronson, who held McClure’s job at the gallery for over a decade before stepping down in 2006, said he welcomes McClure, who he thinks will be able to help expand conservation programs through the creation of a shared workspace for the museums.
Given the overlap between the deeply analytic processes of conservation that British Art Center Director Amy Meyers called both “art historical and scientific,” the West Campus could offer possibilities for collection storage and a joint facility for consolidating conservation endeavors, she said.
While the potential for expansion to the Bayer campus remains tentative, McClure’s presence will certainly enhance Yale’s conservation program, Meyers said. McClure, with his “intellectual standing and abilities as a teacher,” will orchestrate collaborations across the field, she added.
“Conservation involves the preservation of works of art that respects the original state as well as an intellectual understanding of how artists selected materials,” Meyers said. “It brings together different arenas of understanding within the world of art history.”
McClure will start at the gallery in July.