WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Next to the West Campus’ gleaming, brick-and-steel laboratory buildings lies an unadorned warehouse, clad in metal paneling and weathered from many a New England winter. To Yale’s scientists, those gleaming, state-of-the-art research buildings seem like the complex’s biggest prize.
But art aficionados may argue otherwise. To them, that distinction belongs to the warehouses.
The West Campus, former home of pharmaceutical giant Bayer HealthCare, has primarily garnered attention for its potential to boost the University’s scientific endeavors. But amid the sprawling research facilities equipped for chemical combustion and biology experiments, a hint of Yale’s artistic sensibility will soon materialize on the 136-acre campus, adding an aesthetic dimension to the research complex.
“This will not be just a science campus,” Provost Andrew Hamilton promised. “In the long run, it will represent the whole spectrum of academic activities that take place at Yale.”
Most notable, perhaps, will be the extent to which the residents of Yale’s museums and galleries will join their pipette-wielding peers at the West Campus. In interviews this month, University officials charged with overseeing the arts at Yale spoke about the campus’ potential to host a new conservation facility as well as much-needed storage space for Yale’s vast museum and gallery holdings.
For now, the West Campus still looks like a pharmaceutical complex. While Bayer left research buildings and utility plants fully prepared for scientists to inhabit the modern laboratories, conversations about how to integrate the humanities are just beginning. University officials stressed that they are still in the earliest stages of brainstorming how Yale’s art community can use the new campus and that no timeline has been developed for deploying programs to the site.
“Yale has foregrounded the need to figure out most quickly what they are doing with the scientific and medical lab,” said Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery. “The arts and humanities side is going to surge in right behind with planning in the coming year.”
Indeed, the West Campus could provide a solution to what Hamilton called one of the “critical long-term issues” facing the University — where to store its expansive museum and gallery holdings, including the 11 million specimens and objects in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Currently, the gallery stores art a few miles away in Hamden, an inconvenient location for an art student searching for a stowed-away piece. Before purchasing the complex Yale officials had also been scouting for property in Wallingford and North Haven in an effort to provide even more storage space for the collections.
Then came West Campus, replete with no less than 600,000 square feet of warehouse space.
“We want to think imaginatively,” Hamilton said. “With the space that is potentially available on the West Campus, we have a possibility of reconceiving storage in a university setting.”
University President Richard Levin said Yale officials think the warehouse space can be used to form what he called a “collections campus” — storage space for, among other things, the massive collections of the Yale Center for British Art, the Peabody and the gallery.
Best of all, Yale officials think they have sufficient space on the West Campus for the collections to be stored in a lower-density manner, enabling scholars and students alike to browse the collections on site.
“It’s possible once that happens … we might end up with undergraduate classes visiting the campus, using the collections,” Levin said.
But the storage possibilities are far from the only potential use for the site, as far as the arts are concerned.
A University-wide committee on the arts that convenes regularly will address how the fledging Yale campus can creatively fuse art, science and technology, according to Barbara Shailor, the deputy provost for the arts.
For now, the conservation lab will be the offspring of this fusion.
The field of conservation is unique in the arts because the advanced scientific equipment and new technology it requires can deeply enhance a conservator’s treatment of a painting or sculpture. Although its underpinnings are both aesthetic and historical, conservation demands a deeper engagement with technological understanding of the art; it is a conservator’s job to restore brittle wood or browning varnish. Investigations in metallurgy or DNA or pollen contained by the objects in Yale’s collections will complement the West Campus’ scientific character, Reynolds said.
Amy Meyers, director of the British Art Center, spoke enthusiastically about the West Campus’ “vast potential” to enhance the arts in a number of fields, but particularly in deepening Yale’s conservation program. Meyers said she hopes Ian McClure, recently appointed chief conservator at the gallery and the person who will oversee the development of a joint program among Yale’s art museums, will galvanize the community around the nearby campus.
“The development of major conservation labs will allow us not only to care for our collections but also to move forward the whole field of technical examination of objects from an intellectual standpoint in terms of their history,” she said. “It is certainly one of the most exciting things we can develop with the sciences.”
While generically designed corporate edifices cover most of the sprawling campus, School of Art Dean Robert Storr said he imagines a future when “the arts will gel with the sciences.” The arts will help imbue Yale’s empiricists with a perspective life, Storr said.
Reynolds did not stop at storage and conservation labs. As the University fills in the new site, he said, it must take full advantage of the massive space and landscaping available.
He spoke about a major digitalization center that will document Yale’s numerous art collections and studio or gallery space for art residents or students. What is more distinctive, he added, is the potential for a public art program that could use the West Campus’ Oyster River and hiking trail.
The Peabody, too, plans to delve into the site’s natural wonders; Shailor spoke about the potential for the museum to use the stream and nature trail for groundwork experiments.
For now, the warehouses here hold Bayer’s old, abandoned scientific equipment, and the laboratories sit ready for Yale researchers to move in this summer. With Bayer signage still dotting the property and some of the pharmaceutical company’s employees still annexed on site, the West Campus bespeaks science.
But Yale’s art faculty members see it in a different light.
“It will be a big backyard to play in,” Storr said.
For part five, a look at how the West Campus is a veritable land of milk and honey for Yale’s science departments, see Monday’s News.