Recession stalls YUAG renovation

The global financial crisis that caused the University endowment to shrink by 25 percent has hit the Yale University Art Gallery as well.

The gallery’s two-year renovation project of Egerton Swartwout’s Old Art Gallery will be delayed indefinitely as part of a University-wide budgetary measure that requires the freezing of construction projects that have not yet started. And although this construction halt may leave the halls barren in Swartwout, the economy will not affect YUAG’s ability to acquire new works for the collection.

The Yale University Art Gallery will continue fundraising and renovation plans so that the construction work on Swartwout’s Old Art Gallery can continue smoothly when it begins again.
Erica Cooper
The Yale University Art Gallery will continue fundraising and renovation plans so that the construction work on Swartwout’s Old Art Gallery can continue smoothly when it begins again.

The renovation project, which involved the bridging of Swartwout’s building and Street Hall, making the gallery cross High Street for the first time, would have been complete by 2011, University Planner Laura Cruickshank said. It was estimated to cost around $50 million, according to projections from the University Facilities Office.

Chief curator and acting director at the gallery Susan Matheson said the gallery would continue fundraising efforts while going forward with renovation and installation plans.

“The extra time will enable us to complete necessary conservation and installation construction work in order to be completely ready when we are able to restart the renovation,” she said.

Economic recovery and fundraising, Matheson said, are the two major factors that will determine when the renovation would begin, though there is currently no timeline.

Although the renovation is delayed indefinitely, the Art Gallery’s contract for the renovation project with Polshek Partnership Architects still holds, Polshek partner Richard Olcott said.

“We are done with the design,” Olcott said. “It is unclear when we will start [the renovation], but our previous agreement with the gallery is still valid.”

In a letter sent to faculty and staff a month ago, University President Levin wrote that economic conditions prevented the University from undertaking new debts for construction projects that were planned in Yale’s multi-year capital budget.

“The second phase of the renovation of the Yale University Art Gallery … will not begin until funding is secured or market conditions improve,” he wrote.

In the meantime, Matheson said they were considering several options for using the space in the Old Art Gallery and Street Hall: the History of Art Department vacated after their move to the Loria Center at the beginning of the fall semester and the gallery removed artwork in preparation for the renovation. It is possible, she said, that the gallery will use the space to install artwork for classes and display contemporary sculptures never before exhibited at Yale.

In another part of the gallery, some of the most important works of the gallery’s permanent collection, including John Trumbull’s original series of eight Revolutionary War scenes, and the earliest surviving pair of American candlesticks by Jeremiah Drummer, were sent to different museums around the country as part of a traveling exhibition called “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

In lieu of these famous pieces, the gallery will soon be opening a new installation of major works from the Early European, American Paintings and Sculpture, American Decorative Arts, and Modern and Contemporary Art departments. The installation will occupy the entire third floor of the Kahn building.

Fedor Deichmann ’11, a student guide at the gallery, said the Swartwout Building was in good shape as it is, and could well be used for installations and displays despite the renovation delay.

“The last time I went there the space looked great,” Deichmann said. “The renovation would allow for better organization of the space and the artwork, but the condition of the building itself is really fine.”

Because the Yale University Art gallery is funded by the University endowment, the endowment’s decline reduced the amount of capital available for gallery acquisitions. Still, Matheson said the gallery’s restricted acquisition funds — which she described as generous — would enable them to continue planning for future acquisitions.

In fact, the Art Gallery recently purchased a George Washington miniature painting by Robert Field at a price of $303,000.

Keeping with the University’s budgetary adjustments, the gallery will proceed with caution. Matheson said she will maintain the current level of staff working at YUAG and reduce travel expenditures, examining other “expense lines” for avenues to save money.

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