With $11 mil donation, YUAG reopening on schedule

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Photo by Earl Lee.

A major donation to the Yale University Art Gallery announced in December will put the final touches on an 11-year construction project.

The $11 million donation from Stephen Susman ’62 will fund the Stephen Susman Galleries on the museum’s newly created fourth floor, part of the ongoing renovations to Street Hall and Swartwout Hall that began in 2008. The renovation was one of seven major projects stalled by the economic recession that year but one of two to be revived and funded entirely by donations.

Susman’s gift came at a “critical time,” University President Richard Levin said in a Dec. 21 press release: With the donation, the Art Gallery renovations will be complete for its reopening, scheduled for December 2012. While the art gallery had raised enough money to complete construction on its building, Susman’s donation was necessary to cover the costs of reinstalling of the gallery’s artwork, Levin told the News on Monday.

Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds added that the Stephen Susman Galleries will add flexibility to the display of the gallery’s collection.

“[No gallery] will be more spacious and flexible in function than the Susman Galleries,” Reynolds said in an email. “They will be unique in their ability to host a constantly rotating programs of temporary exhibitions developed by the Gallery’s eleven curatorial departments and others borrowed from museums extant throughout America and abroad.”

The art gallery renovation was one of two projects able secure enough donations to continue during the recession without University resources, Levin said. The other, construction of the new School of Management campus, received separate donations of $50 million and $10 million in 2010.

When the recession hit, Levin said, Yale assessed each of its major projects in terms of fundraising potential. Those for which donors would be harder to find, Levin said, were delayed or funded by the University where possible. Such projects included the 13th and 14th residential colleges, renovations on Hendrie Hall and construction of a new building for the School of Drama.

“The art gallery has a very substantial number of benefactors with the capacity to support it, who are interested in their programs,” Levin said. “In part, we seek to fund their project without using university resources, because there are donors out there who will support the art gallery.”

Susman, the vice chairman of the art gallery’s education committee, said he developed a lasting interest in art during his time as an undergraduate at Yale when he met artist Josef Albers while enrolled in a small art history class. He added that he wanted to give back to the university that “transformed” his life.

“Yale has been a major influence in my life,” Susman said. “I owe it my success. Fifteen to 20 years ago when I first had a little money, I began giving gifts.”

The $11 million donation is Susman’s third gift to the gallery, he said. He first donated $1 million to the art gallery in 1997 while his first wife was a member of the museum’s board. He donated another million in 2001 after becoming a board member himself in 1998.

The current renovation will be the art gallery’s first major upgrade since its 1953 expansion.

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