This fall, visitors to the Yale Center for British Art encountered many roped-off sections. Yesterday, with the reopening of its study room, the Center began to make some of these spaces accessible to the public once again.
The Center’s study room, home to its prints and drawings and its rare books and manuscripts collections, had been closed for renovation since June 2013 as part of the first phase of a plan to conserve the Center’s Louis Kahn building. The plan includes the history of the building’s construction as well as a detailed set of guidelines for how the building is to be maintained and updated in the future, said Associate Director of Exhibitions and Publications and Associate Curator Eleanor Hughes. The Center’s second- and third-floor galleries, which have been closed since June to house the study room’s holdings, will reopen in February and March, respectively.
The reopened study room features restored wood finishes and carpets as well as new paneling on walls that were formerly covered in linen, said Gillian Forrester, the Center’s curator of Prints and Drawings. The British Art Center has also made “21st-century updates” to the room, including installing more readily accessible electrical outlets and Internet access, she added.
“We have been able to institute some of the aspects of Kahn’s original design that had been abandoned in the original building process,” said Scott Wilcox, chief curator of art collections and senior curator of prints and drawings at the Center.
After Amy Meyers became the Center’s director in 2002, the Center formed a Building Conservation Committee to ensure proper maintenance of Louis Kahn’s architecture, according to “Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan,” a book the British Art Center published in 2011. Hughes added that the document constitutes the first building conservation plan of its kind to be published in the United States.
“The building is our most complicated object,” she said.
During this first phase of restoration, the Center maintained a temporary study room in its library court that was available to visitors by appointment, Forrester explained. She added that the Center’s permanent study room is the only print study room in the United States open to the public without appointment.
The building conservation project’s second phase will take place in 2015, Wilcox said, explaining that during the majority of that calendar year, the Center’s second-, third- and fourth-floor galleries will all be closed for restoration. He added that the study room and reference library will likely remain open by appointment during some of that time.
While the Center will effectively be closed in 2015, some of the masterpieces in the British Art Center’s holdings will be incorporated into the Yale University Art Gallery’s European collections, Wilcox said, adding that the Center and the Gallery will put on a joint exhibition on Romanticism that will hang in the Gallery in 2015.
“The things [in the Center’s collections] that it would be a real shame for someone to come to New Haven and not be able to see will be at the Gallery,” Wilcox said.
In July, the Center’s second-floor gallery was converted into a temporary shelving area to store the prints and drawings and rare books and manuscripts collections from the study room, Wilcox said. He added that the conversion allowed the room’s collections — which include more than 20,000 drawings and watercolors, 30,000 prints and approximately35,000 volumes — to remain available to visitors in the temporary study room facility.
The third-floor gallery had been used to provide temporary office space for the rare books department, as well as to house paintings from the closed study room and converted library court, Wilcox said.
Since the second- and third-floor galleries’ closure in June, the Center has presented only one exhibition: “Sculpture by Nicola Hicks,” which has been on display within the permanent collection in the fourth-floor galleries, Hughes said. She explained that the second- and third-floor galleries will reopen in February and March to house an exhibit on Alexander Pope and the portrait bust as well as one on Richard Wilson and European landscape painting.
The Yale Center for British Art will host a study room open house on Saturday, Feb. 8.