YUAG to close for two-year renovations

Go to the Yale University Art Gallery; drink in the art while you can. Get your fill of Braque, Monet and Rothko.

Come this summer (although no date has been officially announced) the museum is almost sure to shut its doors for an extensive, two-year-long renovation.

The Kahn wing, which houses the gallery’s popular collection of European paintings — including the museum’s flagship Van Gogh work, “The Night Cafe” — will close completely.

In part to serve Yale’s students the gallery will install a greatest-hits show in the Swartout wing, which will encompass the works most often used by Yale professors.

“We’re mindful of the University’s use of the museum,” said Louisa Cunningham, a deputy director of the museum and the chair of its building committee.

The irony, she said, was that in order to make the museum more accessible in the long run, it would have to partly close.

The renovation, Cunningham said, will tear out some of the administrative offices to make room for more exhibition space. The museum also plans to add classrooms on the first floor.

Cunningham said the classrooms will include glass display cases, so that groups can study artwork up close.

If the renovations run on schedule, this year will be the last year the museum is accessible to the sophomore and junior classes. Particularly for students involved in the arts, this will be a significant change.

Ming Thompson ’04, the student coordinator of children’s programs at the gallery, said she had mixed feelings about the renovation.

“It’s wonderful that Yale is restoring the gallery to [architect] Louis Kahn’s original vision,” she said. “But it’s sad that Yale students will be deprived for so many years.”

For history of art majors in particular, the closing will likely change the way students are educated; with a large chunk of the collection in storage, professors will be forced to teach almost exclusively from slides.

“It’s a major disappointment that I won’t have access to objects in the collection,” said Jason Farago ’05, a history of art major. “It’s a disappointment, but I also understand the necessity.”

To supplement the temporary gallery, the museum will make digital images of its collection available to Yale students. The gallery’s digital imaging project is among the most sophisticated in the country.

But students said they felt ambivalent about the temporary gallery, and the usefulness of on-line art.

“It can only be a shadow of the collection in its entirety,” said Thompson. “The curators are sure to make the best possible decisions about what to include in the exhibit. But to me, a small space is small consolation.”

Another Louis Kahn building recently undertook a similar renovation and closed its doors for more than a year — the Yale Center for British Art, just across Chapel Street. Its renovation was a unanimous critical success.

Thompson said she expected the University Art Gallery’s renovation would be a similar success.

“In the end, I think future Yale classes will profit tremendously,” she said.

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