The perpetual silence of the Yale Center for British Art’s third floor was momentarily interrupted with the enthusiastic applause of the Cambridge Art Group Thursday. Malcolm Warner, senior curator of paintings and sculpture, had guided the group through 500 years of British art and treated them to a shocking yet impressive grand finale — a larger-than-life painting of a nude woman.
“It was a lovely exhibition,” said Jeanette Peters of Cambridge, England. “I was quite impressed by both the collection and the tour.”
But what may have been one of Warner’s best exhibits at Yale was also one of his last.
After an impressive five-year tenure at the art center, Warner said Sept. 26 that he would leave at the end of the year to become the senior curator at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
Warner is the second major figure at the museum to leave this year. Yale is currently searching to replace former British Art Center Director Patrick McCaughey, who left the museum in June.
“It was a very difficult decision because I love my job here so much,” Warner said. “This is a wonderful institution and the five years that I’ve worked here have been the most rewarding of my life.”
The primary attraction for Warner to head to Fort Worth was the broad collection of artwork that the Kimbell museum houses. Unlike the specialized British Art Center, the Kimbell is a general museum.
“I wanted to step back from my specialty, which is British art, for at least a period of my career and work with a greater variety of nationalities of art,” he said. “There, I’ll have the opportunity to work with French and Italian paintings, as well as some Asian and African art.”
During his time at the art center, Warner organized several internationally acclaimed exhibitions, such as “This Other Eden: British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale,” which traveled to Australia in 1998.
One of Warner’s most enduring contributions was his collaboration with McCaughey in overseeing the renovation of the museum in 1998, said Constance Clement, the center’s acting director.
“After the renovation, he reinstalled the gallery in a really imaginative and insightful way,” Clement said. “He’s an incredibly valued colleague who accomplished a great deal in his five years here. We’re devastated to lose him because it’ll leave a very big hole in our ranks, but at the same time, it’s a tremendous opportunity for him.”
Clement appointed current Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture Julia Marciari Alexander to temporarily fill Warner’s position.
“She’s worked in the department for many years now and knows our collection very well,” Warner said. “She’s a very gifted scholar and we’re just delighted that she’s agreed.”
Alexander is in London for an exhibit and could not be reached for comment.
Clement said the position of senior curator would not be filled until a permanent director is appointed. Currently, a ten-person search committee, which includes Warner and Clement, is making recommendations for a new director to University President Richard Levin, who will make the final decision.
“It’s important that the new director appoint the senior curator, because they have to work hand-in-glove,” Clement said.
The committee is hoping to find a new director and make an offer by the end of this year, she said.
In the wake of Warner’s announcement, many members of the community have expressed mixed emotions about his departure.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss for the British Art Gallery, Yale and the New Haven community,” said Bitsie Clark, the executive director of the Greater New Haven Arts Council. “The work he’s done here has been very important in attracting audiences to the gallery.”
Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds said Warner’s appointment at the Kimbell museum is impressive.
“To go to one of the great museums in America and broaden the scope of his curatorial practice speaks of how well he did at Yale and how well he distinguished himself,” Reynolds said. “It’s a great tribute to him and a great tribute to the work he’s done here at Yale.”
But despite such praise from his colleagues, Warner appeared to be unaware of it as he strolled around the center Thursday.
“I’m just glad to see people in my exhibition,” he said.