Beverages are not permitted in the Yale University Art Gallery, but on Wednesday morning the security team made an exception for YUAG Director Jock Reynolds’ coffee. The staff of the gallery had arrived unusually early in the morning to watch a crane lift three new sculptures into the museum’s rooftop garden.
Though the gallery’s grand reopening will take place Dec. 12, the installation of new works throughout the gallery is staggered so that pieces such as the three new sculptures will be open to the public earlier. Curator Cathleen Chaffee selected the works not for each one’s thematic content, but rather to display the breadth of the gallery’s modernist sculpture collection, which includes about 700 pieces. She said she hopes the new sculptures, which were installed starting on Wednesday, will generate enthusiasm in advance of the December unveiling of the Art Gallery’s 14-year renovation.
“With so many people coming through the gallery in December, we wanted to make sure the variety of our collection was on view,” Chaffee said. “We chose works that visitors will be excited to see when they come for the reopening.”
The sculpture garden’s new features include works by the artists George Rickey, Jim Dine and Erin Shirreff ART ’05, whose video installations will also be on view in an exhibit called “Once Removed,” opening this December in the Khan Building.
The George Rickey piece — a tall structure, part of which turns in the wind — was given to the Art Gallery in 1970 and displayed until recently in the Pierson College courtyard, but the Shirreff sculpture is one of the Art Gallery’s most recent purchases, Chaffee said. She added that Shirreff’s work is expected to generate particular excitement because the artist is a Yale alumna.
“Part of our mandate at the gallery is being responsive to the work made by Yale grads,” Chaffee said. “Shirreff’s sculpture is fantastic notwithstanding the fact that she attended Yale, but it’s a nice bonus that graduate students can see the work of one of their peers installed in a beautiful context.”
Shirreff visited the Art Gallery on Wednesday to oversee the installation of her video works and sculpture.
The curatorial team began planning this week’s sculptural installation in March of last year, choosing to display only three works in the garden so as to prevent crowding.
“We wanted to make sure there was a harmony and rhythm amongst the works on view,” Chaffee said.
Clark Crolius, the Art Gallery’s exhibitions production manager, said he worked with engineer Dan Morrissey to ensure that the works could be installed while maintaining a secure weight distribution on the Art Gallery’s roof. Crolius added that his team mapped out a plan for the sculptures’ placement that would not disturb the roots of the elm trees in the garden.
Shirreff’s work is the first sculpture to be displayed in the Art Gallery’s rooftop garden while brand new; generally, the Art Gallery elects to install older works in the outdoor space, Crolius said.
Reynolds said he hopes that the new sculptures will build enthusiasm for the reopening, adding that the renovations emphasize the gallery’s natural lighting and its view of New Haven’s cityscape.
“When we unveil in December, you’re going to have your mind blown,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be a great place to hang out with fun hideaway spaces.”
Renovations on the Art Gallery began in 1998 when Reynolds arrived as director.