Upcoming renovations at the Yale Center for British Art aim to update the buildings’ spaces while preserving its mission.
The second phase of the Center’s “Building Conservation Project” will involve refurbishment of the building’s lecture hall and public gallery spaces, as well as the creation of a new study room. The renovations will focus primarily on improving patron amenities as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. From the beginning of the project in January 2015 through its completion in February 2016, the YCBA will be closed to the public, though access to the center will remain available by special arrangement.
YCBA Director Amy Meyers said the renovations have been informed by a series of workshops held earlier this fall during which YCBA staff members met with scholars, educators and students. She added that the the purpose of the workshops was to ensure that the reinstallation will take into account the specific needs of these communities.
“The collection is one of the richest and deepest focused on the production of art by British artists … [a major goal of the renovation] is bringing as much of it as possible into the public eye in the most elucidating and intelligent way we can,” Meyers said.
A “Conservation Plan” completed in 2011 by architects Peter Inskip and Stephen Gee in association with Deputy Director Constance Clement guides the project. George Knight ARC ’95 of Knight Architecture LLC, the firm working on the renovation, said the architects are working closely with Gee and Inskip to conserve the building’s original design while modernizing certain spaces to support contemporary approaches to the teaching of British art.
One of the major aspects of the Building Conservation Project’s second phase is the reintroduction of a fourth-floor “Study Gallery” that will feature paintings densely hung from floor-to-ceiling, Meyers said. Contained in Kahn’s original plans, the new design of the gallery — which spans the entire range of the building’s south wall — will enable the YCBA to display a greater proportion of its paintings collection than previously possible, added Clement.
A new study room, which was not included in Kahn’s original plans, is also in the works, Knight said.
“We’re hoping to add a study room — the ‘Collections Seminar Room’ — that had not been imagined by Kahn, but for which there is a certain need now given the expanded teaching that’s occurring there,” Knight explained. “We’re drawing deeply on Kahn’s architectural vocabulary.”
Other renovations to theYCBA will include the replacement of worn carpet and linen, the renewal of wood and the construction of new partition walls for the fourth-floor spaces, Clement said.
Following the renovations, the galleries’ paintings will also be rehung.
Scott Wilcox, the YCBA’s deputy director of collections, said that curators at the Center are considering various potential configurations for the paintings’ reinstallion but have not yet made a decision. Although a verdict has not be reached, Meyers noted that one of the Center’s most pressing concerns is ensuring that the permanent collection will be able to be used as effectively as possible.
“The joy, in a sense, is really being able to show the richness of our holdings and have them be able to be used by many of our audience members in new and exciting ways,” Meyers said. ”We have the work of many individual artists in numbers that are unequaled at any other collection, and some of whom have become canonically very important, and others with whom the public is very little acquainted.”
Clement explained that the project also involves refurbishment of the Center’s lecture hall, including the replacement of all seating, the addition of railings to the sidewalls and the introduction of handicap-accessible seats. Renovations and expansions of the YCBA’s electrical, mechanical, ventilation, plumbing, fire-suppression and security systems will take place as well, she added.
Clement said the Building Conservation Project’s first phase included renovations to the second-floor study room and workspaces of the floor’s two curatorial departments: Prints & Drawings and Rare Books & Manuscripts, which had not been refurbished since the center’s opening in 1977. In fact, she added, the center has only been closed to the public for renovation once before, in 1998. Costs of renovation will be entirely covered by Paul Mellon’s Operations Endowment for the center, Meyers noted.
“The beauty of the building, as promised by Kahn, is going to be realized through this project in the most extraordinary ways, and the collection itself as it is reinstalled will not only be intellectually compelling but also more beautifully presented than ever,” Meyers said.
The Yale Center for British Art is located at 1080 Chapel St.