Yale Daily News

Of the more than 1000 new works acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery during the pandemic, 50 will be highlighted in a “Recent Acquisitions” exhibition set to open Friday.  The show will feature works across art forms and from diverse corners of the world — including beadwork from Africa, jade from South America and contemporary paintings from Europe. 

According to Laurence Kanter, the YUAG’s chief curator and one of the co-curators of the exhibition, the planning process of the exhibition was “a bit of an anticlimax.” In a normal year, the YUAG adheres to an exhibition calendar and plans exhibitions three to five years ahead of their opening to allow for careful scholarly research. However, due to shutdowns, postponements and reorganizations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum found itself with an empty set of galleries with only six months of advance notice. Kanter emphasized that six months is a “short” period of time to prepare a “serious” research project. 

“My colleague [co-curator Freyda Spira] and I had the idea that we would make a careful selection of recent acquisitions — something we’ve never done at the gallery before,” Kanter said. “We were selecting work from the last two years, which were so unusually rich for gifts and purchases to the gallery — [we were] very fortunate in acquisitions.”

For Spira, curator of prints and drawings at the YUAG and a co-curator of the exhibition, “Recent Acquisitions” was “difficult” to put together, because of the pieces’ variability. Spira worked closely with Kanter to come to an agreement with curators from various departments and to make the exhibition cohesive and visually appealing. As Spira began working in the Gallery back in July, she said it was a “wonderful way” for her to meet the other staff in curatorial departments across the museum and to “celebrate” the collection in the community as a new employee. 

“We show works across media including paintings, drawings, sculpture, from all periods and all places to demonstrate the range of our encyclopedic museum,” Spira said. 

According to Kanter, the object that the YUAG is most proud of  — a painting by Italian Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli — is not necessarily the one that will call the most attention. However, it is perhaps the most important Renaissance painting that the gallery owns. Kanter said the painting “doesn’t advertise” itself, since the YUAG is exhibiting it without its frame, which is still under restoration. 

After acquiring the artwork, the Gallery discovered that the painting retains its original frame, but it was modified over the centuries by the addition of bits and pieces nailed and glued to it. 

“Underneath all of this extra ‘wedding cake’ accretion is the completely intact original frame for this painting, which has its original paint surface preserved — and the paint surface might be by the artist who made the painting, Luca Signorelli,” Kanter said. “It’s a unique survival — nothing like that has survived in the world.”

Kanter added that it will take the YUAG another full year to carefully peel away all the “at least” six layers of additions on the frame, since some of this extra layer includes the original material itself. He made the decision to exhibit the painting without its frame in order to share it with the public in advance of the frame’s completion. 

According to Kanter, when the frame is ready and comes to be exhibited along with the painting, it will be an “astonishing” revelation in the galleries. Right now, he said, the painting is just a “sneak preview.”

“[The exhibition] is an example of the wide ranging support that the Gallery gets from its patrons, alums, artists — the greater Yale community,” Spira said. “It’s wonderful to be able to be a repository for that community.”

YUAG is located at 1111 Chapel St. 

Gamze covers music news for the Arts desk and writes for the WKND. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray majoring in psychology and humanities.