Yale Bulletin and Calendar

January 31, 2003|Volume 31, Number 16














The new exhibit explores the past and future of the Yale University Art Gallery. In this 1954 photo, architect Louis I. Kahn is shown looking up at his signature tetrahedral ceiling in the gallery.

Art gallery's history is showcased in new exhibit

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening its Louis I. Kahn building and the launch of its complete refurbishing, the Yale University Art Galley is presenting "The Once and Future Art Gallery: Renewing Yale's Oldest Museum," on view through May 18.

The exhibition looks backward and forward at the structures that have housed the Yale teaching museum's ever-growing collections since its founding in 1832. The show includes historic and contemporary architectural drawings and photographs, as well as a model and plans for the renovation project that will begin in the summer of 2003. It was organized by Suzanne Boorsch, curator of prints, drawings and photographs, and Susan B. Matheson, the Molly and Walter Bareiss Curator of Ancient Art.

In 1832, Yale College acquired 100 paintings by John Trumbull, including eight famous depictions of significant events in the American Revolution and the founding of the Republic, among them "The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton" and "The Declaration of Independence." Trumbull designed a neoclassical building to house these works. The Trumbull Gallery, the first college art museum in the United States, is represented in the exhibit, along with neighboring buildings on the Old Campus, in photographs and lithographs, as well as 19th-century plans and views of New Haven.

The exhibition continues its exploration of the architectural history of the Yale Art Gallery with the proposal by Augustus Russell Street, a New Haven native and Yale graduate (Class of 1812), to "cause the erection, at my own expense, of a building on the college ground to be used for a School of the Fine Arts" that would be "convenient for the collections in the Fine Arts" as well as for the school. Now called Street Hall, the Ruskinian Gothic building, designed by Peter Bonnett Wight, opened in 1867. It incorporated both the School of the Fine Arts -- again, the first on a U.S. college campus -- and new galleries for exhibiting art. It had entrances both from the college campus and Chapel Street, reflecting the donor's wishes and symbolically uniting school and city. An elevation drawing by Wight and numerous photographs of the exterior and interior of Street Hall are on view.

In 1928, exhibition and classroom spaces were expanded with the opening of the Gallery of Fine Arts, designed by alumnus Egerton Swartwout (Class of 1891). This Italian Gothic building was linked to Street Hall by a bridge across High Street. Swartwout's drawings in the exhibition show not only the exterior and interior of the gallery but also his plans for a second phase, which would have extended the structure to York Street. Due to the Great Depression, only two-fifths of the project was completed.

After only a few months it became evident that the space and facilities of the Swartwout building were inadequate, but it was more than two decades before the plan for an extension could be completed. "In the meantime, Modernism had struck," writes Vincent Scully, Sterling Professor of the History of Art, so Swartwout's plan was abandoned. In 1951 Louis I. Kahn was commissioned to design the extension.

"Buildings will be razed for Yale Art Gallery site" is the headline of a newspaper article in the section of the exhibition devoted to Kahn's design. This portion features some of the architect's original perspective drawings of the outside of the gallery, as well as the now-famous staircase. Numerous photographs of the building and a model of its completed state are also included. This new structure, opened in 1953, was the first building in the modern style on the Yale campus.

In her book "The Art Museums of Louis I. Kahn," Patricia Cummings Loud writes: "The commission brought about Kahn's discovery of structure, materials, and, perhaps most important, the power of the forms he was capable of creating. The Yale Art Gallery served to catalyze many of his basic ideas and beliefs about architecture, both in words and in work." Kahn went on to design the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, and the Yale Center for British Art.

The exhibition closes with plans by Polshek Partnership Architects for the immediate renovation of the landmark Kahn building as well as the future restoration of the Swartwout and Street Hall structures.

"The Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 2000," devoted to the architectural history of the museum, accompanies the exhibition. It includes an introduction by Vincent Scully and essays on the different phases of the gallery's architecture by Eric Vogt, Susan B. Matheson, Victoria J. Solan, Patricia E. Kane, Elise K. Kenney, Alexander Purves and Jock Reynolds, the museum's current director.

A number of programs have been scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition. Watch the Yale Bulletin & Calendar for future announcements.

Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (until 8 p.m. on Thursdays), and Sunday, 1-6 p.m. Admission is free for individuals; groups should call (203) 432-8459 for information about fees and to make a reservation. There is an entrance for people using wheelchairs at 201 York St., with an unmetered parking space nearby. For information on access, call (203) 432-0606. For general information, call (203) 432-0600 or visit the gallery's website at www.yale.edu/artgallery.


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