The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven has reopened after a 16-month conservation project.
But if you’ve been to the Yale center before, the project developers are hoping you’ll only notice subtle changes.
The goal was to restore the museum to the original specifications of its designer, acclaimed architect Louis Kahn. The building houses the most substantial collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom.
“The sheer quality of the exhibits means that if you want to get an understanding of British art, you’d do better to come to New Haven than to go to many provincial museums in Britain,” said historian and critic Dominic Green. “The collection that Paul Mellon built up is unparalleled.”
Green came from Boston for a press preview of the renovations, which included restoring the white oak wood panels to their golden honey hue, replacing the threadbare fabric covering the gallery walls with Belgian Linen, and the installation of undyed wool carpeting.
The centerpiece was the conversion of the Long Gallery on the fourth floor, which was restored to the way it was originally intended by Kahn as a salon-style exhibition space.
The renovation has also enabled more of the collection to be on view.
Roger Kimball, editor, and publisher of The New Criterion, a monthly review of arts and culture, lauded the sensitivity of the renovations, and the importance of the collection.
“It really shows that British art, far from being the little brother or second cousin of continental art, is every bit as good,” Kimball said. “The marvelous Gainsboroughs, Reynolds, and Turners, and so on, are absolutely captivating.”
Some of the behind-the-scenes work involved system upgrades like temperature control, lighting, and security.
The restoration was led by George Knight, of Knight Architecture. He said the project was nothing short of reverential to the original design.
“We were glad to be able to do this in a way that didn’t degrade or damage the architecture of the building, which would have been far more expedient. But it was too, too important,” Knight said. “The space and the architecture of the building is too important to have compromised with simple expedient upgrades of these systems.”
Calling it a jewel of a museum, James Panero, gallery critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, applauded the renovation for bringing out the soul of the building in a fresh new way.
“Here is a museum, basically of concrete, but could not be lighter in its feeling.” Panero said. “It’s filled with light. It’s just the amount of natural light filtering in, reflecting off these beautiful cement coffered ceilings. The colors of these walls, the metal, the sense of materials -- no one did concrete better than Louis Kahn.”
The Yale Center for British Art opened to the public in 1977. It is free and open year-round six days a week.