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British art center will close next year for renovations

You’ve read more than once in our pages the story of a Yale building that was once glorious, then neglected or abused, then, after many years of deferred maintenance, restored to that original glory.

That is decidedly not the story of the Yale Center for British Art. Although the 37-year-old building will close for 13 months beginning in January for renovations, the work is all part of the regular upkeep of one of architect Louis Kahn’s most important works. “We consider our building our largest and most complex object,” says director Amy Meyers ’85PhD. Thanks to the endowment provided by the late Paul Mellon ’29, she says, “we’re in the luxurious position that we can attend to our building in a timely fashion.”

That means closing the museum’s galleries to the public from January 1, 2015, to early February 2016 so that mechanical systems can be upgraded and galleries and the lecture hall can be refurbished. (The center’s offices will remain open, and the study room and reference library will be accessible by appointment.) During the renovation, a number of works from the center will be on display across the street in the Yale University Art Gallery as part of a joint exhibition called The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art 1760–1860. Works from the center will also be integrated temporarily into the Art Gallery’s Europan art exhibits or loaned to other institutions.

This is the second time the center has closed for a year; the first, in 1998, was for major work on the building’s skylit roof. This time, the renovations are being guided by an exhaustively researched conservation plan that establishes 142 policies governing renovations and changes to the building—policies that range from “respect the roof as a designed element of the building” to “give due consideration to the relocation of power outlets so that symmetry in placement is respected.”

Such plans are becoming increasingly common in the United Kingdom, but Meyers says that YCBA’s—written by British architects Peter Inskip and Stephen Gee in association with YCBA deputy director Constance Clement—is the first ever undertaken in the United States. Completed in 2011, it was published as a hardcover book by YCBA and Yale University Press.

Although much of next year’s work will be behind the scenes, Meyers says that visitors will notice improvements when the center reopens. Finishes like woodwork, carpeting, and linens, will be refreshed, and the fourth-floor Long Gallery will be restored to Kahn’s original vision of a study gallery. 


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.


Filed under Center for British Art, architecture
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