Innovations during renovations: Evolving technologies and new materials for an encyclopedic university museum

Carol Snow


Founded in 1828 as the country’s first college art collection, the Yale University Art Gallery recently completed a phased, fourteen-year renovation and expansion to reverse over 280 years of accumulated, deferred maintenance. Guided by Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds, New York’s Ennead Architects elegantly reunited three distinctly different buildings – the 1866 Ruskinian Gothic Street Hall originally built as the Yale Art School, the 1928 Italianate Gothic Old Yale Art Gallery, and the 1953 Louis Kahn building – as part of Yale University’s Master Plan for the Arts Area serving Yale, New Haven, and visitors from around the world. At a cost of $135 million, the project increased exhibition space by 73% allowing over 4,000 works of art to be displayed, and created new study galleries and classrooms to fulfill the teaching museum’s mission “to encourage appreciation and understanding of art and its role in society through direct engagement with original works of art” (

During the latest phase of renovations, the Conservation Department was tasked with treating over a thousand objects from eleven curatorial departments in less than three years. Support from interdepartmental museum staff allowed research and development of new materials and techniques for major installations and conservation projects. Treatments ranged from high precision, dry removal of tons of reinforced concrete to passive preservation of experimental materials used by living artists. This presentation spotlights ancient to contemporary conservation projects: a Roman mithraeum and horse armor, a Byzantine floor mosaic, an 18th century period room, IndoPacific textiles, an Indian teak archway, a John La Farge stained glass window, Marcel Duchamp’s Rotary Glass, and Matthew Barney’s petroleum jelly sculpture. Collaborations with engineers, fabricators, art handlers, exhibition designers, and curators made innovative use of evolving technologies. New applications of 3D scanning, CNC (computer numeric controlled) machines, and composite materials redefined reversibility and restoration and offered new options for collection display and collection sharing.

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2013 | Indianapolis | Volume 20