african masksKahn Yale opening
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Yale University Art Gallery's Main Building Reopens

yale opening


Sunday, December 10
Curators' Presentations on the Reinstallation of the Collection.
African Art, 5:00 PM
Frederick John Lamp, The Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Curator of African Art

The numerous new acquisitions that will be on view throughout the Gallery include selections from one of the largest and most significant single gifts of art in the Gallery’s history—the exceptional Charles B. Benenson collection of African art. This gift, totaling 586 objects, has transformed what was once a modest teaching installation into one of the nation’s major repositories of African art, nearly tripling the Gallery’s holdings in this area.

Yale University Art Gallery
46 High Street
P.O. Box 208271
New Haven, CT 06520-8271

African Art

Louis Kahn Building   African Art—second floor 

The centerpiece of the new African galleries will be the display of a selection of ninety-four objects from the recent gift of the Charles B. Benenson collection of African art. This collection, acquired by the Gallery in 2004, is especially noted for its group of ritual figures and masks from West and Central Africa.

Included in the installation will be a superbly carved kneeling Kongo female figure used in healing rituals; a magnificent wooden Ejagham mask adorned with elaborately carved wooden braids; and an extraordinary Baga D’mba–mask from Guinea, a stylized representation of a female figure that stands over four feet tall and is one of the largest known African masks

Yale Kahn building Yale University Art Gallery, Louis Kahn building, north side and upper courtyard, 2006. Sculptures in courtyard are For D.G., by Tony Smith, and Untitled by Joel Shapiro. © 2006 Yale University Art Gallery. Photo: Elizabeth Felicella.

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NEW HAVEN, CT.- The Yale University Art Gallery’s main building—an icon of modernist architecture designed by Louis Kahn (1901–74)—reopens to the public on December 10, 2006, following a three-year, $44 million renovation. The restoration of this landmark structure returns the Kahn building to its original purity and integrity, while introducing up-to-date building systems for the optimal preservation and display of the Gallery’s encyclopedic collection, which stands among the finest of any university art gallery in the world.

Completed in 1953, the Kahn building is widely considered to be the visionary American architect’s first masterpiece, and a significant turning point in the history of American museum architecture as a whole. Constructed of masonry, glass, and steel, the building has been acclaimed for the bold geometry of its design, its daring use of space and light, and its structural and engineering innovations. Highlights of the renovation include the complete replacement of the building’s signature window-walls, using modern materials; refurbishment of the tetrahedral ceilings, ingeniously designed to house the electrical and ventilation systems; reinstatement of the original open-space layout of the galleries; and transformation of the first-floor lobby into a media lounge, an inviting information center and gathering place.

The New York City–based Polshek Partnership Architects designed the Kahn building renovation. The team was led by Duncan Hazard with James Polshek and Richard Olcott. This work is part of the University’s Master Plan for the Yale Arts Area, for which Mr. Hazard is also the lead architectural planner.

Yale University President Richard C. Levin says, “The reopening of the Gallery’s Kahn building is a major milestone in the ongoing revitalization of the Yale Arts Area. The renovation was carried out with the deepest respect for both the history and future of the institution. It preserves and restores the architect’s brilliant vision, and it also accommodates the Gallery’s expanding scope and needs for many years to come.”

Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery states, “The superb work just accomplished on the iconic Louis Kahn building represents the first phase of a complete renovation and expansion of the Yale University Art Gallery, scheduled to conclude in 2011. The Kahn building is indeed a work of art in itself, one that was truly revolutionary at the time of its creation.

Moreover, its expansive and flexible spaces make it ideally suited not only to the display of a diversity of art, but also to the experimentation that is at the heart of the Gallery’s activities. Indeed, we think of the Gallery as a kind of laboratory, a place to test ideas and take intellectual risks. This is, after all, what a university should be about.”

The Kahn Building in Context - Designed while Louis Kahn was a visiting critic at the Yale School of Architecture (1947–57), the building that would become the main facility for the Yale University Art Gallery was the architect’s first major public commission. Begun in 1951 and completed in 1953, it opened to wide public and critical acclaim, and immediately established Kahn as an architect of international prominence. It was also the first modernist structure at Yale, making a radical break from the neo-Gothic character of much of the campus, including the Gallery’s adjacent Italianate Gothic-style wing, designed in 1928 by Egerton Swartwout.

The renovation of the Kahn building enhances one of the many great architectural experiences offered by the Yale campus: The Gallery is located across Chapel Street from the Yale Center for British Art, designed by Kahn in 1974, and the last of his buildings on which construction was begun during his lifetime. Together, the two museums stand in poignant dialogue, not only bracketing the great architect’s career, but also providing a profound aesthetic experience. That experience is enriched by the presence of the 1963 Art and Architecture building, designed by Paul Rudolph and also located opposite the Gallery, on York Street.

The Renovation - Undertaken with care to preserve all aspects of the building’s historic architecture, the renovation of the Kahn building restores many features of the architect’s original design that had become altered or in need of repair over the years. At the same time, the renovation has been an opportunity for the Gallery to upgrade many of its systems, in keeping with current museum standards and the growing needs of this internationally known institution.

One of the most complex and challenging aspects of the renovation was the complete replacement of the building’s original window-wall system, most dramatically along the west and north facades. An important milestone in the development of the modern glass wall, this has long been regarded as one of the most distinctive and beautiful features of the Kahn building. However, because of the materials and technology available at the time of its construction, Kahn’s window-wall was subject to some structural and thermal problems. Following a lengthy and complex process of planning and testing, the architects and engineers were successful in designing a window-wall system that at once addresses the original wall’s technical shortcomings, duplicates the appearance and profiles of the original, and accommodates modern museum standards of climate control.

The renovation also restores an open exterior courtyard, located on the west façade of the basement level, which had been roofed over in the 1970s to create additional interior space. The courtyard is the new site of Richard Serra’s Stacks (1990) sculpture. The window wall on this side of the building, which had been reduced from five to four stories, has also been restored to its original dimensions. A sculpture garden on the north side of building has been expanded and refurbished. Among the most distinctive features of the interiors are the Gallery’s dramatic tetrahedral ceilings. Fashioned of poured concrete and configured to form a three-dimensional matrix of interlocking triangles, they are at once visually arresting and functional, providing housing for the building’s electrical and ventilation system. In addition, the lighting capacity of the Gallery has been doubled.

The renovation also reinstates Kahn’s original—and at the time of its construction highly innovative—spacious open plan for the interiors. The building had initially included studios for both art and architecture students, as well as a series of expansive, uncluttered exhibition spaces. However, as the Gallery’s collection grew, the studios were relocated to another building, and the museum’s open spaces were partitioned into smaller galleries, classrooms, and offices. With the removal of these partitions, the galleries once again provide the unobstructed, light-filled vistas Kahn originally envisioned. The renovation reintroduces a newly engineered version of Kahn’s famous mobile “pogo” wall units, which allow the gallery spaces to be temporarily reconfigured as needed.

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The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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