Summer 2017 Director’s Letter

With this summer letter, I mark the beginning of my 20th and final year as the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery. As you likely know, I took a much-needed six-month sabbatical in the summer and fall of 2016, during which I reflected on how healthily this museum’s collections, facilities, educational mission, and programs have grown.

All of our successful accomplishments have been due to the thoughtful work and generosity of a legion of colleagues, members, patrons, students, teachers, and volunteers, who have willingly contributed the best of what they could offer. And how heartening it also was, during my brief absence, to both sense and observe that the Gallery performed flawlessly without me. It will be a genuine pleasure to help welcome the Gallery’s next director, once she or he is appointed by Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, in the year ahead.

I was especially pleased with the work of Pamela Franks, now our Senior Deputy Director, in her interim role as the Gallery’s Acting Director. Just as a number of us sensed Pam’s great potential as a young scholar-curator when she came to the Gallery in 2000 as a Florence B. Selden Fellow with her freshly minted Ph.D., we now boast a new crop of very talented young fellows and curators on our staff, whose fine scholarship and creativity are presently on full display.

Keely Orgeman, who arrived in 2008 as the Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in American Paintings and Sculpture, has since earned her doctoral degree and was promoted to the position of the Alice and Allan Kaplan Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture two years ago. Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light, on view through July 23, marks her first major exhibition and publication project, one born of insatiable curiosity and drive, which has brought a pioneering modern artist back to view. This landmark exhibition was achieved with the help of an expert team of Gallery staff, notably Carol Snow, Deputy Chief Conservator and the Alan J. Dworsky Senior Conservator of Objects; Jason DeBlock, our Associate Director of Collections; Andrew Daubar, our new Exhibition Production Manager, and his team of museum technicians; and Tiffany Sprague, Director of Publications and Editorial Services. Thanks to their hard work, the mechanical elements of Wilfred’s aesthetic creations were repaired or recreated, and the best examples of Wilfred’s complex light sculptures may be viewed once again in their original glory. Among many of Wilfred’s visually enchanting works that audiences can experience in darkness and quietude is Lumia Suite, Op. 158 (1963–64), a masterpiece from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, which is on public view for the first time since 1980. We are excited that this exhibition will travel to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, D.C., in the fall, providing even more visibility to Wilfred’s lumia artworks, which remain remarkably innovative more than 50 years after their conception and fabrication.

Two very able museum fellows will take leave of the Gallery this summer after completing three-year stints with us, moving on to the next stage of their curatorial and scholarly careers. They will do so having mounted significant exhibitions and organized a host of fine public programs. One of them is La Tanya S. Autry, the Marcia Brady Tucker Senior Fellow in the Department of Photography, whom it has been my personal pleasure to mentor. La Tanya was previously introduced to you as the co-organizer of the 2015 exhibition Donald Blumberg Photographs: Selections from the Master Sets. Her final project for the Gallery, an exhibition titled Let Us March On: Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, on view through July 9, transports viewers to May 17, 1957, to consider issues of civil rights in America that still need to be addressed more fully. La Tanya’s presentation of this unique set of photographs, which the then 22-year-old Lee Friedlander shot along the Reflecting Pool of the National Mall and up onto the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is now at last being shown for the first time on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of this momentous public event—one that deserves to be much better known and understood. The exhibition of these photographs, all of which have been gifted to the Gallery by the artist, will next embark on a multivenue national tour.

We will also soon bid farewell to Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye, our current Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman–Joan Whitney Payson Senior Fellow in the Education Department. The timing of Jennifer’s three-year fellowship at Yale could not have been more serendipitous, as her doctoral dissertation at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, focused on contemporary Mexican artists and their reinterpretation of ancient American art. These interests led her to curate the exhibition Small-Great Objects: Anni and Josef Albers in the Americas, on view through June 25, which brilliantly juxtaposes numerous artworks created by Anni and Josef Albers alongside a wide array of Prehispanic figures, textiles, and pots that the couple collected during their many visits to Mexico and South America. Jennifer’s project was another model of fruitful collaboration, one that engaged many Gallery staff members and other colleagues who work in two of our neighboring institutions, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, in Bethany, Connecticut, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Jennifer harbors the desire to secure more opportunities to teach and curate, and she used her exhibition as the foundation for a course that she taught this past spring at Yale, titled “The Afterlife of Precolumbian Art.” This undergraduate seminar often met in the exhibition space, employing the feast of artworks on display as primary resources, along with the accompanying scholarly catalogue, which served as the textbook for the class.

Two exhibitions on view at the Gallery later this summer are also the work of the next generation of curators: “Drink That You May Live”: Ancient Glass from the Yale University Art Gallery, opening on August 4 and curated by Sara E. Cole, Ph.D. 2015, former Graduate Curatorial Intern in the Department of Ancient Art; and Before the Event/After the Fact: Contemporary Perspectives on War, the first Gallery exhibition curated by Judy Ditner, our new Richard Benson Assistant Curator of Photography and Digital Media, opening on July 21.

When the Gallery produces exhibitions and publications organized by young curators, fellows, and students, we are invariably rewarded as they perform at their best, continuously surpassing our expectations. Such are the great benefits of working at the Gallery, where these projects serve as inspiring opportunities for all of our senior staff as we mentor and encourage those who will succeed us in our fields. This is something I think about often as I enter into my senior years, fully satisfied with the gratifying work that I have been privileged to perform here at Yale, and ready, after two decades, to make way for many new leaders—who will, in time, leave their own legacies at this fine teaching museum and University.

Sincerely,

Jock Reynolds

The Henry J. Heinz II Director

Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director

 

 

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