For my birthday last week, I treated myself by taking a trip to the Yale University art museums. I’m been meaning to go for ages, and it was a great present to myself! I saw both the Yale University Art Gallery, which is the subject of this post, and the Yale Center for British Art, the subject of my next post. Both museums are exceptional, and I highly recommend then to everyone.
The Yale University Art Gallery is located in New Haven, Connecticut, on the Yale University campus. It is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm on the weekdays (open later on Thursdays during the school year) and 11 am – 5 pm on the weekends. It’s free and open to the public. The museum is spacious and inviting, It has a small gift shop in the lobby. There’s no café, but there are several cute eateries nearby.
What I liked about it
Everything! Seriously, I loved this museum, and I can’t wait to go back again.
- It has a little bit of everything, and all of it is truly world class. For example, Van Gogh’s The Night Café is here. You might well see art on these walls that’s also on the covers of your art history textbooks.
- The guards (at least those I encountered) are extremely knowledgeable. I don’t know if they have excellent training, or they’re just that enthusiastic about the art. Either way, they will not only point you in the direction of the work you’re looking for, but they’ll also give you a fabulous overview of it. With guards like these, who needs tour guides? Shout-out to the friendly guard in the Dura-Europos gallery who told me so much about the murals and religious customs! Sadly, I don’t know your name since you weren’t wearing a nametag.
- The museum itself is pretty cool looking. The architecture is a great blend of Gothic Revival and glass-and-steel modernism that works surprisingly well together.
- Being on an Ivy League campus, this museum attracts a cool selection of people, and (at least on the day I was there) that makes for a great atmosphere to enjoy the art in.
As I said before, the museum has a little bit of everything from familiar standbys (several centuries of European paintings) to the more unusual (objects excavated from a Roman-era Syrian fort). Here are some highlights:
- The collections of African and Indo-Pacific art are particularly enjoyable. These galleries are spacious and attractively curated, and the selection of works is just the right size. Also, the labels are quite helpful for people who don’t know much about these traditions. Make sure you look out for the African galleries, because they’re easy to overlook. They’re the only exhibition space on the west side of the first floor; everything else is on the other side of the lobby. The ancient American art, while in a less-attractive gallery, is another great collection.
- There’s a long gallery dedicated to the ancient art of Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia. This area of the building is Gothic Revival in style, and the elegant lancet windows coexist beautifully with the mainly-marble statuary. At the far end of the room, a large statue of a Roman woman is perfectly framed by a big arch – to stunning effect.
- The Dura-Europos gallery is the greatest surprise in the museum. Yale participated in excavations of this Roman-era Syrian fort several decades ago, and the sizeable gallery shows its portion of the finds. The items come from several different religions, including the early Christianity, Judaism, and various pagan that existed side-by-side at Dura-Europos. The fragmentary wall paintings are unforgettable. I hope to write a longer piece about Dura-Europos sometime soon. If you are at Yale and only have time to see one thing in the museum, see this.
- There’s a sculpture garden, sculpture courtyard, and sculpture terrace. They’re all of different levels, and I don’t think they’re connected to each other.
- Yale apparently has a cool numismatic collection. Most of it is located in the Study Room for Numismatics, which is open by appointment only. I have no idea what it takes to get an appointment, but you might want to look into it if you’re a coin enthusiast.
- Special exhibitions galleries are on the fourth floor. The exhibitions were being switched out when I was there, so I didn’t get to see anything.
Things to Keep In Mind If You Go
- Street parking in New Haven is actually possible, unlike in some of my other recent experiences, but you’re limited to two hours. Since admission is free, it’s easy enough to moved your car to another spot and came back. However, it might be easier to park in a deck or downtown lot so you don’t have to worry about it.
- You can see the entire museum in a day if you’re feeling ambitious, but definitely give yourself the full day.
- Across the street from the art gallery is the Yale Center for British Art. I’ll write a separate review of it, but I will say here that trying to see both museums in one day was a bit much for me. If you want to visit both, that’s fine, but don’t try to see them in their entirety.
- The museum offers free membership. Yes, you read that correctly. All you have to do is fill out a short form and turn it in at the desk. I’ve never heard of a free membership before, but if I get a magazine or something like that soon, I’ll be happy. I also heard that the parking decks near the museum offer discounts to museum members. Update 2/9/18: I received my membership card in the mail today! According to the letter, members receive: “Gallery magazine three times each year, eNews subscription, Exhibition announcements and invitations to programs and events, 20& discount in the Gallery’s Bookstore, Discount at Chapel-York Garage with validation”.
- My only gripe with this spectacular museum is that it’s a bit difficult to navigate. This is probably because it’s is actually three separate buildings joined together. There are four floors, three mezzanines, and a lower level with classrooms. Lots of little galleries are tucked away around corners, behind stairs, etc. I missed the medieval and Byzantine room because I thought there were only offices down that hall. If you just walk around from room to room, you won’t necessarily find everything, so pay close attention to your map. Fortunately, there’s helpful signage near every elevator and staircase, and the staff is very helpful. On the plus side, this unusual layout gives the museum a warm and organic atmosphere.
I highly recommend the Yale University Art Gallery to everyone. Regardless of your experience level or interests, you’ll find world-class artwork that suits your tastes there.