Internationally recognized for its architecture, the Yale Center for British Art is a landmark building that has kept much of its original furniture in circulation since opening to the public in 1977. The Center strives to retain the vision of its creator, the renowned architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974), through the conservation of the building’s architecture, lighting fixtures, and original furnishings. The architect and interior designer Benjamin Baldwin (1913–1993) was Kahn’s choice to furnish the building. Baldwin, who was known for his simple yet atmospheric interiors, drew from a variety of sources. Because he previously worked with Kahn at Exeter Library in New Hampshire, he had a special insight into Kahn’s interior preferences. For the Center, Baldwin included the industrial designer Don Chadwick (born 1936) for the modular seating he had recently debuted; Ward Bennett (1917–2003), sole designer for Brickel Associates, for his innovative collection of chairs, such as the Lounge Chair-Straight Line featured here; and Claud Bunyard (1910–2005) for the CB10 Chair, a reinterpretation of the traditional Windsor chair. Baldwin also looked to American manufacturers that shared his interest in functional simplicity, like Herman Miller, Steelcase, and CI Designs. Other pieces of oak furniture were designed by Kahn’s succeeding architects, Anthony Pellecchia (born 1940) and Marshall Meyers (1931–2001).
This exhibition offers an opportunity to view and consider the Center’s furniture as primary objects—even as works of art. By taking them out of their functional role in the museum and displaying them here, surrounded by concrete and glass, and in the absence of paintings and sculpture, it is possible to focus on their modernist design, construction, and beauty. The reintroduction of the white oak planters evokes a time in the Center’s past when ficus trees and other plants decorated the gallery interiors. The accompanying essay further recaptures the Center’s earlier years through archival photography, reflecting the evolution of the interior.
Read more about the pieces that are featured in this display.
Furniture at the Yale Center for British Art: A Selection was curated by Rachel Hellerich, Senior Museum Preparator at the Center. Historical research for this project was made possible through the Center’s Institutional Archives. Special thanks are due to Richard Caspole, Photographer; Constance Clement, Former Deputy Director; Martina Droth, Deputy Director and Chief Curator; Nathan Flis, Head of Publications; Julie Fry, Head of Design; Abbie Griffiths, Senior Conservation Assistant; Kyle Kearson, Museum Preparator; Chris Lotis, Editor; Courtney J. Martin, Director; Benjamin Olson, Architect; Catherine Peebles, Museum Archivist; Shayna Roosevelt, Visitors Services and Communications Coordinator; and Greg Shea, Senior Museum Preparator.