CHICAGO — Rumors began shaking my grapevine in Chicago last week about a sudden and dramatic closure of part of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute. My sources were using phrases like “mold in the floors,” and “moisture through the roof,” requiring a shut-down of one entire floor of the Modern Wing for emergency repairs. If true, this would be not just costly, but embarrassing, considering that the Renzo Piano-designed addition to Chicago’s grand old Michigan Avenue museum was opened with great fanfare only four years ago.
I contacted the media office of the Art Institute directly, and asked them if these rumors were true. Was part of the Modern Wing really going to be closed for the next seven months? Turns out that the answer is yes — but not for anything that would cause the Board of Trustees to ask Renzo Piano to return his fee. According to Erin Hogan, Director of Public Affairs at the Art Institute:
“We have closed the third floor of the Modern Wing — the galleries devoted to our collection of modern European art — NOT, as was erroneously reported [two weekends ago], the entire building. This was actually announced back in December, and this is in no way a surprise or sudden occurrence. There are various updates we want to do on that floor (including refinishing the floors, repainting the walls, recalibrating the lighting system for consistent “daylight harvesting,” etc) and it is just easier to do these changes all at once rather than gallery by gallery. This is planned for and scheduled maintenance built into the operating budget for the building — not repairs or renovations or anything.”
Nevertheless, Piano’s movable screen-like roof has been criticized in many places from day one for providing inadequate illumination to the galleries below. While that’s definitely not as bad a problem as mold infecting the canvasses, it’s to be hoped that the inconvenience to Chicago art visitors caused by the closure will result in a better viewing experience after the galleries re-open in April 2014.
The affected collection, which includes great pieces by Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, and other heavyweights, is temporarily on loan to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, which will open with The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago on October 6, 2013.
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