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It's been less than four years since the Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing of the Art Institute opened to great fanfare. After this coming Labor Day, to much less fanfare, the third floor galleries, covering Modern European Art from 1900 to 1950, will be shutting down for over six months, as nearly 100 works, including 10 Picasso's and 10 Matisse's, are packed up and shipped to Fort Worth for the Kimbell Art Museum's exhibition The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters form the Art Institute of Chicago. Running through next February, it's billed as “the largest loan of its kind from the Art Institute.”
While the e-mail exchange I had with the Art Institute's Director of Public Affairs Erin Hogan was nothing less than responsive and pleasant, I still get the impression that the closing isn't exactly the museum's favorite subject for discussion. When the Art Institute last had such a major gallery closing and made a major loan - again to the Kimbell, for its 2009 The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago - it was heralded with a press release quoting then President James Cuno as being “thrilled” about the whole thing. In contrast, searching the Art Institute website, I can find absolutely nothing about the upcoming Modern Wing closing.
article in The Art Newspaper claimed the Art Institute would receive $2 million from the Kimbell, Cuno, in a New York Times interview, scoffed. “It was said by some that we rented the pictures. That’s just not what we do. The Kimbell is covering costs associated with mounting the exhibition, with producing the catalog and with reframing the pictures.” He declined to disclose the amount involved, as does Erin Hogan about the latest loan, which she says is “really just to ensure that the works can be seen while we work on the third floor. It's not a major source of revenue.” If the amounts are really negligible, you'd think they'd just disclose it and end the controversy, but that doesn't seem to be in cards.
Similarly, Hogan paints the six month closing as no big deal. “On the third floor there were a number of things we wanted to adjust and it just seemed to make more sense to do them all in one fell swoop rather than piece by piece.”
filed a $10 million complaint in U.S. District Court against Arup, the structural engineers for the project, citing work that was “woefully inadequate”, including cracked concrete flooring and faulty humidity controls that resulted in condensation that fogged the glass of the facades. The blades of Piano's “magic carpet” roof, designed to bring natural light into the third floor galleries in a way that was safe for the paintings, were said to whistle in high winds. Hogan says that all the problems were fixed by the time of the May, 2009 opening. The lawsuit against Arup was resolved about a year after it was filed.
new addition to Louis Kahn's iconic original building. At $1470 per square feet, it makes the Modern Wing's $1114 look like a bargain. Here, Piano deploys aluminum louvers that also incorporate photovoltaic cells to provide the building with power. Kahn's design is famous for bringing natural light into galleries, but it does so more modestly, with aluminum reflectors hanging from the ceiling rather than the ornate sculpted Piano rooflines that Wall Street Journal critic Lee Rosenbaum says have become the “must-have fashion accessories of museum expansions around the country.”
In the final analysis, no one can begrudge the Art Institute taking the time to ‘fine tune’ the Modern Wing. And yes, everything should be back in place by this time next year. Move on; nothing to see here - I get it. Still, I can't quite shake the nagging feeling that something's not quite right, that we should be expecting more from a $294 million building only four years old than having a huge chunk of it shut down for six months while the priceless treasures it was built to display are exiled out of view.