Beginning in 2016, the Freer Gallery of Art will close to the public for a major renovation. The Smithsonian Institution’s first fine-art museum will shut its doors to the public on Jan. 4, 2016, with the aim of reopening by the summer of 2017.
Changes planned for the Freer are all technical in scope, focused on improving the climate-control system throughout the museum. In addition to adjusting ventilation and humidity controls, officials aim to refurbish the art galleries, upgrade storage and conservation facilities, and restore the Meyer Auditorium. “We’re preserving and enhancing the original state rather than doing elaborate architectural expansions,” said a spokesperson in an email.
The adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art will remain open for the duration, though storage areas common to both museums will be closed. Officials at the Freer have not undertaken such a renovation since 1993, the culmination of a four-and-a-half year effort that added underground gallery space and linked the Freer to the Sackler. The two Asian art museums do not share the same collection, but one director and staff serves both institutions.
There is no figure available for the cost of the renovation, which will be paid for through a combination of federal and endowment funds and donations.
The Freer is home to some 26,000 objects and artworks, none of which may travel outside the museum, owing to the original bequest of museum founder Charles Lang Freer. The Detroit railroad magnate gave his collection of Asian artworks and artifacts to the Smithsonian in 1906. Upon Freer’s death in 1919, Freer’s greatest treasure—the Peacock Room by the painter James McNeill Whistler—was installed in the museum on the National Mall.
Works from the Freer collection will remain available to the public virtually through Open F|S, the new and expansive online vault for the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Opened earlier this year, the digital initiative is the first completed by any Smithsonian museum.
While the Freer is the Smithsonian’s oldest fine-art museum, its collection of Asian ceramics, metals, sculpture, paintings, and manuscripts continues to grow. One of its latest acquisitions is a simple 13th- or 14th-century tea jar that came to be so revered in Japanese culture that it received a name, Chigusa.
In addition to fine-art objects from South Asia, China, Egypt, and other regions in the Near and Far East, the Freer collection also includes works by 19th-century and turn-of-the-century American painters like Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Childe Hassam, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent.
In May, the Sackler will mount “Filthy Lucre,” an installation by painter Darren Waterston that reimagines the decadent Peacock Room in a state of decay. The installation will form the centerpiece of “Peacock Room REMIX,” an exhibition tapping into the personalities and ambitions behind the original Whistler commission.
For film fans, the Freer renovation might be cause for concern: The museum hosts the best regular screenings of Asian films in all of Washington, D.C., including film festivals celebrating directors from Hong Kong, Iran, and many other nations. According to the museum, though, the film screenings, concerts, and other public programs that would normally take place in the Freer will find room in other Smithsonian venues.