Have you missed the Tiffany lamps, our beautiful Louis Majorelle bedroom suite, or a favorite Matisse or Picasso painting? Maybe you came to the museum to see Degas’s At the Milliners, one of the masterworks acquired by the museum from the Paul Mellon estate this summer, and found it off view.
Just like any other building, museums need regular maintenance. However, when you paint a wall or refinish a floor in an art museum, you can’t just throw a tarp over the artwork. So when we needed to replace the roof in the 1985 Wing in August, we had to close all or parts of three of our galleries: Lewis Mid-to-Late 20th Century, Lewis Decorative Arts, and Mellon French and American. Some of the works were deinstalled and stored to protect against vibration and moisture, while others, because of their size, fragility, or complicated hanging method, were safely encased in foam and plywood or other protective constructions and left in place in the galleries.
With Registration Assistant Erin Housholder at the helm, the complex logistics, scheduling, art movement, storage, and inventory process took approximately six weeks and involved a wide swath of the museum’s staff, including Registration and Handling, Conservation, Exhibition Production (for signage), Buildings & Grounds, and even Lighting (the can lights were removed to prevent jostling).
Where do we put all of the art while the repair is being done? Most of it is in museum storage, but one important piece, Degas’s Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, is actually eliciting ooh’s and ahh’s hundreds of miles away. Lent to the New Orleans Museum of Art in exchange for a Degas portrait, this sculpture will return to VMFA in March.
Fortunately, reinstalling the artwork won’t be quite as time-consuming a process as deinstallation. All of the artwork in the Lewis galleries will be back on view in early November, while the Mellon French and American Art Galleries (without Little Dancer, of course) will reopen by December.
We know many visitors stop in to see certain paintings or sculptures every time they are at the museum. If one of your favorites has been off view, pay that cherished work a visit in the coming months!