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The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, one of the two national museums of Asian art, will undergo major renovations beginning this month to bring its technology and infrastructure into the 21st century and revitalize gallery spaces. Work behind the scenes will continue throughout 2015, and following a slate of special celebratory events, the museum will close to the public Jan. 4, 2016, and is expected to reopen summer 2017. This is the second major renovation in the Freer’s 90-year history. It opened in 1923 as the Smithsonian’s first art museum and the first major cultural institution in the Western hemisphere devoted to Asian art.
The adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, library and archives will remain open during the one-and-a-half-year renovation, and the Freer’s more than 25,000 objects are available online through the Open F|S digital initiative. Concerts, films and other public programs normally held at the Freer will be hosted at the Sackler and at sites around the Smithsonian and the Washington, D.C., area.
The Freer is named for Detroit magnate and collector Charles Lang Freer and holds one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art and works by James McNeill Whistler and his contemporaries. The building, a National Historic Landmark, was designed by architect Charles Platt to incorporate such innovative elements as adjustable skylights, human-scaled galleries and a serene center courtyard—all carefully calculated to enhance the contemplation and appreciation of art.
The renovation of the 180,330-square-foot building will accomplish several major goals: upgrade the building’s aging infrastructure, enhance gallery spaces, incorporate new technology and improve the visitor experience. Proposed projects include:
- Overhauling crucial climate-control systems and replacing outdated infrastructure with more energy-efficient systems.
- Refreshing gallery spaces to evoke Freer and Platt’s aesthetic vision, removing carpeting and restoring original terrazzo floors, installing marble baseboards, refinishing architectural details and preserving the use of natural light while incorporating state-of-the-art standards for the display and preservation of the collection.
- Enhancing the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium as a performance and recording space.
- Upgrading space use in storage and conservation areas to improve the preservation and scientific study of rare art and artifacts.
Final projects and details will be announced at asia.si.edu/future. The renovations will be funded with a mix of federal funds, the museum’s endowment and donated funds; full costs are yet to be determined. As part of his gift to the United States in 1906, Freer donated not only his preeminent collection but also funds for the building’s construction and an endowment to support ongoing research, acquisitions and enhancements.
The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit asia.si.edu or follow twitter.com/freersackler or facebook.com/freersackler. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.
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