Utah Museum of Fine Arts hosting going away party ahead of renovation hiatus

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jan 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 00:41:51-05

SALT LAKE CITY --  In January, the Utah Museum Of Fine Arts will be shutting its doors for the next year while they complete $2.5 million in renovations.

The museum will be installing the most up-to-date technology, to preserve the building and the art for many years to come.

That means cases are being emptied, and walls are being stripped. Starting January 18, UMFA will begin the renovations, which entail knocking out the exhibit walls.

"We're going to be digging into the exterior walls of this facility to improve the vapor barrier, which will hold the humidity that we pump into this building to care for the works of art," said Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director of UMFA.

The current building is only designed to contain 35 percent relative humidity, but a lot of these pieces need 50 percent.

"Sometime, especially when it's really cold outside, it's very hard for us to sort of maintain that, we're able to, but it's challenging," Dietrich said.

When you are housing Italian Renaissance paintings from the 16th century, having the wrong percentage of humidity could be devastating.

"The panel would either contract or expand, depending on what's going on, and the paint would literally start to crack and pop off the surface of the painting," Dietrich said.

In order to complete these renovations, the museum staff has to pack up all 20,000 works of art currently on display, some of it considered priceless.

"We have to make sure everything has multiple layers of protection, to not only protect it against movement and accidental drops and things like that, but also protect it against dust and vibration and construction hazards," said Robyn Haynie, Conservator of Collections.

Some pieces of art are more difficult to pack than others, for instance the sculpture Ethnic Man is 12-feet-tall. The museum is building their own crate to keep him safe.

"We took a crystal table, and that took us about a week to pack one object," Haynie said.

Before everything gets stored into boxes and placed onto shelves, the museum is throwing a going away party January 16 and 17. Admission is free, and it will be the public's last chance to see the art until UMFA reopens in the spring of 2017.