Jan. 18, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 9

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    Oriental Institute moves into next phase of renovation

    On Monday, Feb. 5, the project to renovate the Oriental Institute Museum will move forward with the closing of the Egyptian gallery. The Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Nubian and Special Exhibits galleries will remain open to the public until later in the year. The Suq gift and book shop will continue normal operations throughout the renovation project, which is expected to continue through spring 1998.

    The closing of the Egyptian gallery is a further step in packing the Oriental Institute's 100,000 registered artifacts from ancient Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Israel and Palestine in preparation for the first renovation of the institute facility in more than 60 years. The renovation project includes the installation of climate control in the galleries and artifact storage areas; the construction of a 14,000-square-foot wing for artifact and archival storage; the creation of a multifunction room for educational programs, an Archaeological Research Center for institute faculty members and graduate students and an expanded computer laboratory adapted for the analysis of archaeological data; the relocation of the conservation laboratory; and an expansion of the Research Library stacks.

    The architectural firm engaged for the project is Hammond, Beeby and Babka of Chicago. The Oriental Institute's Legacy Campaign to raise the $10.1 million cost of the project passed the halfway mark in December 1995.

    The climate-control portion of the project is being undertaken in response to the tremendous variation in relative humidity and temperature in Chicago. This variation causes irreparable damage to ancient objects by subjecting them to continual expansion and contraction. Once the temperature and humidity have been stabilized in the galleries, artifacts of wood, fabric or other delicate materials that previously had to be stored off view in a small, climate-conditioned area of the basement will be able to be exhibited to the public. This will allow for the display of a whole new range of objects, such as furniture, textiles, clothing, Book of the Dead papyri, Egyptian mummies and even animal mummies.

    The installation of climate control involves major duct work in the galleries, necessitating the temporary removal of all the artifacts.

    "It will be painful to have to close our doors to the public, but when we reopen, we will have entirely new exhibits in comfortable galleries that provide the most favorable conditions for our artifacts," said Karen Wilson, Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum. "This offers us the opportunity to completely rethink the exhibits and to ensure that the most important portions of our collection are made accessible to the public."

    Among the anticipated changes is a new, permanent exhibit featuring the Oriental Institute's famed collection of Nubian artifacts -- artifacts from one of Africa's little-known, and most ancient, civilizations. Wilson is also planning to create a "Khorsabad Court," showcasing the institute's collection of monumental carved stone slabs. These Assyrian masterpieces were excavated at the site of Khorsabad in northern Iraq in the late 1920s. The institute has one of the world's most comprehensive collections of artifacts from Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq), documenting the earliest civilizations of mankind. Special emphasis will be given to the lands of the Bible, with a gallery devoted to the artifacts that the institute excavated at Megiddo, thought to be the site of ancient Armageddon. A Special Exhibits gallery will allow institute curators to mount temporary displays from the institute's own collections or to present loan shows from other museums.

    Although the exhibits will be newly installed, Wilson said that the historical integrity of the museum will remain intact and that the painted ceilings, light fixtures, period display cases and architectural elements based on Middle Eastern motifs will not be affected.

    Although the galleries will be inaccessible once the museum closes for renovation, the public can visit the Oriental Institute on the World Wide Web via the Internet anytime (http://www-oi.uchicago. edu/OI/default.html). Through the Oriental Institute home page, computer users can view highlights of the collection and historic photos from institute excavations, check on recent and new research projects and even browse the Suq.

    Also, the Oriental Institute's Educational Programs office will continue to offer adult and children's programs, both at the Hyde Park facility and off site, throughout the renovation.