How do you pack up 45,000 pieces of art? Very carefully, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art says

The IU Eskenazi Museum of Art remains closed this academic year to allow for a $30 million renovation to the I.M. Pei-designed building.

But plenty is going on behind the scenes, as staffers pack up the thousands of objects housed there.

From the top: Objects range in size from 6-foot masks to 0.2-inch gold weights; before packing items, a full inventory of a specific collection and thorough checking of the condition of each object is required. Photos courtesy of the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art

The museum's curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, Emma Kessler, recently shared a blog post that highlights some of the trickier aspects of that process. That includes a full inventory of a specific collection, checking the condition of each object and packing it -- which isn't as simple as wrapping an item in bubble wrap, Kessler said.

"The objects in the museum range in size, shape, material and fragility, and the objects in the African, Oceanic and Americas collection are some of the most diverse," she wrote. "They range in size from 6-foot masks to 0.2-inch gold weights. There are also a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiber, bone, shell, feathers, hair, metal and plastic. Often a single object will include several different materials."

But there's a plus side to the intricate process, Kessler said.

"While it is a monumental challenge to pack up a collection of this size, it is also an opportunity to reassess our holdings and improve methods of storage and care for our collection," she wrote. "In that way, it is a great moment for ensuring that our collection will be properly preserved and available for Indiana University students, visiting scholars and the general public for years to come."

Museum renovation

So what's going on with the building? In an effort to make the facility the "ultimate teaching museum," gallery areas will be renovated and expanded. Four new museum centers will be created in curatorial studies, conservation, education and works on paper. The renovations will also include a new lecture hall, a new café and shop, new teaching and study spaces, and areas to get behind-the-scenes views of museum activities.

The museum will also receive hardscape improvements to create direct access from the Arboretum to the existing sculpture terrace and a new second-floor entrance, as well as an outdoor gathering space.

The modernization of the facility, along with the expanded gallery and event spaces, will enable the museum to strengthen its educational programming and provide better resources both for students and professors, as well as for preschool through high school students throughout Indiana.

From the top: Objects in the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art vary greatly in size, shape, material and fragility, making packing a challenge; museum employees and outside vendors packed 45,000 pieces of art for renovations.  Photos courtesy of the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art

Renovations are expected to be complete in the fall of 2019.

The project is made possible in large part thanks to a landmark gift of $15 million from Indianapolis-based philanthropists Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, the largest cash gift in the museum's history. The gift will be matched by the university as part of For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign match program.

Staying connected

Manager of public relations and marketing Abe Morris said the museum's schedule remains busy during the renovation. That includes:

  • An October exhibition titled "A Shared Elegy," presented in partnership with the Grunwald Gallery and a book published by IU Press.
  • A partnership with Lotus Education and Arts Foundation, the IU School of Art and Design, the IU Textile Association and the IU Arts and Humanities Council to bring Swedish textile artist Isabelle Berglund to Bloomington for a residence in September and October, including a number of public workshops and installations.
  • The continuation of the popular "Art and a Movie" series with IU Cinema.
  • A presence at the upcoming IU First Thursdays events.

Can't attend any of those events? Enjoy the museum's collection online via its new Collection Highlights web page.