“There will be more gallery space and it will be better organized,” Cooper said.
To get a sense of what will happen, one needs to step inside the completed tower, in the southwest pod of the East Building. It has been home to many acclaimed exhibitions — Barnett Newman’s “Stations of the Cross” and Mark Rothko’s “Black Paintings.” But the two towers that face Pennsylvania Avenue were rarely used except for select exhibitions when the ceilings needed to be raised. Those temporary galleries will be gutted and the ceilings will be raised to 23 feet. The hexagonal-shaped towers will be lighted by skylights and connected by an outdoor sculpture terrace, seven stories above street level. Along with sculpture and superb views, the terrace will have park benches, tree planters and a seasonal refreshment area for Washington’s humid summers.
To fund the new gallery space, the gallery approached some notable donors about 18 months ago for the tower gallery renovation, according to Powell. He said the philanthropists — Victoria Sant, the gallery’s president, and Roger Sant, a Smithsonian Regent; Mitchell Rales, a board member, and his wife, Emily; and David Rubenstein, president of the Kennedy Center — each contributed $10 million gifts for the $30 million project.
The East Building has already been through significant maintenance renovations, mostly funded by Congress. Although almost half the age of the West Building, the East building, with its triangular motif, in recent years has required massive facelifts on its facade, with repairs that cost more than $82 million; congressional testimony characterized the problems as “systematic structural failures.”
In 2009, the National Gallery asked for $40 million to repair 16,200 lavender-pink panels of marble from Tennessee that were tilting outward. In 2010, the gallery petitioned Congress for roughly the same amount to complete the facade. Officials expect the infrastructure to be completed by the end of this year, in time for the 2014 closure of the galleries.
This isn’t the end to the building’s renovations. Plans for facilities renovations have been made, but according to Deborah Ziska, spokeswoman for the gallery, those plans are unavailable and “down the road.”
David Montgomery and Lonnae O’Neal Parker contributed to this report.