The Whiteread show is the first in a series of closings of high-
profile D.C. exhibitions affected by the government shutdown, now in its fourth week and with no end in sight. “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” closing at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery on Jan. 21 after being shut to visitors since Jan. 1, also requires a team of specialized workers to move the valuable works.
In normal times, such moves would occur without a hitch. But these are not normal times for the federal cultural institutions caught in the political impasse. While about a quarter of the federal government shut down Dec. 22, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian museums stayed open through December, using reserve funds to keep operating during the busy holiday season.
As the shutdown rolls toward its second month, long-planned exhibition deadlines are being affected, both for shows closing and those being moved elsewhere, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Furloughed workers have been allowed to work only because the shows must be taken down.
“They have to get ready for new things coming in,” St. Thomas said. “They want to be ready for action as soon as the shutdown ends.”
Other activities at the museums have also been hampered. The National Museum of African Art agreed to lend 23 works to the Block Museum at Northwestern University for a groundbreaking show on medieval Africa. The touring exhibition debuts next week.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Berzock said. “We have a huge amount of sympathy for our colleagues at the African Art Museum. We’re appreciative of everything they’ve done.”
The Smithsonian ended up bringing in furloughed workers to take care of the loans, and the works are now expected to arrive before the show opens. But the delay has increased the Block’s costs and forced its staff to scramble to complete the installation.
The shutdown also is having financial repercussions at the Smithsonian, which lost about $1.5 million in revenue during the first 10 days of the closure, a spokeswoman said. If the closure continues, it expects to lose $920,000 a week through January, from food and beverage sales, Imax theater admission and parking fees.