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By Karen L. Wilson
The Oriental Institute Museum Director
The University of Chicago

The first phase of the Oriental Institute's renovation and expansion project was completed in December 1997. During this phase, a 17,000 square foot addition was constructed on the south side of the original 1931 building, and three-quarters of the basement and first floors of that building were completely renovated.

The basement of the addition and the adjacent renovated areas of the basement of the 1931 building now house artifact storage.

Organic object storage and archives storage have new homes on the first floor of the addition. This story has 18-foot-high ceilings that were designed to match those of the adjacent galleries in case it was decided in the future to use these areas for exhibitions. For the time being, however, these high ceilings provide the museum with the possibility of adding a mezzanine in the future to increase storage capacity (which is especially important for the Archives, which are the only steadily growing part of the collections).

The Conservation Laboratory has moved onto the second floor of the addition into a glorious space that is more than three times as large as the former facility and will allow the museum to expand its conservation staff, probably primarily through the use of interns. Adjacent to the Conservation Lab are the Library Stacks, accessible from the present Reading Room, and on the third floor of the addition are new quarters for Exhibit Preparation, as well as mechanical rooms. All of the new and renovated spaces are provided with the highest levels of climate control and air filtration (both gaseous and particulate), which are maintained by five air-handling systems located throughout the building.

The new wing blends in perfectly with the 1931 building (except for its lack of a layer of Chicago grime, which should not be long in coming) and complements, rather than intrudes upon, the majestic splendor of Rockefeller Chapel to the Southeast. The architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby & Babka Inc. have been thanked by all for giving us a building that is beautiful and functional both inside and out.

Phase 2 of the project is currently scheduled to begin in April and should be completed during July. This phase will lead to the renovation of the remaining 1/4 of the basement and first floor of the 1931 building. That portion of the basement will be reconfigured to provide archaeological study areas and a multi-purpose room for seminars, events, and public programs.

The museum has engaged the exhibit design/architectural firm of Vinci/Hamp, Associates to work with staff on the design and installation of the galleries, which are now fully climate controlled and provided with a new eight-track lighting system. We are anticipating reinstallation of the galleries according to the following schedule:

Egyptian Gallery (former Mesopotamian Gallery - December, 1998
Mesopotamian and Assyrian Gallery (former Egyptian Gallery) - fall 1999
Persian Gallery and Megiddo Gallery - spring 2000
Nubian Gallery plus Amuq and Anatolia (former Assyrian Gallery - spring 2001

Each of the new galleries will contain exhibits that are arranged both chronologically and thematically. As one approaches the entrance to the Egyptian Gallery, the first thing one will see is the colossal statue of King Tutankhamun, which will have been relocated to stand in a central position about twelve feet into the hall. For the first time in the Oriental Institute's history, the first object one sees upon entering the Egyptian Gallery will be an Egyptian (as opposed to an Assyrian) one, and visitors will be able to walk around the statue and to appreciate it from all sides. On King Tut's right will be an exhibit on the chronology of ancient Egypt. This presentation will be schematic, with a limited amount of text (name of period, dynasty, dates, and a listing of key historicaVcultural events) illustrated by characteristic artifacts. It will show the visitor the typical object types and styles for each major period and allow them to make comparisons and contrasts amongst them.

Most of the remainder of the gallery will be arranged thematically. Some of these themes will be familiar from the former galleries (writing, tools and technology, music and games, food and drink), and others will be new. The latter will include women, family, occupations, popular religion, and the God's Wives of Amun. On display in the section on popular religion will be objects that attest to personal piety such as animal mummies, votive shirts, and steles of supplication, prayer and transfiguration. The God's Wives of Amun section will exhibit some of the objects from these women's tomb chapels at Medinet Habu, and the accompanying text will discuss their political/theocratic roles.

The objects in all of the new galleries will be exhibited primarily in the museum's handsome walnut and glass display cases, which will be refinished and retrofitted with label ramps. Newly fabricated divider walls, which are in fact free-standing cases for large reliefs and statues, will replace the alcove walls characteristic of the former galleries. As well as providing secure and flexible exhibit space for hard-to-display large stone items, these cases will simultaneously divide up the gallery spaces and provide lines of sight from one area of the hall to another.

The new Egyptian Gallery will have its first opening event on December 5, 1998 - the 67th anniversary of the dedication of the Oriental Institute building, and will open to the public on December 8.



Revised: March 2, 1998
Copyright 2006 Oriental Institute, University of Chicago