There will be no indoor exhibitions at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum for up to three years while costly upgrades are made to the facility’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.
The abrupt closure announced Tuesday by The Trustees of Reservations, which oversees the museum in Lincoln, will not affect the outdoor Sculpture Park or other programs and events at the museum, including indoor lectures, concerts, and dining.
Eunice “Nicie” Panetta, interim CEO of The Trustees, said all art exhibitions inside the museum will be suspended once the current show, “New Formations, Downstream and Carolina Caycedo: Apparitions/Apariciones,” closes March 12. She said the need to overhaul the deCordova’s HVAC system was discovered during the planning process for renewing the museum’s accreditation.
“All museums need to be upgraded over time. They always need to renovate their facilities as systems wear out,” said Panetta. “This is just something that’s come up. We’ll deal with it and move forward.
“We are by no means alone in dealing with this issue,” she said.
In fact, the Davis Museum, at Wellesley College, which shut its doors in December for unspecified renovations, has since announced that it, also, is upgrading its HVAC system and will be closed until February 2024. A note posted in recent days on the museum’s website said the work “reflects the strong commitment of Wellesley College to safely steward the museum’s collections for the future.”
Museums big and small rely on intricate — and expensive — HVAC systems to preserve their collections of paintings, drawings, and sculptures, which, in some cases, are centuries old. Without dependable climate controls in place, fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause valuable artwork to flake, crack, rust, or otherwise degrade.
“At the deCordova, we’re looking at an improvement of our climate-control capabilities that will allow us to maintain a better humidity range within the building,” said Sarah Montross, chief curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.
The Trustees of Reservations, founded in 1891, is a land preservation trust maintaining over 115 properties in Massachusetts, including woodlands, farms, public gardens, and historic homes and cultural institutions such as the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard and Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich.
In 2018, The Trustees integrated the deCordova, which had been struggling financially for years. (The museum takes its name from the onetime owner of the estate on the southeast shore of Flint’s Pond, Julian deCordova.) The Trustees have since boosted the museum’s curatorial ranks and created a new position to serve not only as artistic director at the deCordova but also to oversee art and exhibitions at all Trustees properties.
Jessica May, the person hired in 2021 to do that job, said Tuesday that the renovations at the deCordova can’t be delayed.
“We believe doing this necessary work in the galleries will ensure our ability to deliver an exciting and comprehensive vision centered around artists engaging with the environment for generations to come,” May said in a statement.
Likewise, Panetta called the HVAC upgrade an “investment in the future of the deCordova,” but she acknowledged it’s not yet clear how much the work will cost to complete.
“It will definitely be millions of dollars, I can tell you that,” she said. “But how many millions is to be determined.”
Asked if The Trustees might undertake a fund-raising campaign to cover the cost, Panetta said it’s likely.
“We were engaging with a design firm to think about the future, so we were going to need to be in touch with supporters about resourcing that vision,” she said. “That will be happening, just maybe a little bit sooner.”
The Trustees said the Rappaport Prize, an annual award presented by the deCordova, will carry on as usual — artist Steve Locke was the 2022 recipient — and Montross reiterated that the museum’s Sculpture Park, with its 30 acres of landscaped lawns, gardens, and terraces and 60-plus sculptures, will remain open to the public while work is going on in the exhibition space.
“The Sculpture Park will be very, very vibrant during this timeframe,” Montross said. “And we’ll be doubling down on our statewide efforts to present art on our landscapes.”