CHICAGO (CBS) — In its long, storied history as one of the premier museums in the world, the Chicago Art Institute has only closed a handful of times–and never for months.
In 141 years, the museum has closed on seven occasions, including for royal visits, the death of a president and the polar vortex. But never for a public health emergency like the one caused by the novel coronavirus. And never, ever for two months straight–until now.
CBS 2’s Chris Tye took an eerie tour of the galleries with the museum’s executive director for public affairs, Kati Murphy.
“When you look at art, you think about the moment it happened,” Murphy said.
Moments when paint meets canvas, or when clay is formed.
Looking at one of the museum’s most famous pieces, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, one may think about those take-for-granted moments when humans could all gather in the park.
Now this cultural icon, along with many others across Chicago has gone dark. And, being inside, nearly alone, is strange.
“This is something we have never experienced,” Murphy said. “It’s very eerie to be in the museum right now.”
Right now, a skeletal crew is inside, preserving the art, sometimes by covering it with paper.
What is it like to work among these priceless pieces of art in the middle of all this?
“To have the sustained period of time where we aren’t welcoming people into our galleries is difficult, and it’s something we never could have planned for,” Murphy said.
A long period of history–about 5,000 years–lives here. There are pieces that have survived war, famine and pandemic, but have never been viewed through social distancing.
“It’s going to be great when we are able to bring people back, and we are thinking about what that is going to look like,” Murphy said.
The two lions at the gates of the great museum–the iconic protectors on Michigan Avenue–could not stop this microscopic viral invader. But, when the day comes that the doors open again, the lions will be here to welcome back art lovers–and hope.
“The lions stand as a symbol of hope for Chicago, particularly when they were wearing their masks,” Murphy said.