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An art museum without art is a little spooky.

A few of the galleries in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts are empty now, with display cases holding nothing but supporting racks and air.

So far, the art in pre-Columbian gallery has been put in storage, and Stephen De Staebler's giant stone mural "Moab I" in the main entrance has been dismantled and put in boxes.

The UMFA staff is preparing for a yearlong renovation project, in which the museum's home — the John and Marcia Price Building — will be upgraded. The biggest part of the renovation is new technology to maintain the building's "vapor barrier," which keeps humidity at the level required to preserve the artwork.

Fighting against Utah's dry desert air has put a strain on the Price building, which opened in 2000. The new technology not only will protect the art, but will help preserve what UMFA executive director Gretchen Dietrich calls an architecturally significant building on the University of Utah campus.

The museum will be closed from Jan. 18 through spring 2017, but it will be going out with a bang. A community party to kick off UMFA's Long Live Art! celebration is set for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16 and 17, with gallery talks, behind-the-scenes tours, film screenings in the auditorium, food trucks in the parking lot, modern-dance performances in the Great Hall, and a retro dance party on Saturday night. All of the weekend events are free.

To save money, and wear and tear on the art, all of UMFA's collection will stay in the building during the renovation.

"Most everything that can be safely stored in the basement will be," Dietrich said. The rest will be moved to the back of the first floor while construction work proceeds on the museum's entrance, and then brought forward when the renovation moves to the back half.

Other changes planned during the renovation are improved acoustics to the museum's Great Hall, a redesign of the reception desk, and getting rid of the guava color on the gallery walls — a color, Dietrich said, the architect never liked.

The yearlong closure also will give museum curators a chance to think about UMFA's permanent collection in new ways and plan how to reinstall the standing galleries of European, American, regional, Pacific Island and Asian art — and to include, for the first time in years, a gallery of African art.

"One of my goals, since I've been here, is to make better use of our collections, really have the art that we already possess really sing," Dietrich said.

For example, she said, UMFA's French Impressionist collection is rather thin, so Leslie Anderson-Perkins, the museum's new curator of European, American and regional art, suggested they augment those with works by American Impressionists who studied in France.

"We're thinking a lot more fluidly and a lot more flexibly, and sort of thinking along the lines of themes, rather than a pure walk-through of art history," Dietrich said.

UMFA will continue with some of its community programs, such as its Third Saturdays workshops for kids. It's also launching a new initiative, "ARTLandish: Land Art, Landscape and the Environment," which will look at landscape and Utah's examples of Land Art: Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels.

Mostly, Dietrich said, the year is an opportunity to "think about the future of the UMFA in a big and expansive way. … It's a great moment to re-evaluate and reassess everything."

Twitter: @moviecricket —

Long Live Art!

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will throw a Long Live Art! kickoff party on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16-17, before closing for its yearlong renovation project.

The museum is at 410 Campus Center Drive on the University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City. Events are free.

Here's a list of events:


11 a.m. • "Behind the Scenes: Caring for the Collection" (collections storage tour)

11 a.m. - 6 p.m. • Food trucks in parking lot

Noon • Curator's Pick gallery talk

12:30 p.m. • Curator's Pick gallery talk

1-4 p.m. • Third Saturdays for Families: Scarabs

2 p.m. • "Behind the Scenes: Caring for the Collection" (collections storage tour)

4 p.m. • "Behind the Scenes: Caring for the Collection" (collections storage tour)

5 p.m. • "SENSEsational: Accessing Art Through the Senses" (tour)

6 p.m. • University of Utah Modern Dance performances in the Great Hall

7-8:30 p.m. • Film screening of "Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art"

8:30 p.m.-midnight • "I (heart) Retro" dance party with DJ Lishus


11 a.m. • Chamber music in the galleries

Noon • Yoga

1 p.m. • Curator's Pick gallery talk

1:30 p.m. • Curator's Pick gallery talk

2 p.m. • University of Utah Modern Dance performances in the Great Hall

3-4:30 p.m. • Film screening of "The Painting (Le Tableau)"