The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has gone dark.
The museum closed to the public on Thursday as the result of the partial shutdown of the federal government that began on December 22. Its employees have been furloughed, and even its online shop has been deactivated.
The NGA’s shuttering comes one day after the Smithsonian network, which includes the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, closed as the result of its remaining funds running out. Many other entities, like the National Endowment for the Arts, locked their doors immediately when the shutdown began.
Among the shows that are now off view at the National Gallery are a Rachel Whiteread retrospective that is set to run only through January 13; “The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy,” which will close a week later; a Gordon Parks retrospective, which has an end date of February 18; and a Dawoud Bey exhibition that is midway through its stand.
And that isn’t even mentioning the thousands of artworks from the NGA’s permanent collection (and the other museums) that, for now, are going unseen. Critic Phyllis Tuchman is planning to post some of those pieces on her Instagram throughout the shutdown.
As Smithsonian museums closed yesterday and the prospect of an NGA closure loomed, artists with shows at those places, like Sean Scully, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Dawoud Bey, spoke out about the issue, with Bey saying, in part, “How unfortunate that this administration that has already created havoc in the lives of so many has now caused the shuttering of the nation’s great museums, denying access to the works on display there to so many while callously denying a paycheck to the many staff who are the custodians of that work.”
The NGA and Smithsonian museums will remain closed until funding legislation is passed by Congress and signed by President Trump (who has demanded $5 billion to toward the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to the current impasse), or until some other source of money is found to operate the institutions. During the government shutdown in the winter of 1995–96, private funds were used to keep a temporary Vermeer exhibition open to the public at the NGA while the rest of museum remained closed.
While most of the arts institutions closed as a result of the shutdown are based in D.C., Smithsonian museums beyond the capital city are also affected. Yesterday, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York closed, meaning that artist Jeffrey Veregge’s show there is among those currently inaccessible to the general public. “Any artist, any creative, you work very hard, and you work your whole life and hope for opportunities like this,” Veregge said of his show, in a phone interview on Thursday. “To have it shut down, it sucks, it hurts.”
However, the Salish artist, who is based in Seattle area, continued, “It’s small in comparison to what the families being affected” by the shutdown are going through, since they are not being paid “while our president is in the White House. He has all the necessity of life that he needs. He’s not going to worry about how to pay his electricity bill, or where his groceries are going to come from.”