The South Asian galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art - the eight second-floor rooms containing such dramatic works as the mammoth Pillared Temple Hall built in the 16th century in southern India - will be closed for more than a year after Sunday.
Museum officials said Wednesday that the closure, long in the planning, will allow a complete rethinking of how the South Asian collection is presented to the public. Galleries will be reconfigured, lighting and floors will be upgraded and refurbished, and the stories told through the artworks will be revised, expanded, and refocused.
New video and digital technology will be deployed as well, allowing for a richer and, officials hope, more personal experience for museumgoers.
The galleries will reopen in fall 2016.
"This collection hasn't been rethought in how it is presented to the public in a very long time," museum director Timothy Rub said Wednesday. "It is our obligation . . . to ensure that these materials work as effectively as possible."
The last time the South Asian collection, which has grown substantially in recent decades, was reinstalled was more than 40 years ago, officials said.
Reinstallation now is driven by the museum's slowly unfolding makeover, which includes a much-publicized Frank Gehry-designed expansion, the reinstallation and redesign of the Rodin Museum, and implementation of a new strategic plan that emphasizes, among other things, "activating the collection," as Rub put it.
The South Asian galleries will not be affected greatly by Gehry's plan, but museum officials have deemed them as in need of a little activation.
The collection, Rub said, is renowned around the world among museum professionals and experts, but is less well-known by ordinary visitors.
Part of the goal of the reinstallation is to change that by presenting the art, artifacts, and architectural elements in a way that is lively and understandable. That may mean, Rub suggested, a lightening up on art-historical information and introduction of stories that focus on religious functions of objects or how the works relate to their original locales.
With the Pillared Temple Hall, for instance, it might be of interest to know more than the simple fact that it was made in Madurai in southern India in about 1550. Visitors might also be interested to learn that it was part of a much larger temple complex dedicated to Krishna, a manifestation of Vishnu.
Who is Krishna? Who is Vishnu? What went on in the temple? Is any of it still in use in Madurai? Were there festivals there? Other activities?
Rub said introduction of video and digital projections make expansion of the temple's story possible. In fact, multiple, layered stories will be possible, he said.
Visitors might also be interested in learning how the temple came to be on the second floor of an art museum in Philadelphia, for instance. They might appreciate knowing that noted Philadelphia native Adeline Pepper Gibson, while traveling on the subcontinent in 1912, ventured to Madurai and found the temple stored away in crates - its fate after town streets were widened.
"They saw no reason to keep them," said Rub, "and she snapped them up."
The temple, virtually unique outside India, was initially deployed in the museum's first home in Memorial Hall, a gift of Gibson's family in 1919 after her death, and then moved to its current location about a decade later.
Not all of the second-floor Asian wing will be closed during the reinstallation. Visitors will still be able to view art of China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea, ending in the climactic Japanese Tea House.
Rub said visitors can expect similar reinstallations in other parts of the museum in the not-distant future.
"Down the road, we'll be expanding the footprint of the American collection," he said. "Sometime within the next four or five years."