THE NEW NELSON-ATKINS’ BLOCH
BUILDING GLOWS ON THE FORD
LEARNING CENTER CAMPUS.
Since 1999, Kansas Citians have eagerly awaited the completion of construction at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a stately building that has been a fixture on the city’s landscape since the ’30s.
Since the $200 million new addition broke ground in 2001, area residents have wondered about the modernistic building as it took shape on the east side of the Ford Learning Center campus.
The structure threads 840 feet along the edge of the museum’s sculpture park, with five “lenses” rising from the earth. The contemporary design, by New York architect Steven Holl, has not been without controversy. Long before its completion, critics expressed concerns that the structure didn’t pay homage to the neoclassical style of the original building, and that in daylight it didn’t resemble the luminosity of the architectural renderings. Holl asked for people to be patient and reserve judgment until construction was completed.
On June 9, the public gets its first glimpse inside the Bloch Building, named for Henry Bloch—chairman of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees and co-founder of H&R Block—and his wife, Marion. As media reports circulated about the flowing interiors and expansive galleries, the criticism quieted.
“The new construction will define the next era of achievement for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,” says Marc F. Wilson, museum director. “We look forward to engaging our visitors in breathtaking new spaces. The new Bloch building is part of the much larger vision for the future of the Nelson-Atkins.”
On one issue everyone can agree: The expansion has transformed the campus.
The glass Bloch Building offers a counterpoint to the stone Nelson-Atkins Building. Where the original Nelson-Atkins structure features muted lighting, marbled floors and classical columns in a symmetrical building, Holl’s expansion offers luminous floor-to-ceiling glass panels, terrazzo and wood floors, and irregularly shaped galleries with soaring ceilings.
Holl was one of six architects selected in 1999 to submit plans for the expansion of the museum. While five of the architects envisioned adding on to the north of the original structure, Holl’s design broke all the rules, carving space along the east side of the building.
The Bloch Building will serve double duty, not only as a structure to house works of art, but also as a work worthy of study itself; at night, the building is illuminated from within to shine like a beacon.
There have been other improvements, as part of the construction, that have also worked to enhance the campus. In addition to the Bloch Building, components of Nelson-Atkins improvement projects include:
New underground parking garage, which is also the new main entry to the museum, is located in the northernmost lens of the Bloch Building.
Expansion of classrooms and educational space—from 5,195 to 22,700 square feet—with construction of the Ford Learning Center on the original building’s ground floor.
Renovations to the original Nelson-Atkins Building. The ceremonial heart of the museum, Kirkwood Hall, was refurbished with new lighting, a new sound system and a new glass ceiling.
The new Sculpture Hall, which opened in 2005, is not only an important formal component of the Nelson-Atkins Building, but also acts as a bridge connecting the entrance of Kirkwood Hall to the lobby of the Bloch Building.
THE ART INSIDE AND OUT
With 165,000 square feet of space afforded by the Bloch Building, the museum has reexamined its holdings and given considerable thought to art placement, says Scott Stuart, media relations officer.
The Nelson-Atkins Building will continue to house the museum’s European, pre-1945 American, Asian, Southeast Asian, American Indian and ancient art collections. Artwork has been reinstalled in the permanent galleries, integrating decorative arts with paintings and sculptures from similar periods in a more populist approach to the museum experience.
The spacious galleries and alabaster walls within the Bloch Building provide an ideal setting for the museum’s contemporary art, African art, sculpture and photography.
The Bloch Building also features the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Court, a large space dedicated to the works of the Japanese-American sculptor. And just outside, the recently expanded 22-acre Kansas City Sculpture Park beckons with more than 30 sculptures by artists including Henry Moore, Tony Cragg and Alexander Calder.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gets its name from two Kansas City residents who likely did not even know each other: The Kansas City Star founder William Rockhill Nelson and widowed schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins, independently stipulated in their wills that their estates be used to purchase art for public enjoyment. In 1927, by consensus among trustees of both estates, the Nelson and Atkins funds were combined, and soon after construction began on the property where Nelson’s house stood.
On a cold December day in 1933, the Nelson opened its doors, and a crowd of 8,000 marveled at the works of art, including a special showing of James McNeill Whistler’s famous Whistler’s Mother.
IF YOU GO
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art boasts a permanent collection of more than 34,500 works of art. The museum is best known for its Asian art, European paintings, modern sculpture and now, with the acquisition of the Hallmark photographic collection, photography. The museum is located at 45th and Oak streets. Open Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission to the permanent collection is free. For more information, call 816-751-1278
ADDITIONAL NEW FEATURES INCLUDE:
• A new cafe in the museum will offer soups and sandwiches in a casual setting, while the more formal Rozzelle Court Restaurant will continue service in the Nelson-Atkins Building.
• The Museum Store will provide significantly more space for merchandise than the former store, which will become a gallery.
• A revamped visitors desk will offer information on television monitors, and nearby electronic kiosks will enable visitors to seek information or purchase tickets to special exhibitions.
MIDWEST AIRLINES, the official airline of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, offers nonstop service to Kansas City from cities throughout the country.