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Archive for Sunday, June 10, 2007

Art connections

The Bloch Building glows after sundown on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The Bloch Building glows after sundown on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

June 10, 2007

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Every month or two, David Cateforis contemplates the Chinese statue "Guanyin Bodhisattva" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

"I love to stand in front of it, enjoy it and feel its power," he says.

While Cateforis enjoys the museum's art on a personal level, he also uses its collections for work - he's an associate professor of art history at Kansas University.

It's one of many connections between KU and the Nelson-Atkins, which is receiving national and international recognition this weekend as it opens its new $94 million Bloch Building, which is part of a $200 million renovation and expansion project.

KU officials are hoping there's a ripple effect of that renewed excitement at the Nelson-Atkins, and that it might help develop programs at KU's Spencer Museum of Art and further arts education on the campus. And, of course, fans of art and architecture will have a new resource at their disposal, too.

"I think we're at a very new, promising moment," says Saralyn Reece Hardy, the Spencer Museum's director. "With this incredibly exciting expansion at the Nelson-Atkins, the collaboration can be about ideas and how to create a climate in our region for innovation and increased cultural activity."

Regional pride

The Bloch Building provides a modern, stark contrast to the original Nelson-Atkins building, a 1933 edifice that has become an iconic image representing Kansas City.

The building, which is getting rave reviews in architectural magazines, will provide space for modern and contemporary art, photography and other exhibits.

For art fans, the building may mean better access to top traveling exhibits, Cateforis says.

"Kansas City remains at a disadvantage of not being on the coast and not being a top metropolitan center of the country," he says. "We don't always get the big blockbuster shows. Hopefully, the new Bloch Building will help to change that."

It's also a sign that the arts are healthy in the Kansas City area.

"Kansas Citians take a great deal of pride in the Nelson-Atkins," Cateforis says. "The fact the Nelson-Atkins was able to raise $200 million for a new building shows there's a lot of pride in that building in Kansas City."

Marc Wilson, the Nelson-Atkins director, says he considers Lawrence an important audience for the museum.

"On the whole, the population of Lawrence is a very well-educated population," Wilson says. "People who use their brains are a key market."

Longtime ties

The new building also represents new opportunities for collaboration with KU, both with art faculty and with the Spencer Museum of Art.

The university already has a long-standing relationship with the Nelson-Atkins:

¢ Since the museum's inception, KU's chancellor has served on its board of trustees.

¢ The conservation division of the Nelson-Atkins regularly helps the Spencer Museum staff with preservation and restoration.

¢ Interns from KU often work at the Nelson-Atkins, and many KU art students go on to full-time employment at the museum.

¢ KU and the Nelson-Atkins collaborate on the annual Franklin D. Murphy Lecture in Art, a yearly series.

¢ Curators at the Nelson-Atkins have served as lecturers at KU.

And, of course, the Spencer was designed to look like a miniature version of the Nelson-Atkins.

Hardy says she thinks the two museums share overlapping audiences. The major difference - besides the larger size and scope of the Nelson-Atkins collection - is that the Spencer must serve the university community as its top priority.

Shared resources

Hardy, who started at KU in March 2005, is hoping to step up those collaborations as time goes on.

"There are a lot of conversations right now between the Spencer and Nelson-Atkins," she says. "We want to find ways to work together to continue to build resources for the region."

One such collaboration will happen this fall, when KU art professor Marsha Haufler will lead a graduate class that will curate a new Chinese painting exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins. Wilson, the museum's director, will help lead the class.

While joint exhibitions aren't out of the question in the future, Wilson says he sees the biggest areas of opportunity in education. Particularly, he says, KU and the Nelson-Atkins should continue finding new collaborative public outreach programs.

"We're not living in a part of the country that's bubbling over with resources," he says.

New interest

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who currently serves on the Nelson-Atkins board of trustees, is among those who thinks Lawrence residents will be excited about the new Bloch Building.

"This is a classic example of a building becoming the work of art," Hemenway says. "This displays art not just in the confined spaces within the building but in the spaces that are leaping out of the earth."

Jessica Diffley already has heard buzz from Lawrence about the new addition. The Lawrence resident, a graduate of both Lawrence High School and KU, works at the Nelson-Atkins as an assistant in the museum services department. She often fields phone calls from people asking when the new building will open.

"People are really excited," she says. "That's why everybody's calling right now."

She encourages Lawrence residents to make a day of visiting the Nelson-Atkins by going to the nearby Country Club Plaza or Westport shopping and entertainment districts.

"I think it's rejuvenating," Diffley says of the addition. "Even people who haven't been here in years are interested."

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