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Museum’s Contemporary Addition Sparks Mixed Response

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., recently opened an architecturally unique addition that has prompted a range of reactions. The NewsHour presents a report.

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    On a recent fine evening in Kansas City, people were dancing, the band was playing, the crowd was aglow, and so was the building being celebrated. Reviews for the brand-new Bloch Building have also been glowing, as this addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is welcomed as an important example of museum architecture.

    If you have a grand, much-loved building, but you're out of space and you want to build an expansion, how do you do it? That was a key question here in Kansas City: how to marry the old and new, traditional and contemporary architecture, and somehow make it seem that they actually belong together.

    MARC WILSON, Director, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: As you move downstairs through the spaces, that begins to change.


    Museum Director Marc Wilson was the man who oversaw the task.


    This is not a community that holds its opinions quietly to itself. They said, "Marc, if you mess up those big, beautiful facades, you know, we're going to tar and feather you and send you off to somewhere you won't like."


    The facades Wilson worried about belonged to the 1930s neoclassical building his museum is famous for: austere, symmetrical, perfectly placed atop a hill in a beautiful, park-like setting. This is the museum as temple of art.

    Inside, the collection is considered one of the finest in the nation, including ancient sculptures, renowned Asian galleries, and, of course, works by American artists. Remarkably, much of the collection was gathered in a very short time in the midst of the Depression with funds from the estates of William Nelson, co-founder of the Kansas City Star, and Mary Atkins, an art-loving citizen.

    By the late '90s, Wilson knew he needed more space and hoped to expand the experience of going to the museum, as well.


    How do we get people hooked up with the art? Given that enhanced opportunity, that special state of alertness, you know, when you really get into something, you get into that zone, when you're mentally really alert, and you're just sort of connecting up directly with something, how can we create that environment inside?

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