A museum and its art, transformed

The new expansion (photo The North Carolina Museum of Art)

I admit my bias – when the North Carolina Museum of Art was about to unveil its 127,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion, I thought, ho-hum, how interesting could anything in Raleigh be? Plenty, it turns out.

I left the press preview last month blown away by the architecture, landscaping, interior, and, oh yeah, let’s not forget the art. (I swear I was not influenced by the yummy free lunch of grilled salmon and crunchy asparagus.) The new works were impressive and the old ones looked new under a new light. Kudos to architect Thomas Phifer and the thousands of other pros who accomplished this achievement.

“In a new light” was in fact the headline accompanying a review of the museum in our local paper, “The News & Observer.”  Light is the dominant element here, from the cool metallic walls of the shiny exterior to the sunlight-filled galleries, thanks to the 360 skylights. Natural light pouring into museum galleries!? Unheard of, right? But the museum staff utilized the latest in state-of-the-art light filters to control the natural light instead of blocking it out all together. Seeing old masters in full daylight is somewhat shocking, in a good way, and the more contemporary work looks right at home.

Rodin sculptures around a reflecting pool

Outside the building are areas of beautifully balanced landscaping, reflecting pools, sculptures, including  a new cache of Rodins (some are indoors too). I’ve had about enough of Rodin, but I appreciate the importance of the museum acquiring 29 castings.

Overall, there is just a lot to love here. I could tick off a list of works on the walls, but really you need to come see for yourself. While you’re at it, enjoy the walking and biking trails in the 164-acre park the museum sits on.

Open-air dining area with Patrick Dougherty tree branch sculpture

Do make sure you leave time to eat. The food is great (even when you have to pay), and the wall of the long open-air dining area is covered with a delectable Patrick Dougherty sculpture. Called “Out of the Box,” it’s made of red maple sapling branches and boughs from the area.

We are so lucky to have this sculptor based in Chapel Hill, one town over.

Roxy Paine’s stainless steel tree outside the new museum expansion

Not to focus on trees, but if I had to pick a “favorite new piece,” it would be “Askew,” Roxy Paine’s stainless steel sculpture outside the museum. The 43-foot-tall work is one of his “Dendroid” tree-like sculptures, with branches formed from various sizes of pipes and rods. This series of photos taken during the installation is fascinating, though I’d rather imagine that the tree simply sprouted one day, like Jack and the Beanstalk, filling the blue sky with its shiny limbs and beckoning visitors to explore the treasures inside and out.

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