Labyrinth opening celebrates outdoor museum exhibits


A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, May 22 opens a permanent installation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It also moves the museum closer to a long-term goal that goes back to its early years: to create an outdoor museum for the people of Kansas City.

This week’s event will be the ribbon cutting for the newly-installed glass labyrinth created by Kansas City native Robert Morris. That work will become a permanent part of the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park on the museum lawn.

But the Nelson-Atkins tells us in a press release that the ribbon cutting also symbolizes another important milestone in the development of outdoor exhibits. Here what they say:

The story of the Sculpture Park began in 1986, when the Hall Family Foundation learned of an extraordinary opportunity. Wichita-based real estate and oil investor George Ablah had decided to sell his extensive collection of sculptures by the English artist Henry Moore. The Foundation purchased 57 works by Moore—monumental sculptures, maquettes and working models, drawings and tapestries. In 1989, 10 bronzes from the former Ablah collection joined Moore’s Sheep Piece (on loan from the City of Kansas City) and Relief No. 1(from the museum’s collection) in the newly created Henry Moore Sculpture Garden.

The idea of creating an outdoor museum—a place for people of all ages to experience the relationship between art, architecture and nature—was central to the Foundation’s decision to acquire this cache of master works by Henry Moore. It also had been the vision of the original planners of the Nelson-Atkins.

In 1990, the Hall Family Foundation engaged Martin Friedman, Director Emeritus of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the inspiration and guiding light behind the Minneapolis Sculpture Park, to serve as its art advisor. Friedman’s collaboration with the Nelson-Atkins would continue for 20 years with early signature results like Shuttlecocksby Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen and culminating in the commissioning of Roxy Paine’s Ferment.

“Of course, the Shuttlecocks forever changed the landscape and immediately became an integral part of the Sculpture Park and Kansas City when they were installed in 1994,” said Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern Art. “And the Bloch Building itself is a sculptural work of art, with its elegant, light-filled galleries.”

The 2010 installation of Ferment brought crowds of onlookers to the Sculpture Park’s hillside, some bringing picnic lunches as they watched huge steel limbs being hoisted into the air. Today it is one of the most photographed works in the Sculpture Park.

“This is a seminal moment for the Nelson-Atkins,” said Schall. “It’s a time to pause and reflect on this journey we began 25 years ago, and to celebrate everything the Sculpture Park means to the community.”

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