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NCMA Begins New Chapter With Celebration

When You Go…
When venturing out to the NC Museum of Art’s Grand Opening Adventure , there are a few things you should know before going:

Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking, and some surfaces are not solid and stable. Be particularly careful when the long, winding paved path from the parking lots inexplicably becomes a gravel path. Many older patrons had difficulty in this section.

Take a camera. You can now take photos in the galleries. Don’t use your flash, though. Lighting is excellent in the galleries, so your photos will likely have better results using no flash anyway.

Preview the Grand Opening Program (.pdf). It has a complete schedule of events and highlights some key areas that should not be missed.

You will need a free, Timed Ticket to enter the new West Building this weekend. Tickets are completely sold out for the weekend with the exception of Saturday at 9pm.

Download the mp3 audio tour (121Mb) and Sound Track (21Mb) tour at home before you go . That’s right, you no longer have to rent those crappy audio players the museum offers. You can download the dialogue in advance and listen with your own mp3 player. Additionally the selected exhibits with audio commentary are accessible via cell phone. The call is a local call using normal minutes on your plan. Also be sure to charge your phone before entering.

Plan for Wifi . The facility has free wifi. Be sure to check in with Foursquare or and add #ncmaOPEN to your tweets.

Going during lunch? Plan on eating there. There is a food garden this weekend located between the West and East buildings, behind the giant tent. Vendors include Big Oak Catering, Chubby’s Tacos, Hereghty Heavenly Delicious, Neomonde, Only Burger, and more. They all take credit cards. Iris, the Museum’s new restaurant, is not open during the Grand Opening Festival.

Ladies and Gentlemen….your new N.C. Museum of Art! IMG_8446 Excuse me. That isn’t right. How about this?

IMG_8447 Oh! My bad. How about this?

ArtMuseum Pardon me! There has apparently been some sort of malfunction. I now present YOUR new North Carolina Museum of Art:

20100423-02 Yes. That’s actually it. After 3 years of construction, the museum’s new West Building is finally open. The 127,000 square foot building is the new home for the museum’s permanent collection. Designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners, the $72.2million, one-story building features 362 skylights as well as 50% exterior walls of glass to provide 65,000 square feet of daylit galleries. The building’s heating and cooling systems perform at 45% over ASHRAE standards, and its roof water runs to a 90,000 gallon cistern to irrigate gardens and replenish pools.

20100423-29R There are five courtyards accessible from the galleries, and all are paved with loose grey gravel (so be cautious of unsure footing). The courtyards feature several black fountains in which lilies have been planted. While the design near the building is cold, stark, and industrial, the pattern fades as the properties approach the surrounding grass-covered landscapes.

The hallmark of the West building is the Rodin Court and Gardens, made possible by numerous generous contributions, none greater than those of Iris Cantor. The interior portion of this exhibit finds itself in large node connecting several galleries. Oddly the numerous displays of small Rodin pieces on waist-high platforms are reminiscent of a retail setting.

20100423-17 Elsewhere in the West building galleries holding American, Judaic, European, Classical, African, and Modern portions of the master collection can be found. Highlights include a new “spool of thought” on the Mona Lisa, three Monet holdings, the Standing Hanukkah Lamp, and the chilling “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian” (Michael Richards, pictured ). Be absolutely sure that you read the placard for this piece.

The renovated East Building houses the box office, special events, offices, research library, auditorium, and three renovated and expanded exhibition spaces.

There are two schools of thought on the building’s daylit design. One is that a museum design should not distract the patrons and simply provide a framework for appreciating the works in an unbiased environment. By letting as much natural light in and providing a neutral interior, the colors of the works appear as they were intended, and allow a clear interpretation. In order to provide such a light system, a one-story design is used in a setting where land is abundant.

20100423-34 The other school of thought is that the house of great works should also be a great work unto itself, inspiring patrons as future artists no matter the current exhibition.

I tend to be in the second camp. While I personally am more inspired by kinetic arts, the one static art that moves me is architecture. How about the new Taubman Museum of Art ( photo ) in little bitty Roanoke, VA? Pretty inspiring, eh? I saw some works by some Picasso guy in the New York Guggenheim ( photo ) and was completely moved by the building, but can’t tell you much about the art on the walls. OK, that’s an exaggeration. However, it should help to explain how disappointed I am with this building. Clearly the building’s strength is its interior but, to me, it looks like a Crate & Barrel store (yes, Apple ripped them off). It is the coldest building complex I’ve ever encountered, and that includes N.C. State Biochemistry classrooms and several prison facilities in which I worked.

The bleak exterior unfortunately appears to have been stricken with the overwhelming bashfulness that besets this city’s architecture. As we drive our visitors around Raleigh, we will have to omit this $75M investment as it can only be appreciated with a significant investment of time and energy.

While the West building certainly earns the spotlight as the primary facility in the grounds, there is an extreme visual disconnection with the 1970’s era East Building. By no means should the museum have felt that they were locked into the existing visual theme (colors, materials, proportions, etc.). However, the West building should have carried some new reinterpretation of the East building, no matter how minor, in order to tie the complex together visually. The architect missed a fine opportunity to make this a stronger complex than it is.

That said, the overwhelming response from dozens of patrons I encountered was that the facility is a success. The West Building is a result of an incredible amount of work by a talented crew. It is a quality building that affords patrons a quality experience on par with the country’s best art museums. For the entire State of North Carolina, it is a fantastic book with an unfortunate cover that should not be missed by its people and their visitors.

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  • jason

    how about this……..it’s awful. i’m incredibly disappointed that they spent so much money and we ended up with another ‘warehouse’ looking eyesore. i’m sure its beautiful on the inside, but first impressions are everything, and the new expansions first impression is one of unfinished dread. i had friends in town a few weekends ago and as we were driving past they inquired about “that warehouse looking building” in front of the museum. yeah, thats a great reaction to $75 million dollars worth of architecture.

  • Aaron

    Don’t judge a book by its cover. Wow, did I really have to say that?

  • The Watchmen

    Stick to reporting on retail, as you know nothing of art

    • http://www.danamccall.com Dana

      Watchmen, of course I didn’t see you at the architectural discussion of the building today, so I’ll have to reply here.

      If you were educated around here, then you certainly were taught better argumentative writing skills than that. I welcome well constructed argument, here, especially by people who have actually visited the facility. However your comment shows that you really didn’t read the article, as it is not an art critique.

  • jason

    yeah, i know. the thing is, for me anyways, the building is not inviting in the least. it doesn’t even look like a museum. an art museum should make you interested in the outside, and want to see the inside. the new expansion just makes me wonder why they put the storage warehouse in the front???!!! its not inviting, interesting, cool, nothing. it is nothing more than a fancy warehouse. the new terminal at rdu is more interesting, the quintiles building in rtp is more interesting. the inside looks amazing. they should have carried some of that to the outside.

  • Dana

    That’s exactly it, Jason. As I was listening to Larry Wheeler, Thomas Phifer, and others with the project argue its merits today, I really thought about the _people_ who paid for this facility, and how they really break down into 3 categories: Those who love art and “get it”, those who will never “get it”, and the enormous group of the ambivalent.

    The building, especially its interior, does an outstanding job of addressing that first crowd. It is a perfect sermon to the choir. A _public_ building, however, needs to address this middle group. It needs to say,”Come on in! Explore what I have to offer”. Unfortunately this building is quite the opposite. The hospital a block away does this better, but DO NOT want to go in there!

    The museum almost addresses this portion of the population with contempt. “Oh, you don’t get it, then don’t bother”. That’s exactly the attitude conveyed already in this thread, and precisely NOT what the government needs to be conveying. If the NCMA wants to be an exclusive body, then they can find their own funding, but I don’t think the hard workers there really want to experience what the free market is like.

    I cited two examples of art museums that don’t convey that attitude without dumbing down the experience, and there are countless others. I wish the NCMA were one.

  • Fraiser Lyon

    I love it. I think the important thing about a place that houses art is how it presents the art. I could care less what the outside looks like really. Especially since it is in the middle of a field and not in an urban area. For my money I have been in very few museums that I thought presented the art inside in a better way than this one does. A week after going I still remember the feeling of experiencing the art inside which is something I can say for very few museums I’ve visited around the world. I think from that perspective this new space is an absolute home run. I will admit that I remember much more about the structure of the East Gallery in DC or the Vatican Museum or even the Lourve, but as far as remembering the art this place far surpasses those structures. Say what you will about the purpose of public spaces, but if the purpose of an art museum is to give the visitor an opportunity to experience the art inside this place is tops.

  • Daria

    It doesn’t look like much from the street but I found the new building to be quite beautiful once I got up close to it. It is modern and sleek and I think really updates our area and brings it into this century. We have some really wonderful art in our museum but I never found the old ’70’s building to be very inviting. This new one is bright and I love that it is green also. We are so forutnate to have it here in our own backyard!

    Add in the fact that admission is FREE and they show free movies on the grounds during the summer. How could anyone knock our museum? I’m very disappointed that you would be so cynical.

  • Daria

    I should correct my mistake in that the movies aren’t free (unless you are a member) but they are still only $4.00.

  • Dana

    If you feel it isn’t much from the street, then you are essentially echoing exactly my argument which you later call “cynical”. Like I said, the experience INSIDE the buildling is excellent, so we agree there, too.

    However I would MUCH prefer to have a building exterior like the Randall Stout-designed Taubman (in Roanoke – see the link in the story) which, coincidentally, cost EXACTLY the same per foot to build, $567.

    (though I can’t believe they painted the walls red in that section pictured).

    Thomas Phifer is determined to build transparent buddings, and actually said on Saturday that this aluminum cladding blends in with the landscape. Wow. Also about 99.9% of his presentation was about the internal experience. Larry Wheeler stated that they wanted the “polar opposite” of the 1980’s building, which means that an objective of establishing some visual connection between the two was purposely ignored, resulting in a stark dissonance at the center of the campus.

    Maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However the worlds greatest buildings make exterior statements. Human nature desires a statement. Why is one of the longest-running shows on cable TV “Curb Appeal”? The exterior counts.

  • gd

    Its Raleigh – don’t ever expect anything to look good. Haven’t you seen the buildings they allow downtown? That being said, the new museum is incredible if you go into it.

  • jason

    well, i went. my opinion is unchanged. the inside, as i assumed from pictures, is amazing and does not disappoint.

    here’s the hitch, after walking out of that gorgeous interior, i found the exterior even more glaringly hideous.

    the building does not blend, or melt away in to the landscape. if that is what the architect thinks, where the heck was he standing when he designed it!

    my final verdict, interior:A+, exterior:F

  • Daria

    Yes, cynical is another word for pessimistic, and that is what some of the commenters here are being. I echo what Fraiser Lyon is saying. It doesn’t matter to me that the outside looks like a basic metal building. When you get closer to it, you see very quickly that it is not. And the importance of this museum is what is inside. All on one floor, very easy to navigate around (unlike the old building) and very brighly natually lit (unlike the old building). They’ve added some very nice pieces to the collection.

    We do not have a right to have art museums, we are lucky enough to live in an area that values them.
    Our museum was nice before, but now it is new and improved. I was never a member in the past, but now I am because I’ll be there more often. And if people are turned off by the exterior, it will just be less crowds inside when I visit.

  • John

    There was no doubt which camp you are in based on how you presented the museum in this post. You didn’t even have to say it. But, I guess it’s your blog and you’ll do with it as you wish.
    The reality is that no solution would please everyone. If they had spent 3X as much for a so called “grand” building, people would have complained about the expenditure. So, since you can’t please everyone, you might as well please the art…and from what I can tell, they accomplished that task.

  • Glen

    The new NCMA building is the most technologically advanced art museum building ever built in the world. It will quickly become an internationally recognized iconic building. The indoor-outdoor design perfectly suits the largest art-park in America and feels welcoming and inspiring. Some of the outdoor areas have the feeling of a Parisian courtyard. It is the first building we should show visitors and will be the most-visited building in NC very quickly. I’m so proud of NC for taking it modern and techno rather than sticking with tired old architectural styles.

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