Arts News: Joslyn Art Museum Announces Plans for a Redesign and New Addition

East elevation view of the Joslyn Art Museum’s new 42,000-square-foot Rhonda and Howard Hawks Pavilion designed by the international architectural firm Snøhetta, in partnership with Omaha’s Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture (Moare)

Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum has announced plans for a redesign and second addition to its original Memorial Building.

The design for the 42,000-square-foot Rhonda and Howard Hawks Pavilion, named for the Omaha-based private foundation and major donors, will be led by the international architectural firm Snøhetta, in partnership with Omaha’s Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture.

Snøhetta’s best known designs include the award-winning new library of Alexandria, Egypt, and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo.

The iconic original Joslyn Memorial Building, built in 1921, was designed by the Omaha father and son architectural team of John and Alan McDonald and was a gift to the city of Omaha from Sarah Joslyn in memory of her husband, George, and their shared interest in art and music.

Clad in Georgia Pink marble, and featuring a grand exterior staircase entrance, the Art Deco building was complemented in 1994 by the modern design of British architect Norman Foster — the Walter and Suzanne Scott Pavilion. Two new sculpture gardens were added in 2009.

The new addition will include day-lit galleries, expanding the museum’s existing gallery space by more than one-third, as well as new classrooms and community spaces intended to support increased public programs.

It will extend outward from the current glass atrium in a curving, floating, low-slung design whose exterior walls will be gradually transformed from glass to solid vertical stone.

The transparent first floor will enclose a new atrium lobby, museum shop and multi-function community space. The solid second floor will house the new galleries.

The architects have drawn their vision from the building’s regional context. As Aaron Dorf, Snøhetta director and architect, explains it: “The weightless effect of the expansion is inspired by the striking cloud formations that blanket the Great Plains as well as the deep overhangs and horizontal expression of regional Prairie Style architecture.”

The plan also calls for a major redesign of the site’s more than three acres of public gardens and open spaces, including a new raised sculpture garden featuring the existing installation “The Omaha Riverscape” by sculptor Jesús Moroles. A new point of public arrival and entrance will be anchored by an atrium named for Phillip G. Schrager (1937-2010), an Omaha entrepreneur and art collector who amassed a world-class collection of contemporary art. Following his death, his wife Terri Schrager donated 52 pieces from the Phillip G. Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art to the museum, raising the Joslyn’s profile on the international museum stage.

Museum Executive Director and CEO Jack Becker offers this comment on the impact of the new project: “Snøhetta’s energized, inspired work on our 21st-century expansion has set the stage for the next phase of the Museum’s life while honoring its storied past. This project will allow us to show more art, welcome more people, elevate the Museum visitor experience, and strengthen community connections in a space sure to become one of the most celebrated and beloved buildings in the region.”

The addition and redesign are expected to be completed in 2024, which will require closure of the museum beginning in May 2022. For more information on the Joslyn project go to: joslyn.org/expansion

Bryan F. Le Beau

Bryan F. Le Beau is retired from the University of Saint Mary, where he served as Professor of History, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He is the author of several books on American cultural and religious history.

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