Happy 10th anniversary to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Bloch Building, internationally lauded as an architectural marvel, but for Kansas Citians, representing so much more.
Just as the Nelson “Shuttlecocks” endured much pushback, ridicule and critique at the outset, the Bloch Building encountered strident resistance when the plans were first unveiled. And just like the “Shuttlecocks,” the Bloch Building has become a Kansas City icon.
Neither project would have happened without the determined leadership of then director/CEO Marc Wilson and a board that was willing to take risks. And both projects stand as testaments to what can happen when vision prevails, raising the bar on KC’s conception of what is possible and how it defines itself.
In his 10 years at the helm, Wilson’s successor, Julián Zugazagoitia, has translated the Bloch Building’s architectural promise of transparency and access into programs, acquisitions and exhibitions that connect with an ever-broader cross section of the Kansas City community. The Nelson today is enjoyed by many as a social space as well as a place to commune with great objects.
A prime example of Zugazagoitia’s drive to connect was the outdoor Quixotic performance of dance and projections celebrating the Bloch’s 10th anniversary. The Sept. 8 event attracted almost 5,000 people, who congregated around the reflecting pool and spilled into the streets.
This issue of “KC Studio” offers a multipart celebration of the Bloch Building. A rehearsal shot of the Quixotic performance adorns the cover; our lead story, by Bryan Le Beau, explores the building’s history, planning, innovative features and philosophy. Special thanks to New York photographer Andy Ryan for allowing us to use several of his stunning photographs.
Marc Wilson graciously agreed to do a Q&A about the Bloch Building, offering an insider’s account of the project’s goals and challenges. And, in place of our regular artist pages, 10 of KC Studio’s visual arts writers each nominated their favorite piece in the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection, of which a rotating selection is housed in the Bloch. Their picks validate the choices of a long line of Nelson-Atkins professionals, from Wilson and Zugazagoitia to curator of modern art Jan Schall, as well as discerning patrons such as Mrs. Charles F. Buckwalter and Carroll Janis and Donna Seldin Janis.
The Bloch Building is not perfect. People have complained about the long corridor called “the gallery walk,” and the lighting in some of the galleries can seem dingy. But even great buildings have their flaws, which can often be mitigated with creative solutions. Shortly after he arrived, Zugazagoitia added electric “Shuttlecarts” to transport visitors down that long corridor, in an embrace of technology and innovation that began with the Bloch and is now a permanent part of the culture of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The next 10 years is off to a promising start, with added space for the sculpture park to the Bloch Building’s east waiting to be filled with new artworks, a just-opened mammoth Picasso exhibition reexamining the artist’s relationship to African art, and the recent installation of a pair of magnificent gilded bronze doors by Renaissance master Lorenzo Ghiberti. The pace is invigorating and the surprises are frequent, befitting the 21st-century building’s role as catalyst for the museum’s reinvention.