In recognition of the lasting legacy Donald J. Hall created with his leadership and generosity, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art today announced that the 22-acre oasis of parkland on the museum campus has been renamed The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. The land that surrounds the museum, considered one of the nation’s finest settings for a major art museum, is home to 35 sculptures.
The new name will be recognized with four bronze plaques in the park. The renaming sets the stage for a major celebration of the park’s 25th birthday in 2014.
“This is one small way to honor the commitment shown to the museum by Don Hall through the years,” said Sarah F. Rowland, chair of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees. “Because of his support and his quest for the highest standards, the Nelson-Atkins is both a world-class institution that has earned international renown and a regional treasure that is open to all.”
Hall and his late wife, Adele, have been strong and generous supporters of the Nelson-Atkins for many years. Hall served as a member of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees for 31 years, and under his influence the museum modernized its governance and broadened the Board from three members to 21. In the 1990s, when the museum moved toward expansion, Hall led an international pursuit of the best architect for the project, resulting in a design by architect Steven Holl. The Bloch Building opened in 2007 to worldwide acclaim.
“Adele and I shared a passion for the Nelson-Atkins and enjoyed our relationship with this fine institution through the years,” said Hall. “It truly is gratifying to see that is has become one of the premiere art institutions in the country.”
Through the years, Hall worked quietly behind the scenes to support the acquisition of major works of art, including Modern and Contemporary, African and the landmark Hallmark Photographic Collection.
In 1983, Hall contemplated how the Hall Family Foundation could best support the museum and consulted Seymour Slive, director of the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Slive made two strategic suggestions that played to the museum’s strengths. He recommended the Foundation support the strong Chinese art collection and build a monumental sculpture collection, capitalizing on the abundant land surrounding the museum.
In 1986, the Ablah family in Wichita, Kan., made available 57 works by the late Henry Moore, and Hall seized the opportunity to purchase the works through the Hall Family Foundation. A vision for a new sculpture park emerged, a new approach that would change the park’s relationship to the museum and make the park more accessible to the community. Architects Dan Kiley and Jaquelin Robertson created a design that incorporated modern sculptures into beautiful new landscaping, with terraces that led down the expansive south lawn of the museum. The museum worked closely with the Kansas City Parks Board, which held steadfast in its determination that the long, open view from the museum to Theis Mall should not be interrupted, and the new Kansas City Sculpture Park opened to acclaim in 1989.
Another landmark opportunity presented itself in 1991: the availability of Dallas real estate developer Ray Nasher’s collection of 20th-century sculpture, considered the finest private collection in the world. Seeking advice on what to acquire, the Hall Family Foundation hired Martin Friedman, director emeritus of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to serve as its art advisor.
“The sculpture collection grew because of Don’s ability to make excellent decisions quickly, coupled with the expertise and close relationship with Martin Friedman,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Kansas City will benefit for decades to come.”
Friedman later oversaw the acquisition of the Shuttlecocks, a major gift from the Sosland Family that launched a community-wide discussion. Among other acquisitions were George Segal’s Rush Hour, Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Standing Figures (Thirty Figures), and Walter De Maria’s One Sun/34 Moons, which served as a new north-side entrance to the Nelson-Atkins and Bloch Building.
In 2011, the Hall Family Foundation added yet another magnificent piece to the Sculpture Park with the installation of acclaimed artist Roxy Paine’s Ferment. The brilliant “dendroid” sculpture was commissioned by the Hall Family Foundation as a gift to Friedman in recognition of his role in overseeing the transformation of the sculpture park.
“We are indebted to Don Hall for his decades of careful stewardship, and now it is time to celebrate,” Zugazagoitia said. “This gem in the city, The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, is open to all every day of the year, and we invite people to play, to picnic, to contemplate, to be inspired by the art and to enjoy the park in every way. What an extraordinary gift by Don.”