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New CMA Ready for Grand Opening

Nora Kilbane Nora Kilbane New CMA Ready for Grand OpeningPhoto by Brad Feinknopf / Provided by CMA.
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There was a time in the not-so-distant-past when museums had the reputation of being a bit stuffy. Perceived as temples of high culture, housed in imposing Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts buildings, museums were the stern guardians of our great artistic treasures. As one tip-toed carefully through galleries, whispering in reverential tones about the masterworks therein, art appreciation could feel like an activity to be endured rather than enjoyed. Luckily, times have changed. In the 21st century, museums are still the invaluable caretakers of our cultural treasures, but the way in which they fulfill this role has greatly evolved.

Adopting a program of inclusion, education, and community involvement, museums these days are working diligently to find creative ways to make their collections accessible, relevant, and valuable to the varied constituencies of their community. The Columbus Museum of Art has been on the forefront of this approach, strategically working to connect audiences with the collection, and putting theory into practice by opening the Center for Creativity in 2011. This groundbreaking, interactive facility offers a variety of hands-on educational opportunities designed to help guests, both young and old, better engage with the artworks in the galleries beyond. The value of this approach was recognized in 2013, when the CMA received the National Medal for Museum and Library Services, the highest award given to institutions that are finding exceptional ways to serve their communities.

The construction of the Margaret A. Walters wing is the last phase of a decade-long renovation and restoration project made possible by the Art Matters capital campaign (Margaret “Peggy” Walters, and husband, Bob, gave the 10 million dollar gift that was the backbone of this effort). It is also a crucial piece in the CMA’s mission to continue engaging the community in significant and tangible ways. Architect Michael Bongiorno, DesignGroup principal, envisioned a new building that would reflect the museum’s desire to be “visible, relevant and connected to the community as a meeting point between art, the public and the physical city.”

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The new wing is all about connections, old and new, audience and collection, art and community. In contrast to the original Renaissance Revival building, the new wing is sleek and modern, but it maintains its ties to the older structure, quite literally, in the form of an airy, glass-enclosed concourse between the two. The tall, clear walls of this atrium indicate where the old ends and new begins, but at the same time reveal the sky bridges that continue to tie them together. Outside, the buff-colored limestone walls, richly patinated copper panels, and elegantly elongated slot windows echo features of the original museum, while also subtly playing off the materials used in surrounding structures to create a harmonious relationship between the existing cityscape and its recent addition.

Undeniably, some of the most striking features of the new wing are the “cinematic facades” on the north and south. Two-story walls of glass create a sense of openness and permeability. From the inside, they create wonderful spaces with dazzling views. Whether you are in Schokko’s Art Café, the museum shop, or perusing the galleries, you are always aware of the city, the weather, the activities outside. As you look at the art on display, you can’t help but notice how it relates to the world beyond. This blurring of the boundaries between art and life creates some enjoyable juxtapositions. From the outside, these glass curtains allow access to the interior museum spaces, encouraging interaction rather than separation. For anyone passing by on the street, the treasures of the museum are on view and no longer sequestered behind fortress-like walls.

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The 50,000 square feet of this new space serves a variety of functions, many of them commercial. You can say what you like about that, but the fact of the matter is that a shop, cafe and rental spaces can provide revenue that allow a museum to stay current and viable. When done well, as they are here, they also contribute significantly to the visitor experience. The remainder of the square footage is devoted to galleries for permanent and special exhibitions, including a gallery built specifically to house a much-beloved part of the collection, Mel Chin’s Spirit. Another favorite, Endeavor, has also found a new home. Lino Tagliapietra’s elegant glass boats are now sailing the light at the very top of the atrium space. Although visible from below, they are best viewed from the 2nd floor bridges.

If you want to experience #newcma first hand, the time has finally come. On Saturday, there is a preview party for members, and on Sunday, October 25, from 10am to 5pm, the museum throws open its doors to the entire community. Two inaugural exhibitions, Keeping Pace: Eva Glimcher and Pace Columbus, and Imperfections by Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954-1966, will be on view in the new first-floor gallery space, while on the second floor both old favorites and new additions to the museum’s contemporary collection are on view. For more details on the opening weekend and other great exhibitions in the Ross wing galleries, check the CMA website.

Photos by Brad Feinknopf / Provided by CMA.

For additional interior photos, CLICK HERE to view our sneak preview photo gallery.

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