Drive by the Columbus Museum of Art on E. Broad Street in the central city, and you can catch a glimpse of Frank Stella's colorful La vecchia dell'orto through the large windows of the new wing.

Those windows — called “ cinematic facades” by the architect — will also soon provide views of activities inside.

By design, the modern, green-tinged addition — on the east end of the property — sits closer to the street than does the original 1931 beaux arts building.

“In a way, the museum is reaching out and inviting people in,” said lead architect Michael Bongiorno of the Columbus firm DesignGroup.

The same holds true on the opposite side of the museum, where pedestrians can mosey around new green spaces, a new sculpture garden, and the new museum shop and restaurant — without paying admission.

The new main entrance (facing E. Gay Street) is much larger, its high ceilings reinforcing the accessibility it offers to other areas of the museum.

Such openness — inside and out — was a high priority of the $37.6 million expansion and renovation. In today's art world, a dark and cloistered museum might be more of an antiquity than any of the works it showcases.

“Our new entry experience is light-filled and uplifting — welcoming,” said museum Executive Director Nannette V. Maciejunes.

The new wing and latest round of renovations — to be unveiled next Sunday with a free public celebration — mark the end of a multiphase project rooted in a $93 million endowment and capital campaign begun in 2007.

Highlights of the project include the addition of 50,000 square feet of space, infrastructure upgrades, and the reinvention of outdoor and event spaces.

The only work still to be finished is the springtime landscaping of the Broad Street lawn and the reopening of the Broad Street (considered the back) entrance.

Ken Emerick of the Ohio Arts Council said the Columbus expansion reflects a national trend among museums, many of which are creating “more ‘town square' spaces” and making themselves “places where people just want to stop in and stay.”

Emerick thinks the upgrades will help the museum attract major touring exhibits.

“In the past,” he said, “I think they had to bypass some, simply because they didn't have the space.”

The museum is still far smaller than its counterparts in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, all of which came of age during industrial boom years in Ohio. And because of the geography of the museum — it is essentially landlocked — future growth does not seem feasible.

The expansion, Maciejunes said, is intended to help the museum better compete for traveling exhibits, to accommodate its permanent collection and to create space for a variety of events.

Jay Vorys, immediate past president of the museum board, said the Columbus venue has a mission that differs from its larger, sister museums.

“We're not just about the art, although our collection is fabulous,” he said. “We're about education and connecting the community to an institution that is owned by the community.”

If the museum does want to expand in the future, Bongiorno said, about the only option would be to create an addition out and over the parking lot.

Emerick suggested that the museum someday consider establishing satellite locations, similar to the Cleveland Museum of Art's site on that city's west side.

With the expansion project complete, Vorys said, the museum's goal now becomes sustainability.

“Back in 2004, Nannette told the board that we had a choice — to stay the same and maybe reduce our expenditures a bit, or we could create something bigger to be sustainable in the future. We raised $93 million in 10 years — mostly during one of the worst recessions we've had. That's pretty remarkable.”

Maciejunes credited “hundreds of people” for their donations and engagement with the project.

“I think the new museum shows what an incredibly vibrant, creative community Columbus is,” she said. “This is a place to celebrate.

“I hope the community sees this for the exciting, transformational moment that it is.”

 

Here's a closer look at the museum's new features:

Margaret M. Walter Wing
The two-floor, 50,000-square-foot wing — named for the woman who with her husband, Robert D. Walter, contributed $10 million to the endowment and capital campaign — was designed to both complement the adjacent 1931 building and serve as a different sort of exhibit space.

The wing references the material of the 1931 building — limestone — with its Indiana limestone and pre-patinated copper at the top, providing the distinctive green tone. The material also relates to the museum's neighbors, including First Congregational Church with its copper steeple.

Between the new wing and the 1931 building is a “hyphen” space, an enclosed area with three bridges connecting the two buildings. From windows in the new wing, architectural features of the 1931 building can be viewed up close.

Natural light is used in the new wing, something that can change during the course of a day and a season, Bongiorno said. Glass has been set back at the south end of the building (to guard against sun), and glass coating and shades help to protect artworks.

Although the older building was designed to display artworks in the salon style of the day, the new wing was built to show off contemporary works, especially those that need “air and space” around them, Bongiorno said.

Both floors of the wing have nonweight-bearing walls that can be removed, depending on the exhibit.

 

Patricia M. Jurgensen Sculpture Garden
North of the museum buildings, the sculpture garden encompasses a variety of components: Aristide Maillol's sculpture The Mountain, set in a fountain; a green lawn, which can serve as a multipurpose space; a row of birch trees accented by George Rickey's kinetic sculpture Two Lines Up Excentric Variation VI; and a new sound sculpture, Susan Philipsz' Study for Strings.

At the northeast end of the property, a new painted aluminum cast of Paul Feeley's Karnak has been installed.

The garden is named for the board member and co-chair of the endowment and capital campaign who died after a short illness in February. Museum staffers fondly call the area “Patty's Garden.”

The green spaces, landscaped by the Columbus firm MKSK with funding support from the city of Columbus, are accessible from outside the museum and free for public use.

 

Schokko Art Cafe
Opening up to the sculpture garden is the museum's new Cameron Mitchell restaurant, named for a work in the permanent collection: Alexej Jawlensky's Schokko With a Red Hat.

The cafe — with hours mirroring those of the museum — will serve a light breakfast, lunch and dinner, with wine and beer available.

Seating will be available inside the museum and on the patio, overlooking the sculpture garden

 

Event spaces
A key project goal was to increase and enhance spaces available for events such as museum receptions, community forums, weddings and other celebrations.

From Derby Court in the 1931 building, events can now extend into the new space on the second floor, with windows and a terrace overlooking the sculpture garden.

 

The infrastructure
In its first major infrastructure investment since 1974, the museum has added an enclosed, temperature-controlled art dock — necessary in order to attract major touring exhibits.

Storage space for artworks has been increased 60 percent. The museum is also retaining its off-site storage facility.

 

-Nancy Gilson

 

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