New Addition to Joslyn Will Add to Museum’s Majesty

Richard Shugrue
Richard Shugrue
The Daily Record

The stuck-in-the mud whiners unhappy with the fresh 21st century design of the Joslyn Art Museum’s Rhonda and Howard Hawks Pavilion addition announced last week ought to get out of town more.

The extraordinary contrast with the 90-year-old jewel and even the Norman Foster addition of 1994 demonstrates that art and aesthetic tastes change over the decades, and new architecture is created. New materials are invented with which to mold structures. Creative people use light and landscape to thrill imaginative patrons.

The buildings can contain ancient Greek pottery and Impressionist treasures and the daring works of such geniuses as Helen Frankenthaler and Wassily Kandinsky. Installations such as Dale Chihuly’s wonderful glass bubbles floating between the Foster wing of the Joslyn and the classical original building in the Scott Atrium bring broad smiles even to old grouches.

Within cities Omahans frequent — Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago and Des Moines — are truly fine art museums which have been made even more extraordinary by daring innovative additions.

Chicago’s Art Institute has stood guard over Michigan Avenue for decades in a display of Beaux Art grandeur.

It is now complemented by a magnificent Modern Wing designed by the architect who has also given the world the new Whitney in New York, Renzo Piano. Bright and airy, the 240,000 square foot addition is home to artistic creations for the modern world, and blends perfectly into the campus of the museum.

Or take the Bloch Building standing side-by-side with the classic Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City. Opened in 2007, it is as fresh as the original is solid, executed in all white glass, almost daring patrons to be shocked by its modernity.

You can travel to any of these places — the Walker Art Center or the Minneapolis Institute of Art to the north or the Denver Art Museum to the west — and see communities proud of the innovative and explosive add-ons to their traditional museums, which have made the buildings just as exciting as the great collections housed inside.

Perhaps most surprising of all the Midwest museums is the Des Moines Art Center, which has a collection of only about half the pieces of Joslyn’s 11,000. The Iowa location opened in 1948 and was designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Eliel Saarinen. Only 20 years later, a new addition was designed by I.M. Pei, who was then also working on the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts.

The final addition to the Des Moines Center was created by Richard Meier in 1985, the year he began work on the spectacular Getty Center in Los Angeles. Meier had just completed the High Museum in Atlanta which forecast modernist elements seen in the Des Moines building.

The three structures are stunningly different, but the campus reflects the DMCA mission, which, to this viewer, includes “to amaze!” Five years from now, when Omahans take visitors to Joslyn, the new building will be considered a part of the museum’s vitality, and the newcomers will share with you the view that this treasure is simply spectacular.


Richard Shugrue is a professor emeritus at the Creighton University School of Law and a columnist for The Daily Record.


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