Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on the Plaza, Kansas City

In 2007, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City added the Bloch Building. Steven Holl Architects designed it to fit along the east side of the museum, preserving the north entrance. I’ve gone in only through the parking garage, so I haven’t seen the entry plaza with reflecting pool, nor did I notice that most of the new building was underground. But I thought it was spectacular from the inside. Nelson-Atkins Bloch 2 KC Oct 2009So far I like it better than the new addition to the Denver Art Museum, but to truly compare them, I need to visit the DAM soon after I get back to Denver.

I headed first for the photography exhibit. The museum’s collection was expanded by a gift from Hallmark of 6,500 photographs dating from every period of photography since its invention in 1839.Nelson-Atkins Bloch photos 2 KC Oct 2009

I learned many, many things from that exhibit, but I’ll tell you this one: by 1889, Francis Blake had invented a focal-plane shutter that operated at 1/2000 of a second. The historical part of the exhibit also introduced me to early female photographers I did not know: Bertha Jaques (who photographed plants by placing them on light-sensitive paper), Anne E. Brigman, Margrethe Mather (a friend of Edward Weston), Hansel Mieth, Helen Levitt, and Gertrude Käsebier (who was well-known at the turn of the twentieth century).

Dorothea Lange is famous for this photograph, “Migrant Mother.”Nelson-Atkins Bloch Lange Migrant Mother KC Oct 2009 saved down

When I’d had enough of photography, I wandered back through the Bloch Building and stopped at Without Place—Without Time—Without Body by Wolfgang Laib. In this photo detail, 5 mounds of pollen sit in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph. The other mounds are rice. Nelson-Atkins Bloch Wolfgang Laib grains with pollen KC Oct 2009The entire exhibit was distributed by hand, according to Laib’s belief that repetition “is the most beautiful thing that exists.”

As I wrote in the guestbook, it was the first time in my life I’d wanted to hurl myself into an art exhibit. While I took notes, a guard came over and handed me a pencil, saying it was the preferred writing instrument in the museum. He sounded just like the replicant maker in Blade Runner.

If visiting the Bloch Building was a joyous experience of newness, passing through the jointure between the old and new building was like coming home. I passed this engraving

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and climbed the marble staircase. Nelson-Atkins staircase KC Oct 2009 saved downMy favorite painting on this visit was St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Caravaggio (1604), which the museum brags is one of the few original Caravaggios in American collections. I don’t know if that’s true, but it was a spectacular work. In the same gallery, I took this picture, looking past The Entombment of St. Catherine of Alexandria by Francisco de Zurbarán (1636–1637) across the hall to Capricorn by Max Ernst (1948; cast 1963­–1964). Nelson-Atkins Entombment of St. Catherine and Capricorn KC Oct 2009When the museum board decided to construct the Bloch Building, they also decided to renovate the old building and integrate its collections as the same time. Now paintings and sculpture share space with furniture, silver, ceramics and glass.

I’ll leave you with this amazingly tall Dutch woman,Nelson-Atkins Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten 1659 KC Oct 2009 saved down from Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten by Jan Steen (1659–1660).