Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Established 1933
Location 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Coordinates 39°02′42″N 94°34′52″W / 39.044973°N 94.581009°W / 39.044973; -94.581009Coordinates: 39°02′42″N 94°34′52″W / 39.044973°N 94.581009°W / 39.044973; -94.581009
Website Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
View of the museum and the Shuttlecocks installation from the south side
The Nelson with the new Bloch addition

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is an art museum in Kansas City, Missouri, known for its neoclassical architecture and extensive collection of Asian art.

In 2007, Time magazine ranked the museum's new Bloch Building number one on its list of "The 10 Best (New and Upcoming) Architectural Marvels" which considered candidates from around the globe.[1]

On September 1, 2010, Julián Zugazagoitia became the fifth Director of the museum.[2]


Cafe in the museum

The museum was built on the grounds of Oak Hall, the home of Kansas City Star publisher William Rockhill Nelson (1841-1915).[3] When he died in 1915, his will provided that upon the deaths of his wife and daughter, the proceeds of his entire estate would go to purchasing artwork for public enjoyment. This bequest was augmented by additional funds from the estates of Nelson's daughter, son-in-law and attorney.[4]

In 1911, former schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins (1836-1911) (widow of real estate speculator James Burris Atkins) bequeathed $300,000 to establish an art museum. Through sound management of the estate, this amount grew to $700,000 by 1927. Original plans called for two art museums based on the separate bequests[5] (with the Atkins Museum to be located in Penn Valley Park). However, trustees of the two estates decided to combine the two bequests along with smaller bequests from others to make a single major art institution.

The building was designed by prominent Kansas City architects Wight and Wight, who also designed the approaches to the Liberty Memorial and the Kansas governor's mansion, Cedar Crest. Ground was broken in July 1930, and the museum opened December 11, 1933. The building's classical Beaux-Arts architecture style was modeled on the Cleveland Museum of Art[4] Thomas Wight, the brother who did most of the design work for the building said:

We are building the museum on classic principles because they have been proved by the centuries. A distinctly American principle appropriate for such a building may be developed, but, so far, everything of that kind is experimental. One doesn’t experiment with two-and-a-half million dollars.[6]

When the original building opened its final cost was $2.75 million ($50 million in 2015).[4] The dimensions of the six-story structure were 390 feet (120 m) long by 175 feet (53 m) wide making it larger than the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The museum, which was locally referred to as the Nelson Art Gallery or simply the Nelson Gallery, was actually two museums until 1983 when it was formally named the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Previously the east wing was called the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, while the west wing and lobby was called the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art.[7]

On the exterior of the building Charles Keck created 23 limestone panels depicting the march of civilization from east to west including wagon trains heading west from Westport Landing. Grillwork in the doors depict oak leaf motifs in memory of Oak Hall. The south facade of the museum is an iconic structure in Kansas City that looms over a series of terraces onto Brush Creek.

About the same time as the construction of the museum, Howard Vanderslice donated 8 acres (32,000 m2) to the west of the museum, across Oak Street, for the Kansas City Art Institute, which moved from the Deardorf Building at 11th and Main streets in downtown Kansas City.

As William Nelson, the major contributor, donated money rather than a personal art collection, the curators were able to assemble a collection from scratch. At the height of the Great Depression, the worldwide art market was flooded with pieces for sale, but there were very few buyers. As such, the museum's buyers found a vast market open to them. The acquisitions grew quickly and within a short time, the Nelson-Atkins had one of the largest art collections in the country.

One-third of the building on the first and second floors of the west wing were left unfinished when the building opened to allow for future expansion. Part was completed in 1941 to house Chinese painting and the remainder of the building was completed after World War II.[4]

Annually, from 1954 through 2000, the Jewel Ball, Kansas City's debutante ball, took place every June in the main hall to benefit both the museum and the Kansas City Symphony. The ball was moved temporarily to accommodate the expansion project at the museum and returned in 2008.

One of the original components of the building was a recreation of Nelson's oak paneled room from Oak Hall (and namesake of the estate). The room contained Nelson's red plush easy chair and bookcases. The room was dismantled in 1988 to make way for a photography studio.[4][8]

A panoramic view of the lawn in front of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Summer 2008

Bloch Building Addition

North façade of the original building (1930-33), with the Bloch Building (1999-2007), left.
The Thinker marked the north entrance prior to the addition of the Bloch Building when it was moved to the south side.

In 1993, the museum began to consider the first expansion plans since the completion of the unfinished areas in the 1940s. Plans called for a 55 percent increase in space and were finalized in 1999.

Architect Steven Holl won an international competition in 1999 for the design of the addition. Holl's concept, conceived and realized with Design Partner Chris McVoy, was to build five glass pavilions to the east of the original building which they call lenses. The lenses top a 165,000-square-foot (15,300 m2) underground building known as the Bloch Building. It is named for H&R Block co-founder Henry W. Bloch. The Bloch building houses the museum's contemporary, African, photography, and special exhibitions galleries as well a new cafe, the museum's reference library, and the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Court. The addition cost approximately $95 million and opened June 9, 2007. It was part of $200 million in renovations to the museum that included the Ford Learning Center which is home to classes, workshops, and resources for students and educators and opened in fall of 2005.

In the competition to design the addition, all the entrants except Holl proposed creating a modern addition on the north side of the museum which would have drastically altered or obscured the north facade which served as the main entrance to the museum. Instead Holl and McVoy proposed placing the addition on the east side perpendicular to the main building. Their aim was to engage the museum's iconic sculpture garden to fuse the experience of Art, Architecture and Landscape. Their lenses now cascade down the east perimeter of the grounds.

During construction, Holl's plan met with considerable controversy. It was described as "grotesque, a metal box."[9] However reviews of the new structure once completed have generally been raves:

New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff gives this description:

For the art world, the addition, known as the Bloch Building, should reaffirm that art and architecture can happily coexist. The rest of us can draw comfort from the fact that public works of our own day and age can equal or surpass the grand achievements of past generations. . .

The result is a building that doesn’t challenge the past so much as suggest an alternate world view that is in constant shift. Seen from the north plaza, the addition’s main entrance gently defers to the old building, the crystalline form suggesting a ghostlike echo of the austere stone facade. From there, the eye is drawn to the distinct yet interconnected translucent blocks, which are partly buried in the landscape. . .

It’s an approach that should be studied by anyone who sets out to design a museum from this point forward.[10]

The museum has gone against traditional conservatorial thinking in allowing natural light from the lenses to illuminate its art work. Most of the exhibits in the addition are below ground with the 27 to 34-foot (10 m) glass pavilions above them. Officials say that advances in glass technology have allowed them to block most of the harmful ultraviolet rays that could damage the exhibited works.[10]

The custom glass planks were manufactured by Glasfabrik Lamberts and imported by Bendheim Wall Systems.[11]

Admission to the Museum is free every day and visitors may use any of seven entrances to access the building. The main visitor's desk is in the Bloch Building. On the north side of the museum, a reflecting pool now occupies part of the J.C. Nichols Plaza on the north facade and contains 34 occuli to provide natural light into the parking garage below. The casting of The Thinker which occupied this space prior to the renovations has been relocated to south of the museum.

In 2013 the combination of Steven Holl Architects and BNIM was selected to build a $100 million addition to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that will be modeled somewhat on the Bloch Addition.[12]


European painting

John the Baptist (John in the Wilderness), by Caravaggio, painted 1604, one of the works in the Nelson-Atkins's European painting collection

The museum's European painting collection is also highly prized. It includes works by Caravaggio, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Petrus Christus, El Greco, Giambattista Pittoni, Guercino, Alessandro Magnasco, Giuseppe Bazzani, Corrado Giaquinto, Cavaliere d'Arpino, Gaspare Traversi, Giuliano Bugiardini, Titian, Rembrandt, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Peter Paul Rubens, as well as Impressionists Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh, among others.

In early 2016, The Temptation of St. Anthony, a small panel long attributed to the workshop of Hieronymus Bosch, was credited to the painter himself after forensic investigation of its underpainting; it was added to the ranks of only 25 authenticated Bosch paintings in the world.[13][14] The Nelson-Atkins also has fine Late Gothic and Early Italian Renaissance paintings by Jacopo del Casentino (The Presentation of Christ in the Temple), Giovanni di Paolo and Workshop, Bernardo Daddi and Workshop, Lorenzo Monaco, Gherardo Starnina (The Adoration of the Magi), and Lorenzo di Credi. It has German and Austrian Expressionist paintings by Max Beckmann, Karl Hofer (Record Player), Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Oskar Kokoschka (Pyramids of Egypt).


The museum is distinguished (and widely celebrated) for its extensive collection of Asian art, especially that of Imperial China. Most of it was purchased for the museum in the early 20th century by Laurence Sickman, then a Harvard fellow in China. The museum has one of the best collections of Chinese antique furniture in the country, including one of the celebrated group of glazed pottery luohans from Yixian (c. 1000). In addition to Chinese art, the collection includes pieces from Japan, India, Iran, Indonesia, Korea, and Southeast, and South Asia.

American painting

The American painting collection includes the largest collection open to the public of works by Thomas Hart Benton, who lived in Kansas City. Among its collection are masterpieces by George Bellows, George Caleb Bingham, Frederic Church, John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent. It also has fine Contemporary Paintings and Creations in the Bloch Building by Willem de Kooning, Fairfield Porter ("Mirror"), Wayne Thiebaud ("Bikini Girl"), Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley, and Alfred Jensen.


In 2006, Hallmark Cards chairman Donald J. Hall, Sr., donated to the museum the entire Hallmark Photographic Collection, spanning the history of photography from 1839 to the present day. It is primarily American in focus, and includes works from photographers such as Southworth & Hawes, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O'Sullivan, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Homer Page, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Andy Warhol, Todd Webb,[15] and Cindy Sherman, among others.

Native American Art

In 2009, the museum opened a suite of Native American art galleries, totaling 6,100 square feet, among the largest such displays in a comprehensive art museum.[16]

Kansas City Sculpture Park

Outside on the museum's immense lawn, the Kansas City Sculpture Park contains the largest collection of monumental bronzes by Henry Moore in the United States. The park also includes works by Alexander Calder, Auguste Rodin, George Segal and Mark di Suvero, among others. Beyond these, the park (and the museum itself) is well known for Shuttlecocks, a four-part outdoor sculpture of oversized badminton shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.[17]


In addition, the museum also has collections of European and American sculpture, decorative arts and works on paper, Egyptian art, Greek and Roman art, modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture, and the art of Africa and Oceania. The museum also houses a major collection of English pottery and another of miniature paintings.

See also


  1. "The 10 Best (New and Upcoming) Architectural Marvels". Time. 13 December 2007.
  2. "Julián Zugazagoitia Named Director of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art" (PDF) (Press release). Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. 5 March 2010. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  3. "Architecture & History: Founders". The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art". Kansas City Public Library Missouri Valley Special Collections. 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  5. "Founders-Mary McAfee Atkins". The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  6. "Original Nelson-Atkins Building-Wight and Wight". The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  7. "Two Buildings, One Vision". The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  8. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ... - Google Books. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
  9. Maria Sudekum Fisher (June 4, 2007). "Nelson-Atkins Museum previews new addition". Staten Island Advance.
  10. 1 2 "A Translucent and Radiant Partner With the Past". New York Times. June 6, 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  11. "Lamberts' Linit U-profile glass" (PDF). Glasfabrik Lamberts GmbH & Co. 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  12. "KC firm BNIM will help design $100 million expansion of Kennedy Center". Retrieved 2013-04-05.
  13. Siegal, Nina (February 1, 2016). "Hieronymus Bosch Credited With Work in Kansas City Museum". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  14. Russell, Anna (February 1, 2016). "Kansas City Museum Painting Deemed an Authentic Bosch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  15. Kathryn Shattuck (February 18, 2006). "For a Dear Museum: Love, Hallmark". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10. Last month the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., acquired the complete Hallmark Photographic Collection,... 161 by Todd Webb
  16. "American Indian Art Collection". Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  17. Cole, Suzanne P.; Engle, Tim; Winkler, Eric (April 23, 2012). "50 things every Kansas Citian should know". Kansas City Star. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
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