Feb. 18--A work of architectural flair with oddly angled metal panels and soaring glass, the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art boldly declares its presence on Kennesaw State University's campus of mostly mundane red-brick buildings.
Starting with its grand opening on March 1, it hopes to command attention across the metro area, as well.
"By putting Zuckerman both physically and spiritually in the center of the campus, it makes a powerful statement," said Catherine Lewis, executive director of KSU's Museums, Archives and Rare Books department. "At most universities, the arts complex is off to the side. The arts are not seen as an adjunct to Kennesaw State's mission but rather a central piece of it."
Plans to build the museum gained momentum in 2010 after Bernard A. Zuckerman, a retired carpet manufacturer and arts patron, pledged $2 million if the school could raise $1 million.
The seed had been planted more than a decade earlier when Zuckerman donated a collection of more than 100 pieces of modernist carved stone and bronze-cast sculpture by his accomplished first wife, Ruth Zuckerman, not long after her 1996 death. KSU soon mounted a gallery retrospective, and an AJC reviewer praised the "superb, luscious" stonework as "humane, intimate and celebratory."
Select pieces of Ruth Zuckerman's work will be on view in the museum named for her husband, who died last year, and a catalog of the collection is being published in conjunction with the museum's debut.
Still, the focal point of four opening exhibits will be "See Through Walls," in which 15 local and national artists or groups including Imi Hwangbo and Ben Goldman riff on the physical and psychological dimensions of architectural space.
Temporary site-specific works commissioned for the show include KSU alumni Sam Parker's large mural that greets visitors above the reception desk of the main entrance, depicting a series of huts isolated atop rugged peaks and suggesting the walls we erect between each other.
Another commission, Annette Cone-Skelton's "Brick," is an astoundingly precise graphite pencil drawing of more than 4,000 bricks covering a 30-foot-wide painted gallery wall. The piece echoes the exterior facade of the adjacent Bailey Performance Center, connected to the museum via an upper level gallery-atrium.
KSU began building a well-regarded gallery program in 1984, launched by Roberta Griffin, now a professor emerita. In tandem with now-retired College of the Arts dean Joseph Meeks, Griffin gradually assembled a worthy permanent collection of late 19th and 20th century American art.
With the donation late last year of 5,000 prints from Southern Graphics Council International, the Zuckerman now claims a permanent collection approaching 6,000 pieces, a growing number of them from the 21st century.
Yet with three art galleries dotting the campus prior to the museum's construction, and with its collection stored in a trio of scattered buildings, the gallery program's profile was limited, especially beyond the university's gates.
Thus the Atlanta-based firm Stanley Beaman & Sears was charged with making "a bold architectural statement" and creating "a landmark for visitors," according to its mission statement.
The exterior flourishes continue inside the two-story, 9,200-square-foot structure featuring a dramatic staircase that rises in the 29-foot-high glass atrium to the upper gallery level.
Featuring gleaming concrete floors, the gallery level is split between open and walled exhibition spaces. Straight ahead off the staircase is the Ruth Zuckerman Pavilion, dedicated to the sculptor's work, and the Malinda Jolley Mortin Gallery is just inside the Bailey Performance Center.
To the left off the staircase are three more intimate East Galleries. For the opening, they will showcase 76 pieces from the permanent collection, mainly paintings and works on paper, beside two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces from the "See Through Walls" show.
"Instead of the traditional model where we have the permanent collection and then a (separate) rotating exhibition space, we'd prefer for them to have a dialogue between one another," Zuckerman Director Justin Rabideau said. "We really want to see our collection contextualized with local, regional, national and international artists so that it doesn't just exist in a static realm."
The museum is intended not just for a student body approaching 25,000 but also the community at large.
"We see ourselves as a conduit of information and dialogue between the campus and the larger community," Rabideau said.
Education is a major consideration in the programming decisions of curatorial affairs director Teresa Bramlette Reeves and associate curator Kirstie Tepper. And a curriculum for students of Cobb and Cherokee county schools is in the works.
"Instead of just giving an artist a solo show or bringing in prepackaged exhibitions, we want to create meaningful exhibits that open up opportunities for engagement in the arts on many different levels," Rabideau said.
Annette Cone-Skelton, artist and co-founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, said she sees the potential.
"The greater Atlanta area will benefit from the Zuckerman's serious curatorial work and from its goal to build a scholarly collection," she said. "The museum has an opportunity to become an important addition to the greater Atlanta area cultural community."
Ironically, the Zuckerman opens just as Emory University's Visual Arts Gallery shows its final exhibition. In 2012, Emory announced plans to close the gallery and, eventually, its Department of Visual Arts to focus on core programs.
That's a very different picture than at KSU, where nearly 1,000 are enrolled in its College of the Arts, which offers eight undergraduate degrees and one master's.
"One door closes and the other door opens here at Kennesaw," Lewis said. "And in some ways it aligns with the university's missions. Nobody goes to Emory for the arts program. They do at KSU. We're a university of choice for that."
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