KU’s Spencer Museum to get $5 million renovation

06/06/2014 1:00 PM

06/05/2014 1:37 PM

Eighteen months from now, the University of Kansas’ Spencer Museum of Art will have an airy new glass entrance, a new study center for works on paper, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the century-old trees in neighboring Marvin Grove.

These are just some of the improvements being made as part of a projected $5 million renovation designed to make the museum’s building more welcoming and its educational mission more apparent.

Last month, architects from the internationally known firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, founded by I.M. Pei, unveiled a plan that includes tripling the size of the museum lobby and orientation area, adding floor-to-ceiling windows to the building’s west wall, and creating a central staircase and elevator that will link the Spencer’s two floors of gallery space.

The design, the first phase of a larger expansion and renovation plan, will bring air and light into the 1978 structure designed by Kansas City architect Robert E. Jenks. It also will keep with the vision of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ lead designers Yvonne Szeto and Bruce White, which is “to allow art to be enjoyed in the context of nature.”

“Essentially, with the new glass entryway, you could stand at the front of the building and look straight through the building and see right through the lobby, Central Court and through the new back window toward Marvin Grove,” museum spokeswoman Margaret Perkins-McGuinness said.

Phase 1 includes the creation of the Stephen H. Goddard Study Center for Works on Paper and an expanded teaching and learning gallery adjacent to the museum’s Central Court.

“(The plan) takes full advantage of the location we have; it embeds us in one of most beautiful sites on campus,” museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy said. “It utilizes the existing building but creates this amazing transparency with regard to our core mission of being a learning and teaching museum.

“That will be apparent when you walk in,” she added, “because you will look to the left and see this amazing study center offering an opportunity for intimate exchanges with our works on paper and other objects.”

A gift from an anonymous donor is financing the creation of the Goddard Study Center, named for longtime curator and associate director Stephen Goddard. The Spencer’s 20,000-plus works on paper represent a significant part of its total collection of 38,500 objects.

The whole place will get a freshening — an architect’s digital rendering shows the museum’s Central Court transformed by light.

“The current ceiling is completely enclosed, with drop ceiling tiles and enormous light fixtures from the 1970s, which will be removed,” Perkins-McGuinness said. “Options for lighting for the Central Court are still under consideration, as we evaluate a skylight system or some type of controlled-lighting ‘lens’ — in either case, the system will have the capacity to bathe the walls of the Central Court with light.”

The museum and the KU Endowment Association have raised almost $4 million of the $5 million campaign for Phase 1, and fundraising is ongoing, Hardy said. Work will begin this fall and is expected to be completed by fall 2015.

Hardy hopes to embark on Phase 2, a major expansion that “will enlarge the museum’s footprint in terms of galleries,” in five or six years.

The expansion is envisioned as a wraparound of the rear and sides of the existing museum that will incorporate the elements of the Phase 1 renovation.

“We hope Phase 1 is an invitation to the much larger project,” she said. “The magic was figuring out how much we could do in order to indicate how spectacular and dazzling the big project will be.

“Although we have been needing an expansion,” she added, “it seems this is the moment that all of the mission and the programming and everything we’re doing has crystallized.”

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