It was after Thou Mayest surprised Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Director Julián Zugazagoitia and me with a special batch of J. Rieger & Co. whiskey during our third Beer Hour segment that Zugazagoitia imparted some important words of wisdom to me.
He basked in the experience — swirling, smelling and enjoying his drink. (Subtle! Delicious! Aromatic!) Then came the wisdom:
“For one glass of whatever, it’s two glasses of water. That’s what I’m teaching my son.”
And: “If it’s good alcohol, you never do shots. Of course not. That’s the worst thing you could ever do. If it’s something nice, take the time.”
Finally: “It’s about slowing down...”
That’s the same approach the dynamic museum director encourages people to take to art, and one of the reasons the Nelson-Atkins appeals to both the sophisticated art enthusiast and the casual connoisseur.
“It is only our attention and then also your passion that leads you to something or another,” Zugazagoitia said. “There is no right or wrong way of looking at art. There is no right or wrong way to come to the museum.”
The grandson of a Spanish politician and journalist who fled Francisco Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War, was recaptured by the Gestapo and then returned to Spain to be executed, Zugazagoitia has traveled the globe in his career. The Mexico native speaks six languages and worked as the director of El Museo del Barrio in New York City before taking the Nelson-Atkins post in 2010.
On Beer Hour, Zugazagoitia talked about the country he felt most at home in, his multilingual family and the fantastic discovery he made a few years after moving to Kansas City, a sign he says meant he was in the right place — his grandfather’s name inscribed on a mural located in a University of Missouri-Kansas City hall. To hear that story, listen to Beer Hour, or read former Star reporter Steve Paul’s story.
“The museum, because it’s free, can be a place you hang out for five minutes or stay a whole day,” Zugazagoitia said. “Give yourself total liberty and understand that you don’t need to enjoy anything to enjoy art.”
Watch the full episode here or enjoy some highlights above.