A wall is coming to Kansas City this spring and summer and no, it has nothing to do with that wall.
The “Walking Wall” installation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art by British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy will involve a stone wall that will “travel,” in segments over months, across the main campus of the gallery before “penetrating” one of the lenses of the Block Building annex and becoming a permanent fixture in the Sculpture Park.
It’s art, and — despite the timing — is not related to the border wall fight that currently has Washington in knots.
But Kansas City’s wall will have a very practical impact on drivers who use Rockhill Road east of the gallery. The street will be closed in both directions by a real stone wall. Specifically, from May 12 through June 3.
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The Parks and Recreation Department and city hall have approved the closure and the Rockhill Homes Association is aware of the project and the coming road closure, said Nelson-Atkins spokeswoman Kathleen Leighton.
Jamie Closson, president of the homes association, said the gallery gave the neighborhood ample notice.
“They’ve been very good about informing us, and then we are going to have ongoing meetings and weekly correspondence,” Closson said. “They’ve addressed a lot of our concerns and questions.”
Signage will inform motorists of the closure and try to discourage high traffic through residential streets.
In fact, Nelson director Julián Zugazagoitia sees the installation as a positive for neighbor relations.
“This seemingly simple wall presents conceptual, philosophical, spiritual and practical challenges that are both enriching and exciting,” he said in a release Thursday. “This poetic disruption pushes the boundaries of a city and nature and solidifies the tie between the museum and the neighborhood.”
Goldsworthy is an acclaimed artist “who works with nature and time to create site-specific installations,” according to the release.
The concept is to build a section of wall and leave it intact for three or four weeks. Then it will be disassembled, moved and reassembled to create a next segment.
There will be five successive sections, the first beginning in early March on Nelson-Atkins property east of Rockhill Road, site of the former tennis club.
The exact path and dimensions of the “Walking Wall” will not be clear until work begins, Leighton said. A representation that Goldsworthy submitted with his proposal shows a wall about chest high just north of the northernmost lens of the Bloch Building.
Goldsworthy is known for other works that incorporate stone walls, including the meandering “Storm King wall” at the Storm King Art Center in New York.
Goldsworthy noticed the walls of native limestone that characterize the Nelson’s grounds, which was once the property of The Star’s founding publisher William Rockhill Nelson.
The artist found the material he wanted for his work in the limestone of the Flint Hills in Kansas. He had used it for a previous project in Wichita.
But freshly quarried stone would clash with the old walls around the Nelson, so he will use a combination of fresh and old stone, some taken from the field and some from old walls being taken down.
“I want ‘Walking Wall’ to feel connected to other walls in the vicinity of the Nelson-Atkins,” Goldsworthy said in the gallery release. “The walls of the museum are a patchwork of different states of weathered stone, which will allow me to mix freshly quarried stone into the wall. Traveling to the Flint Hills to find the right stone for this project was an extraordinary process that made a deep impression on me.”
The public will be invited to watch as the “Walking Wall” is constructed.
Closing Rockhill Road temporarily for an art installation will undoubtedly rankle some motorists. The Nelson is accustomed to controversies, including the design of the Bloch Building and the 1994 “Shuttlecocks” by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. Both additions now are acclaimed.
There is also a link between the “Shuttlecocks” and “Walking Wall.” The new work was commissioned by the Hall Family Foundation in honor of Estelle and Morton Sosland, longstanding patrons of the arts who commissioned “Shuttlecocks.”
“Adding the Andy Goldsworthy piece that they chose in close dialogue with the artist will be an appropriate ‘thank you’ for all they have done,” said Donald J. Hall.