Jeneé Osterheldt

Nelson-Atkins’ ‘Glass Labyrinth’ is a clear path to adventure

“Glass Labyrinth” is a must for nice weather, and it’s free. It opened last month in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Garden at the Nelson-Atkins.
“Glass Labyrinth” is a must for nice weather, and it’s free. It opened last month in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Garden at the Nelson-Atkins. The Kansas City Star

When I think about a labyrinth, I automatically envision David Bowie all awesomely creepy in the Jim Henson cult classic.

But there is no Jareth the Goblin King in the “Glass Labyrinth” by Robert Morris outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It’s a different kind of brilliant. This new 50-by-50-by-50-foot glass triangle with its tricky interior glass walls is a sophisticated enchantment.

As we approach it on a Sunday afternoon in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, people are winding through the glass walls, looking like the ghosts of Pac-Man trying to find a way out. An audience surrounds the labyrinth, watching and taking pictures. This isn’t just a sculpture celebrating the park’s 25th anniversary, it’s an attraction.

A sign nearby reads like it’s for a ride at an amusement park, warning people that the labyrinth can be disorienting, to walk slowly to avoid injury and to be cautious that the glass intensifies the heat. It warns that it could take up to 10 minutes to complete this puzzle.

And since art is usually thought-provoking, the Nelson also has a question to consider as you take on the sculpture: Is your experience a metaphor for negotiating the uncertainties of our time?

It’s not just 400 tons of awesome, it’s heavy, baby. But I know better than to take on an exercise of the mind and body on an empty stomach, so we head over to the museum’s beautiful Rozzelle Court for brunch first. Since the labyrinth is free, you might as well spring for a meal. And dining in the dramatic style of the 15th-century, Italian-inspired courtyard will make you feel like a champion.

Cafeteria style, my partner-in-dine Marvelous Mo and I grab our trays and pick out our fuel for the day. A potato and egg scrambler ($9.95) for her and the house-smoked ribs ($10.95) for me. I usually don’t go for barbecue at brunch, but I can’t resist the lasagna-like root vegetable pavé that it comes with, so perfectly cheesy and good. I skip the slaw for the mozzarella, basil and tomato salad with artichokes, fresh garlic and olive oil dressing.

And of course we share dessert: key lime pie and strawberry cheesecake with deeply dark chocolate — both $6.95. If you must choose one, go for the pie every single time.

Full but not stuffed, we’re ready to take on the labyrinth, never to be mistaken for a maze. This equilateral triangle is a single path, no dead ends, all labyrinth. The exit is also the entrance — one way in, one way out. Still, from the outside looking in, it’s puzzling to imagine it taking 10 minutes to finish.

“It’s not big enough to take that long,” Mo says, looking at the people navigating their way. “But they look lost inside.”

So that we can time it, we take turns, with Mo going first. It’s 12:47 when she walks in. Despite the warnings to go slow, her excitement takes over. If this were a game of Pac-Man, she is Speedy, aka Pinky. While people we saw in there minutes earlier are still wandering slowly, bewildered by the 7-foot-high, 1-inch thick glass panels, the walls seem to talk to Mo. She’s making funny faces at me through the glass, happily twisting and turning through the triangulated masterpiece.

It’s 12:51 when her bright smile greets me. She warns, “It’s weird when you come out to try and remember the way you came.”

As I enter, I move slowly. A man looks at me and tells his wife, “I know we’re getting close to the exit, because she’s new.” My beginning marks their finish line. I don’t have Mo’s confidence. The walls wind all around me. I try to think about the question. Is this symbolic of the unknown? If so, I have to get a little gumption because if one thing is certain, life is full of uncertainties.

I move steadily, trying to see the walkways between the glass. It’s easy to confuse the panels with the open pathways. I see Mo through the glass and get dance-happy. I laugh, knowing I am halfway there. Now, the hard part. I have to turn around and find my way back. Somehow, everything looks different. It’s a “How did I get here?” moment.

I take a deep breath and charge forward, pausing once to remind myself to see past the glass walls, to not be boxed in by the challenge. With that mentality, the path jumps out to me and I find my way out, hands in the air in victory mode. What feels like forever to me is also four minutes. Go figure.

That’s the thing about life’s hurdles, they always seem worse than they really are. We just have to get beyond the boundaries and know that we’ll get to the other side.

Jeneé Osterheldt’s column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or email “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at

At the Nelson

The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park is free and open during daylight hours year-round.

Rozzelle Court Restaurant serves lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; beverages and desserts 2 to 4 p.m.; dinner and live music 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays; happy hour 5:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Call 816-751-1278 or go to