N.C. Museum of Art readies for reopening

Posted April 6, 2010 2:37 p.m. EDT

— When the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh opens to the public later this month, guests will notice that the building itself has been transformed into a light-filled work of art.

“We wanted a building here that ultimately is going to dissolve into nature,” New York architect Thomas Phifer said.

The museum’s new west building has 360 skylights, 40 galleries and five gardens surrounding 127,000-square-feet.

“One of the core ideas from very early on was to make a place that was very transparent,” said Dan Gottlieb, director of planning and design for the renovation.

About half the building is made of glass.

The design allows the sun to shine through in a way that designers say has never been seen in a museum, where art works typically are protected from light. The design includes protective elements such as ultraviolet filters, louvers and three layers of curtains. Sensors tell shades to drop when the sunlight is too bright.

The museum reopens to the public on April 24, but reporters were allowed to view some of the facility on Tuesday.

Museum officials said the seven-month renovation was an effort to showcase the museum’s wide-ranging permanent collection, which spans 5,000 years of history.

“I think you get a sense that all of a sudden the works of art are the performers. They’re the stars of the show,” museum Director Larry Wheeler said.

The renovations, which also include a restaurant and shopping area, cost about $86.2 million, according to officials. The project received $73 million in public money.

"It's unheard of for a public investment of this magnitude to take place in the name of the arts in this country," Wheeler said.

Admission into the museum is free.

"Any museum can invite you to look, but a truly great museum changes the way that you see. We hope that you'll agree with us that that is a very apt description of the North Carolina Museum of Art," said Linda Carlisle, secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources.