Thousands enjoy museum's opening day

More than 9,000 people got a first look at the 127,000-square-foot West building at the North Carolina Museum of Art Saturday, and the reviews were glowing.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 9,000 people walked through the doors of the new building at the North Carolina Museum of Art Saturday. Members of the public got a first look at the 127,000-square-foot West building, and the reviews were glowing.

Museum member Karen Bruck praised the light-filled galleries.

"If you walk into a room, you can see everything in that room," she said.

Tour the museum's new building.

The museum’s new building has 360 skylights, 40 galleries and five gardens. About half the building is made of glass.

"We wanted a building here that ultimately is going to dissolve into nature," architect Thomas Phifer said. "We wanted to make a very quiet building that was about the collection and about the art."

The building lets in sunshine in a way that designers say has never been seen in museums, where art typically is protected from light. The new design incorporates protective elements such as ultraviolet filters, louvers and three layers of curtains. Sensors tell shades to drop when the sunlight is too bright.

"Your heart leaps up," museum Director Larry Wheeler described touring the new building. "You cannot help but be thrilled with the experience."

"It's something I've been waiting for since I moved here 20 years ago," visitor Kittie Deemer said.

The West building houses the museum's permanent collection that spans 5,000 years of art. There are also more than 200 new works, including 29 sculptures by Auguste Rodin, on display.

"I think it's special for North Carolina," Bruck said. She predicted the new building, with its buzz and attractions, would draw people unaccustomed to visiting art museums.

A weekend full of music, dance and art was planned to introduce Raleigh's latest landmark.

Bands will give outdoor concerts of salsa, mountain, big-band jazz, hip-hop, Native American, Gospel, French and Latin music. 

The Carolina Ballet will perform in the old East building, and exhibits by North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina School of the Arts students and other artists will be on display.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 

General admission is free, but timed tickets were issued to keep the museum from becoming overcrowded at any one time. Online tickets have sold out, but a limited number are available at the door.

"If you show up, we will work you in. We are not going to turn anyone away this weekend," said Caterri Woodrum, the museum's deputy director.

Access is unrestricted to a variety of outdoor and indoor events and the grounds, including the new Rodin Garden and a 164-acre park.

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Scott Mason, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor
Jodi Leese Glusco, Web Editor

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