$35 million rennovation merits second look

Jinae West

The Akron Art Museum unveiled its $35-million facelift in July after more than seven years of extensive planning.

After winning an international competition, architect Wolf D. Prix’s firm, Coop Himmelb(l)au, designed the newly remodeled museum that not only triples the size of the original but also incorporates the adjacent 1899 brick building. The new John S. and James L. Knight Building adds an impressive 63,300 square feet.

Based in Austria, Coop Himmelb(l)au is known for its unique interpretation of fusing old and new in a way that’s both seamless and provocative. A metallic arm protectively hangs over the historic building, like a bigger, slightly better-looking older sibling.

Communications officer Julie Ann Hancsak said such integration was one of the reasons Prix was hired.

“The building we were in is a very fine example of renaissance architecture in the city of Akron, and we certainly wanted to maintain that structure,” Hancsak said. “There had been plans as early as in the 1970s to build an addition either as a separate building, basically as a master plan to increase the blue prints of the museum. The other architects in the competition did suggest separate buildings, and the reason we chose Coop is because they combined the buildings but still maintained the integrity of the old building.”

Hancsak said the reaction toward the museum’s grand reopening has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been fantastic, actually,” she said. “We’ve had quite a response from the general public and community, but also from the media, locally and around the world. Most people are interested in the outside structure of the building and then of the collection that hasn’t been on view yet. So, it’s a pretty exciting combination of interest in architecture and the collection housed inside it.”

Before the expansion, only 1 percent of the museum’s collection was displayed due to limited space. But since its renovation, the museum is able to share such pieces as Chuck Close’s “Linda,” a towering acrylic and graphite portrait of a seemingly apathetic woman. Its immense size and attention to detail are captivating, and it is artwork such as this that was previously hidden away from the public.

Yes, this architectural award-winning structure is in Akron. But once inside, it’s easy to forget. The paintings, held in large, ornamented frames, dwarf their admirers who gaze both lovingly and critically at a please-don’t-touch distance. The brush strokes, which move up and down and side to side, mesmerize, and the color and texture of each piece hide away a deep, underlying meaning. And then, in those moments lost in works of art, the Rubber City doesn’t seem so undeserving after all.

Contact all correspondent Jinae West at [email protected].