“Glass Labyrinth” being built outside Nelson-Atkins Museum

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Author Henry David Thoreau once said, "This world is but a canvas to our imagination."

Patrons of the arts are anxious to see the ingenuity behind the newest outdoor exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

It's what one museum official is calling a visual "Tour de force."

The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is no stranger to large outdoor exhibits. Now, construction is underway for a large all-glass, walk-in labyrinth. It's designed by legendary Kansas City artist Robert Morris, and since Tuesday, a construction crew has been using perspiration to bring this maze of double-paned glass to life.

Steve Waterman is the museum's director of presentation and manages installation crews for outdoor projects. He's also become a collaborator of Morris, in that he assists in constructing the maze.

"Mr. Morris is a big deal and has been a big deal in the art world," Waterman said.

Morris, a graduate of Paseo High School, is now in his nineties, and resides in the New York City area. He's the Kansas City native who has spent his artistic life building similar labyrinths out of glass and chain link fences, like this one in Brazil.

Waterman says this seven-foot-high labyrinth will challenge the participant as if they're in a hall of mirrors.

"There's something wonderful and reductive about making a labyrinth out of glass," Waterman said. "It's that ability to see where you're going, yet not being able to go there until you do it."

Waterman says the labyrinth will be made from over 480 tons of raw materials, and will be a large equilateral triangle, measuring 61 feet on all three sides.

Jan Schall serves as the museum's curator of modern art. She says while most of her museum's outdoor pieces are hands-off, this one welcomes the viewer to walk right through.

"It's a completely new dimension for us that is experiential that way," Schall said. "That lets you move in and through it. I think it will be a powerful experience for people and a moving and aesthetic experience."

Unlike Morris' other labyrinth constructions, this one will be permanent. Museum officials expect it to open on May 22nd.

Museum officials wouldn't say how much the labyrinth cost to design and build. Once construction is finished, the public can come see it for free.

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    The biggest of this work is the simplicity of the form to create a transcendence “on the canvas of the imagination” of people walking inside. I remember in La Cite de les Sciences et l’Industrie in Port de la Villette in Paris (sorry for my French orthography) in February 1998, a work with simple three mirrors arranged vertically as a equilateral triangle. The total height was no more than 7 ft. The entrance was from the bottom and as soon you got up inside the triangle, you see your image repeated infinite times reflected by the three mirrors. I felt I was in other world. This Glass Labyrinth can create a similar sensation but amplified. The fact the material is glass not mirrors and the size makes a very radical different purpose of the work I saw in Paris. Due dimensions the work of Paris allows only one people inside, the Glass Labyrinth due the size allows walking many people inside. But in any case, both works lead us to a “canvas of the imagination” although to different scales.