On Oct. 2, Duke University will open the doors to a grand, $22-million, 65,000-square-foot museum designed by world-renowned architect Rafael Viñoly and stocked with the works of Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Jasper Johns, Michel Basquiat and many others.

The Nasher Museum of Art, named for Dallas millionaire art collector and Duke graduate Raymond Nasher, marks a dramatic shift in the university’s emphasis. The building is a statement that says, from now on, the arts matter at Duke.

The inaugural exhibition The Forest: Politics, Poetics and Practice is a rumination on the same themes expressed in the building design. Sitting on nine acres of wooded land, the architecture incorporates natural light and vast open spaces, including a 13,000-square-foot atrium with a glass-and-steel ceiling rising 45 feet above the green slate floor. Five concrete pavilions extend from it like spokes to house the exhibitions, classroom space and a small, posh auditorium.

On opening day, The Forest begins with painting, film and sculpture, both inside and outside the museum. Chapel Hill artist Patrick Dougherty will construct a sculpture outside the main entrance from saplings and twigs gathered from the site, and artists Petah Coyne, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and Alan Sonfist, whose work is represented in The Forest, will take part in a panel discussion.

Also opening is The Evolution of the Nasher Collection, which gives the public a chance to view pieces from one of the most significant collections of 20th-century sculpture in existence. See it while you can–a museum dedicated to this collection recently opened in Dallas.

Few people are aware that Duke has had an art museum since 1969. Until May of last year, it was housed in obscurity in a former science building on East Campus. Few visitors saw its collections of classical, medieval and renaissance, and African art, or realized that it housed one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian Latin American objects in existence. Without the space, or the university support, the museum and its curators could only wait in limbo.

Securing financial support from the museum’s namesake marked the shift, and the hiring of new university president Richard Broadhead and museum director Kimerly Rorschach solidified the university’s commitment to the arts. Rorschach comes from the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, where she was director for 10 years, building that museum’s endowment and its collection. At the Nasher, she plans to do much of the same, building a collection in modern and contemporary art to complement the works available at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University.

An important part of the Nasher’s mission is to take advantage of the multi-disciplinary strengths of Duke’s faculty, and not just in the art history department. The Forest is co-sponsored by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, home to one of the oldest schools of forestry in the nation. It will partner with the museum in developing programs and tours of the university’s 8,000-acre forest.

Future scheduled exhibitions will also take advantage of Duke graduates’ contributions. In March, Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art will end its national tour with a stop at the Nasher, showing off the collection of 20th-century works by artists both celebrated and obscure, collected by the Blue Devil basketball legend.

The Nasher is also part of Duke’s larger effort to open up to Durham and the Triangle community at large. There will be a film series, public lectures, classes and low-cost admission (free for Durham residents). There’s even parking.

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is located near Duke Gardens at the corner of Campus Drive and Anderson Street. Call 684-5135 or visit www.nasher.duke.edu for a schedule of fall programs.

Tuesday, Sept. 27
6:30 p.m.
Public lecture at the Carolina Theatre: Senior curator Sarah Scroth and museum namesake Raymond Nasher will discuss how he and his late wife Patsy created their collection of 20th-century sculpture.

Opening day: Sunday, Oct. 2
11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
1 p.m.: Durham Mayor Bill Bell and museum leaders host the opening ceremony; admission free
5 p.m.: Panel discussion featuring New York sculptor Petah Coyne, video artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle of Spain, and visual artist Alan Sonfist

Nasher Museum’s permanent hours
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
Monday: closed
Suggested admission after opening day: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and Duke alumni, $3 for non-Duke students with I.D., free for Duke students, faculty and staff, children under 16 and Durham residents with a valid I.D. with proof of residency
Parking: $2/hour, two hours max