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Exhibition

TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM

April 2–July 17, 2022
East Building, Level B, Galleries 3

The North Carolina Museum of Art’s environmental program originated in an ambitious experimental site plan entitled Imperfect Utopia: A Park for the New World. Among the 1989 plan’s groundbreaking concepts was “throw[ing] the Museum outdoors” to create an open landscape within which sculpture and recreation complemented the Museum, expanding access to a more diverse public. Thirty-two years later, the Museum Park provides a bridge between the Museum and community as an evolving experiment in art and environmental stewardship.

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TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM reintroduces the foundational Imperfect Utopia, created by celebrated artist Barbara Kruger with architects Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson and landscape architect Nicholas Quennell, and unveils a new environmental vision plan for the Park Preserve, designed by Andropogon, Biohabitats, and WK Dickson. The exhibition’s title echoes North Carolina’s state motto, referring to the Museum’s quiet progress as both leader and citizen.

Imperfect Utopia and the Museum Park Preserve Vision Plan bookend development of the Museum Park —each responding to specific ongoing concerns. The Imperfect Utopia team collaborated across art and design disciplines to reconcile the NCMA’s vast and degraded site as an expression of inclusion and healing. The Museum Park Preserve Vision Plan builds upon that foundation, again collaborating across disciplines to provide a compelling vision for the continued restoration of the Park, innovative public outreach, and affirmation of the NCMA’s commitment to climate resiliency. It represents the efforts of a design team of landscape architects, ecologists, and engineers responding to historic impacts on the site, the climate emergency, and our ongoing obligations as stewards of this land.

Viewed with Fault Lines: Art and the Environment, the installation clearly states the NCMA’s position as an active participant in the global conversation.


Organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. This exhibition is made possible, in part, by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation, Inc.; and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment for Educational Exhibitions. Research for this exhibition was made possible by Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.

Cover of the NCMA site plan Imperfect Utopia: A Park for the New World, 1989, Barbara Kruger, Henry Smith-Miller, Laurie Hawkinson, Nicholas Quennell; Commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Art with funding by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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