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Norton Museum's expansion brings free admission through 2018

The @NortonMuseum to close May 30, reopen July 5 with free admission through 2018.

While you pardon their dust, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach will pardon your admission fee.

The Norton Museum will shut down for five weeks starting May 30, and reopen July 5 with free admission through December 2018.

The museum will be under construction for the next 2 1/2 years for a major expansion: a $64 million west wing, designed by the architecture firm Foster + Partners and by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Lord Norman Foster.

Hope Alswang, the Norton's executive director and CEO, said she hopes free admission shows "we still want people there" despite construction cranes and scaffolding.

"I think of it like, 'It's the same Norton you love, only more intimate,' " Alswang said Wednesday. "We want to encourage people to use us for the next two years, even though we'll probably be half the size."

When the museum reopens in July, visitors must temporarily use the east entrance on the museum's South Olive Avenue side. Patrons can park in the free lot across from the museum on the west side of Dixie Highway, where free shuttles will be available.

The Norton broke ground in February on the new wing. A reflecting pool sheltered under a 43-foot-high metal canopy will greet visitors at this new front entrance on South Dixie Highway. The entrance feeds into a 3,600-square-foot great hall with a coffee bar, lounge seating and a piano. There's also a 210-seat auditorium; an education center with classrooms and a student gallery; and about 12,000 square feet of new gallery space. The current parking lot on the south side will be replaced by a 9,000-square-foot event lawn and a sculpture garden.

"We wanted to set the museum in a garden with high ceilings and big windows so people knew where they were in Florida," Alswang said. "We wanted the wing to feel very much rooted in its subtropical place."

The Norton's overhaul started last September after five years of consulting with architect Foster. Alswang said landing the designer responsible for London's famed neo-futuristic "Gherkin" skyscraper and New York's Hearst Tower was a "great coup" for the museum.

"We had bad acoustics, flat ceilings and no auditorium for our world-class musicians," Alswang recalled. "We needed more galleries to keep up with all the new permanent collections we were getting."

While workers don hard hats in the museum's west wing, the dining area will shut down and bathrooms will be relocated, Alswang said. The 2016, 2017 and 2018 season exhibition schedules may be limited to six to eight shows from the usual 14 to 16.

"We're turning ourselves inside out in order to stay open," Alswang said.

Most of the Norton's permanent collection, meanwhile, will stick around on the eastern side, with the rest moved to storage. One current exhibit, "Still/Moving: Photographs and Video Art From the DeWoody Collection," has been extended through Sunday, May 22. Masterworks also will remain on view, including Jackson Pollock's "Night Mist," Georgia O'Keeffe's "Pelvis With the Moon — New Mexico" and Edward Hopper's "August in the City." The Norton's music-and-art series Art After Dark will resume July 7, and will also be free.

Other displays, including the 693-piece glass-ceiling seascape created by artist Dale Chihuly, will be removed for the expansion.

For more information on the upgrades, call 561-832-5196 or go to Norton.org/New.

pvalys@sun-sentinel.com or Twitter @philvalys

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