Here's the best way to visit Durham, North Carolina's world-class art museum.

Art at Duke
Ron Mueck, the artist who created Mask (Self-portrait), is a puppeteer and puppet maker.

The lobby buzzes like a piazza. Visitors congregate in this atrium naturally, drawn to the light flooding through the glass-paneled ceiling. Just another art museum? Hardly. An amazing space. An impressive collection. No matter how much time you have―an hour or an afternoon―we'll help you enjoy it at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

The One-Hour Approach
Start a staring contest you're guaranteed to lose. The most arresting piece in the whole museum is a giant, lifelike face called Mask (Self-portrait), by Ron Mueck. It stares at you. Sternly. Step in as close as you can, and check out the artist's intricate details (whiskers and pores even). Now spend the rest of the time diving into modern and contemporary works. You'll get a nice taste―a teaser in fact―to lure you back for more.

If You Have a Few Hours
Branch out into the galleries. The museum features an incredible collection of paintings and sculptures spanning from the Old Masters to the present. Translated: You'll discover Rothko, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, and Kline, right alongside Warhol. Track down the painting by Barkley L. Hendricks called Bashir, which is part of the current "New at the Nasher" show in the exhibit hall. According to Trevor Schoonmaker, the curator of contemporary art, "Bashir creates a nice link between contemporary art and earlier master portraitists such as Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Sargent."

Spend an Afternoon
Become part of the art. Nasher Museum director Kimerly Rorschach says one of her favorite works is the three-dimensional piece housing moving mirrored disks and lights called The uncertain museum by Olafur Eliasson. "You don't just look at it," she says. "You actually experience it by going inside. When you stand outside, you see the shadows cast by others as they walk around inside. It's an experience in optical perception." Pretty cool, huh?

After exploring the galleries, snag a table in the Nasher Museum Café, tucked just off the main lobby. The sleek design mimics the modern museum. Large glass walls allow more natural light (yea!) and views of an outdoor sculpture garden. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, the restaurant under Greece-born chef Giorgios Bakatsias builds its menu around seasonal and local food and produce―with a little Mediterranean flair, of course.

Nasher Museum of Art: 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, NC 27705; or [919] 684-5135. Suggested admission: $5 adults.

"Art at Duke" is from the November 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.