50 Years Later, and It’s Still About the Light
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Writing about an iconic building like the Kimbell Art Museum and its standing as a cultural institution is difficult.
Countless others have done so, and no doubt there are more accolades being written in celebration of the Kimbell’s 50th birthday this month. (It opened Oct. 4, 1972.) What I really want to say is that I’m thrilled to live close to the museum and the Cultural District. I get to see the buildings each day and, typically, in a different light as the sun travels and rays shift seasonally.
It’s amazing to think that architects other than Louis I. Kahn — Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer to name two — were considered to design the building that helped put Fort Worth on the map for art, architecture and culture aficionados. From his first site visit, Kahn knew that light was the key; he captured it beautifully, and the Kimbell is typically listed among his best works. Books have been written and movies have been made about the man and the building.
Others, no doubt, have been influenced by the light, the shapes and the shadows.
Inside, the Kimbell’s collection includes art from around the globe; exhibits have showcased a range of periods from antiquities to modern day. (Be sure to see the Kehinde Wiley painting that’s part of “Slay: Artemisia Gentileschi and Kehinde Wiley,” the Focus exhibition that closes Oct. 9.)
Some things have changed over the museum’s history. Remember all the gnashing of teeth when the Renzo Piano Pavilion addition was announced and plans included reducing the size of the lawn? When the weather’s good, everyone from picnickers to dog trainers still use the ample green space, which remains a perfect setting for Kahn’s masterpiece.
And so many have used the Kimbell’s beautifully neutral stone as the backdrop for photographs, marking special occasions from weddings and quinceaneras to proms and graduations. I’ve always thought that if the Kimbell were to charge even a small fee for use of the lawn, it would surely have enough money to purchase another masterpiece or two. Joking aside, I never get tired of seeing women in heels trying to navigate that hard-to-walk-on basalt gravel. Or the graduates in their caps and gowns, smiling proudly for Mom and Dad.
And then there are the meditative types: Occasionally, there’s someone napping on a portico bench. What a beautiful spot to sleep, perchance to dream. Those who do yoga or tai chi; the cellist, whose notes bounce off the travertine and concrete of the building; the book readers and the journal writers drift in and out of the scene. A couple of mallards make regular appearances each year; their favorite spot is the water feature.
I’ve heard that a couple got married on the lawn. It was a very brief ceremony, with only the officiant in attendance. Museum employees quietly witnessed the event, watching from their offices.
While membership has its privileges, when it comes to the Kimbell’s exterior, it is the people’s museum.
As a member of the media, I get the extraordinary opportunity to see exhibitions before they open to the public and ask questions of the curator. As a member of the museum, I also get access to special events. (Hint for the holidays: A membership card is a great gift idea.)
While the traveling exhibitions are special, it’s the permanent collection that keeps me going back time and time again. Even the online virtual tour is a treat, as it allows you to see everything in extraordinary detail.
And I’m always seeing something new or didn’t pay enough attention to the first time. It wasn’t until this year that I found the small nameplate for Isamu Noguchi’s Constellation (for Louis Kahn) somewhat hidden in the grass near a sidewalk in the lower garden named for Noguchi.
No doubt there are more surprises to come, more details to discover.