The fact that museums continue to develop and expand their facilities is a symptom that a society is artistically healthy and has the support of sound institutions, which thrive in environments where the arts are celebrated. When we increase the spaces dedicated to art and culture, we promote encounters between individuals who learn to see the world in a brighter light. That is precisely what the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, offers. The Museum is housed in a domed building designed by Louis I. Kahn in 1972. But on December 22nd, it unveiled a new pavilion created by the celebrated Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Simplicity, lightness, nature, elms and red oaks…. That is what characterizes the more than 100,000 square feet of Piano`s pavilion, which stands as an artistic expression on its own, built with glass, concrete and wood. Less than 65 yards west of Kahn`s cycloid museum, the new pavilion is “close enough for a conversation, not too close and not too far”, in the words of its creator.
Renzo Piano’s latest building has two structures connected by a glass corridor. The front, or east wing, offers the visitor a feeling of weightlessness as its glass roof appears to be floating above wooden beams and concrete poles. The stylized polished concrete columns flanking the main entrance and surrounding three sides of the building, a tripartite facade that articulates the interior, a wide corridor to the entrance and large galleries that run north and south, help create an atmosphere of purity and order.
Piano is fascinated by the magical combination of some materials, hence the introduction of elements and lines which, together with other intangible elements such as light, result in ethereal spaces. For him, architecture has to do with “people, society, science, invention, technology, history, art, and beauty.” That is why whoever enters the Museum becomes one with the building and feels happy for an instant.
The west wing is sheltered by a green roof and includes a gallery specially designed to display works sensitive to light, three studies dedicated to education, a library with reading areas, an auditorium with excellent acoustics and an underground parking. The auditorium, located on ground level, has 299 reclining seats and a spectacular backdrop that flirts with the changing natural light. “In its marshaling of light and materials, in its human scale and tripartite plan and elevation, the Piano Pavilion provides a 21st-century counterpoint to Kahn’s classic modern masterwork”, says Museum Director Eric M. Lee.
The New York Times described the relationship between the two pavillions as a “civilized conversation across the ages.” While Piano talks with straight lines, Khan expresses himself with curves. By placing his structure in front of Khan`s, Piano has restored the primacy of the west facade of the museum and its dramatic entrance, changing the general trend of visitors that came through to the east gate, which Kahn considered as secondary entrance.
As usual in the work of Renzo Piano, the importance of light is critical to the point of being the main character. Both inside and outside, the Italian architect manipulates light through beveled walls.
Renzo Piano’s long and successful career boasts iconic landmarks that stay embedded in our memories such as the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Paul Klee Center in Berne, Switzerland, the expansion of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and his masterpiece, the Pompidou Center in Paris. His list of awards is almost as large as his creations: RIBA Gold Medal (Royal Institute of British Architects) in 1989, Kyoto Prize in 1990, Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998 and a gold medal from UIA (International Union of architects), 2002, among others.
“With this expansion, for the first time, the Kimbell will be able to showcase the breadth of its small but extraordinary permanent collection while simultaneously presenting a diverse selection of changing exhibitions”, says Lee. “We have filled the Piano Pavilion with our collection to celebrate its opening, but in a few months’ time we will preview the pavilion’s first temporary exhibition, Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Muller Collection.”
The south gallery will be used to display the European Art Collection, which includes paintings by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Rembrandt and Boucher, as well as sculptures by Donatello, Bernini and Houdon. The northern gallery houses fine examples of pre-Columbian and African art while the west gallery will incorporate paintings, sculptures and ceramics from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. The European collection will run until mid-January 2014, when it will return to the museum’s permanent galleries in the Louis Kahn building. The north and west galleries will continue exhibiting important works of Asian, Pre-Columbian and African art.
In addition to its permanent collection of European art from the 19th and 20th centuries, the Kahn building is hosting The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago, on view until February 16, 2014.
Renzo Piano‘s valuable contribution doubles the original space of the Kimbell Art Museum to accommodate the growing number of works from its collection and an increasing number of programs, which have multiplied in recent years. It is, certainly, a cause for celebration. ■