50 Years Later, and It’s Still About the Light
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
I am not an architecture critic. Nor am I an art scholar.
So, when it comes to writing about an iconic building like the Kimbell Art Museum and its standing as a cultural institution, I will stick to telling you what I like.
Countless others no doubt will wax on in a more scholarly manner as the Kimbell celebrates its 50th birthday this fall. (It opened Oct. 4, 1972.) I am lucky to live close to the Kimbell and the Cultural District. As a resident of the 107, I can drop in for 20 minutes or spend a day there. With Lancaster Avenue my chosen route to all points east, I get to see the Kimbell 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.
While I see the inside of the Kimbell numerous times during the year, it is the exterior that I see every day.
If the weather’s good, I’m not alone, as everyone from picnickers to dog trainers uses the green space. (Remember all the gnashing of teeth when the Renzo Piano Pavilion was announced and plans included reducing the size of the lawn?)
Occasionally, I see someone napping on a portico bench. What a beautiful spot to sleep, perchance to dream.
And I can only imagine how many have used the Kimbell 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: 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. 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 there’s always something I’ve missed 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.
I have no doubt that there are more surprises to come.