Openings Museums USA

Kimbell puts own collection first in its new pavilion

Chicago’s Modern masters grace the Fort Worth museum’s Louis Kahn-designed Modernist gem

The Kimbell Art Museum’s new Renzo Piano pavilion

“The number one reason why we’re expanding is to show the entire permanent collection,” says Eric Lee, the director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas. “Unlike most museums, we actually want to show our whole collection because we have a small number of works, but they been very carefully chosen and put together.” So when the museum opens its $135m expansion, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, on 27 November, the first installation in the new space will be entirely made up of works from the permanent collection, including Pre-Columbian, African and Asian art, as well as its Old Masters.

Piano’s airy, glass and concrete colonnaded pavilion is a foil to the institution’s famous 1972 Louis Kahn building. It is meant to sit in conversation with the original museum, says the architect. In the future, the Piano-designed pavilion will host temporary shows, while the Kahn building will house the whole European collection. But for now the roles are reversed.

While a third of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern galleries are closed for renovation (the Piano-designed building is suffering from teething trouble), the museum has sent around 100 works to Texas, including all of its “greatest hits” of 20th-century art. Lee says they have been installed in the Kahn galleries to great effect. “Matisse’s Bathers by a River [1909-17] hanging on the centre axis in the Kahn building looks amazing,” he says.

After the Modern masters go back to Chicago and works from the Kimbell’s collection return to the Kahn building, the Fort Worth museum’s first travelling show in the Piano pavilion will feature Samurai armour from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection in Dallas.

And then what? Considering how long this expansion has been in the making (an earlier plan to add directly onto the original building was dropped after widespread outcry), there is little chance that the museum will rush into another construction project. “I think that the campus is so perfect now,” Lee says, though he adds that “there’s still room for growth in the collection”. The additional space allows the museum to do more with what it already has; for example, it is devoting a small lower-level gallery to architecture and has brought out Kahn’s architectural models for the original museum. “I would be surprised if the Kimbell expands in the next 50 years,” Lee says, adding: “I would be shocked.”

Matisse’s Bathers by a River, 1909-17, on display in its Kahn building
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