By nearly doubling its floor space, the Kimbell Art Museum can always keep a large portion of its permanent collection on exhibit
The simple fact that the Kimbell Art Museum’s permanent collection is back on extended display is reason enough to celebrate the opening of Piano Pavilion.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, who also designed Dallas’ Nasher Sculpture Center, the pavilion virtually doubles the exhibit space for America’s most acclaimed small museum. That means the permanent collection doesn’t need to make way for traveling or special exhibits for virtually the first time in the museum’s 40-year history.
The entire African collection is out. So are most of the Asian and pre-Columbian pieces. Renaissance European paintings are on view as never before in the new building and the Impressionists are hanging in the south gallery of the older Louis Khan building.
Hanging among the treasures from the permanent collection is a rarely seen Van Gogh, Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, from a private Fort Worth collector. In addition, a special exhibit, Picasso and Matisse from the Art Institute of Chicago, fills the north gallery.
For decades, the Kimbell has talked about how to expand its exhibition space. Early proposals called for increasing the number of vaults in the original building. But the space described as Khan’s masterpiece is considered an architectural gem and changing it in any way was considered nearly criminal.
Annexes and new structures were proposed, but not until Renzo Piano stepped in was any sort of expansion seriously discussed.
Piano began his association with the Kimbell as he was designing and building the Nasher. He visited the Khan building many times.
“Khan is a master,” he says, calling the original museum “unpretentious and beautiful.”
While Piano has designed a number of public spaces, including the Shard (a London skyscraper that’s the tallest building in Europe), designing art museums is closest to his heart. In addition to the Nasher and Kimbell, he designed Houston’s Menil Collection and the Cy Twombly Gallery.
“Art makes people better people,” Piano says. “Art makes the city a better place to live.”
Piano’s first decision was where to place the pavilion. His team spent months measuring to create the perfect urban space.
“Buildings don’t stand alone,” he says. “Too close is aggressive.” But too far would destroy the synergy between the structures, Piano says, while looking through the giant glass wall of the gallery named for him across the landscaped lawn connected by walkways to the original building.
Interaction of buildings is nothing new to Piano. His brilliant roof design on the Nasher was created to bring in more natural light and deflect glare, until the highly reflective Museum Tower was erected next door, flooding the galleries with harsh light. Still, the roof on the Kimbell does even more than the Nasher.
The louvered panels reflect heat, adjust light from full sun to just four percent of available light and then produce electricity with attached photovoltaic cells.
Above the auditorium and a gallery (housing more delicate works that could be affected by light), the roof has been returned to the landscape and is planted with grass.
Five acres were excavated for the pavilion, but four-and-a-half acres were returned to its original park-like setting.
Inside, the building is equally innovative. Moveable walls in galleries are usually two feet thick and held in place with sandbags inside. Modular walls in the Piano Pavilion appear to float but are actually bolted to the floor and are just 11 inches thick to give the galleries a much airier feel.
Glass used in the walls is structural and not held up with the usual steel beams. Vast wall space in the Piano Pavilion allows four nine-foot high by six-foot wide French rococo paintings by Francois Boucher to hang side by side for the first time since they were acquired by the Kimbell in 1972.
Already a gem of North Texas, the Piano Pavilion makes the Kimbell twice as good.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 13, 2013.