Large-scale construction projects are always complex, but the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston (MFAH) has faced more than the usual challenges in developing a new building to house its international collections of modern art and contemporary.
Despite a pandemic, a hurricane and several tropical storms, the Nancy and Rich Kinder building opened on November 21, just weeks later than expected. The project marked the completion of the expansion and redevelopment of the 14-acre Sarofim campus, the largest cultural expansion project in North America at the time.
The Kinder Building was designed by Steven Holl Architects as the third gallery building on the MFAH campus – the other two are designed by architects Mies van der Rohe and Rafael Moneo.
The Kinder Building’s new galleries include painting, sculpture, crafts and design, video, and immersive installations. A flexible black-box gallery at the ground-level entrance to the Kinder building is dedicated to immersive installations. The galleries on the second floor showcase the strengths of the collection, with spaces dedicated to the history of photography; decorative arts, crafts and design; engravings and drawings; 20th century European and American painting and sculpture; and Latin American modernism.
There are important works by Alice Neel, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Georgia O’Keeffe and Joan Miró, among others. The showcases of Latin American modernism feature Joaquín Torres-García, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Francisco Matto and Julio Alpuy. Key photographers in the collection include Robert Frank, Zanele Muholi, Julia Margaret Cameron and Thomas Struth.
The third-floor galleries feature thematic exhibitions, with five inaugural installations showcasing art from the 1960s. Collectivité explores interdisciplinary works focused on a sense of community; Color into Light presents the role color has played for artists in the United States, Latin America and Europe; MDR! presents more than 50 works that use humor; Border, Mapping, Witness considers maps and borders in geographic, social and political terms; and Line into Space examines how artists have explored the line in multiple media, from paper to jewelry and furniture.
Why was the new building necessary?
Gary Tinterow: The building is dedicated to the fastest growing area of our collection: modern and contemporary art. Our ability to collect in this area increased in 2004 when we received a bequest of $ 400 million from philanthropist and trustee Caroline Wiess Law, for acquisitions in modern and contemporary art. The museum has never had the space to present these collections in depth until now, as the building increases the overall gallery space of the MFAH by 75%.
How does the Kinder building fit into existing structures?
This is the latest installment in our multi-year redevelopment of our Sarofim campus, which includes the Glassell School of Art and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center, both of which opened in 2018. Steven Holl Architects designed the Kinder building for that it be in complementary contrast to the two existing gallery buildings, as well as to create a dialogue with Isamu Noguchi’s Cullen sculpture garden.
What were the challenges of carrying out the project during the pandemic?
Fortunately, we were able to continue by adapting the size of the teams on site. Our main issues were with delays in the supply chain and the need to pivot, such as sourcing parquet in the domestic market, when imported parquet was not an option.
Has the pandemic caused any changes in development?
We had to postpone our November 1 opening date to November 21, but we didn’t need to adjust the design in any way, given the generous spaces in Steven Holl’s architecture.
How were the site-specific commissioned works of art selected and developed?
There are eight commissions. We added Jason Salavon to the list of international artists – Ai Weiwei, Byung Hoon Choi, Cristina Iglesias, Carlos Cruz-Diez, El Anatsui, Olafur Eliasson and Trenton Doyle Hancock. The works are located at strategic points on the campus which mark moments of transition. I ordered them in collaboration with our curators.
What are the strengths of your collections?
The MFAH houses some 72,000 works spanning 6,000 years and six continents. The collection represents all mediums and historical periods, but is exceptionally rich in pre-Columbian and African gold; European Renaissance and Baroque painting and sculpture; French impressionism; as well as European and American art of the 19th and 20th centuries, international photography and Latin American modernism.
What is the most innovative part of the project?
The biggest achievement was completing the project on time and on budget. And it’s rare that a new museum opens its doors with so many impressive works of art by various artists.
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