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The art world’s eyes are on the Bayou City this week as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston gears up for the opening of the brand-new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, the final piece in its decade-long expansion project, this weekend.
And after getting a sneak peek on Monday, we can see why. From the exterior translucent tubular pillars that will light up at night, to its cloud-inspired roof and inner gallery ceilings, to the bronze sculptural pool placed at its Main Street doors, the trapezoidal-shaped building that now houses the MFAH’s extensive permanent modern and contemporary art collections looks like a piece of art itself.
"It's been eight years, almost nine years, creating this work," MFAH Director Gary Tinterow said during a Monday video press preview of the space, "and we're so pleased to see that the works that we've been acquiring in the anticipation of a facility fit so beautifully here."
This three-story building (four, if you count the underground art environment tunnels that connect to new gallery to the rest of the MFAH’s 14-acre Sarofim Campus), designed by famed New York-based architect Steven Holl (a believer that the site of any project should be the basis for the style it inspires, and currently best known for his 2019 expansion of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.). The Kinder boasts more than 100,000 square feet of exhibition space, increasing the MFAH’s room for showcasing art by a whopping 75 percent.
Yet Holl’s ingenious design, which contrasts with the neoclassical style of the MFAH’s oldest building, 1924’s Caroline Wiess Law Building, in a look-how-far-we’ve-come kind of way, manages to pack all of that gallery space in without making the Kinder feel crowded or claustrophobic—a real feat, if we say so. Plus, there’s the massive underground parking lot, a 215-seat theater, seven gardens, six reflecting pools along the building’s perimeter, and even a restaurant that opens onto Isamu Noguchi’s Cullen Sculpture Garden.
Of course, a space as magnificent as this deserves the very best pieces. And the MFAH delivers on that front. An array of treasures, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, O’Keefe, and so many other artistic greats, are displayed throughout the Kinder (named for the Houston couple who, along with Susan and Fayez Sarofim, kicked in $150 million for the project) alongside eight new site-specific commissioned works.
But we’re just getting started here. After all, the building in total contains 237,000 square feet for the museum to work with. Opening into an airy and bright atrium, the Kinder’s ground floor features a “black box” area devoted to immersive installations, while on the second floor, visitors will find departmental galleries dedicated to specific collections, including photography and Latin American modernist art. Meanwhile, the third floor will host rotating, thematic exhibitions. When the gallery opens this Saturday, visitors will see exhibitions devoted to color study, socio-political issues, and even humor.
"We've tried to reflect a global vision, which reflects the global status of Houston as an international capital and as a port city, which for more than a century now, has welcomed people from all over the world," Tinterow explained.
The pièce de résistance in the museum’s ambitious $450 million expansion and endowment campaign—currently the largest cultural construction project in North America, we simply must note—the Kinder Building has been in the works since 2012, when the museum launched a competition to find its perfect architect. With Holl, the MFAH has found a perfect fit, because while the initial idea was to just put up a new building, it was Holl who suggested the addition of a public plaza, rebuilding the Glassell School of Art (which was completed in 2018) and an expansion of the sculpture garden.
And the end result? Well, let's just say Houston owes a lot to everyone involved for making this incredible new space happen, and we're tipping our hats toward Holl in particular. The Kinder is a remarkable contribution to the Bayou City, and we're looking forward to seeing many shows there in the weeks, months, years, and decades to come.
Kinder Building opens to the public on November 21. 5500 Main St. 713-639-7300. More info at mfah.org. The MFAH is offering free admission (timed reservations and masks required) to all three of its Sarofim Campus galleries during opening weekend and to the Kinder Building thru November 25.