Are you looking for a thrilling design destination for a weekend getaway this fall or winter? Architecture MN highly recommends Fort Worth, Texas, where two landmark museums—the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth—sit across the street from each other, anchoring one of the most architecturally distinctive cultural districts in the country. Editor Christopher Hudson and Twin Cities architectural photographers Corey Gaffer, Morgan Sheff, Pete Sieger, and Peter VonDeLinde recently returned from a visit to the Kimbell and the Modern with an array of images and a story to tell about timeless modern design.

By Christopher Hudson

 

“It’s hard to imagine the daunting task of designing a new museum across from the Kimbell, but Tadao Ando rose to the challenge. The Modern’s fantastic collection lives beautifully in the space. The installation of works by artists such as Martin Puryear, Jenny Holzer, and Richard Long is purely poetic.” —Minneapolis Institute of Art director Kaywin Feldman

“The view of Roxy Paine’s conjoined, stainless-steel trees against Tadao Ando’s striking, simple geometries is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable and successful examples of art presented symbiotically in public space. It’s worth the trip to Fort Worth just to catch this perfect marriage of art, architecture, and nature. At certain times of day, it’s all reflected in the pool that surrounds the building.

“The museum is known for organizing not-to-miss exhibitions of modern art. I will never forget the Philip Guston survey the Modern organized some years ago. I had the pleasure of visiting three times, and on each occasion I discovered, to my delight, a new gallery of works that I had missed on the labyrinthine journey through this memorable building.” —Walker Art Center director Olga Viso

 

Think back to the late 1990s. “That time, you remember, when museums were choosing radically eccentric building designs as hood ornaments that advertised a city’s hipness,” says Michael Auping, chief curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. “We weren’t looking for hip. Of all the architects we talked to, Ando was the one who really convinced us that he understood what it meant to build across the street from one of Louis Kahn’s great buildings.

“We didn’t want to wear a wild party dress to an elegant dinner party,” he says.

Auping worked closely with the Pritzker Prize–winning architect as a member of the museum’s building committee—so closely that he’s writing a book on the experience to mark the Modern’s 15th anniversary in 2017. The narrative may include memories of the barbecue Ando held for construction workers on the cleared site, and the small tree he planted for good luck. Thematically, it will focus on the architect’s ability to create not simply space but also atmosphere in which to view art.

“In Ando’s work, the light is always changing. You’ll see an artwork under subtly different light conditions depending on what time of day you come,” Auping explains. “I love that, because I have faith in art. The art is not so weak that it needs to be this precious thing in a whitewashed lab. You can put great art on a concrete wall, under various light conditions, and it remains great art.”

The L-shaped building that invites this changing light is arranged in five parallel pavilions, each composed of inner concrete walls, outer glass walls, and a cantilevered, cast-concrete roof supported by a Y-shaped concrete column. The glassy perimeter spaces enjoy soft light and views through floor-to-ceiling screens. The inner galleries on the second level are illuminated in part by louvered skylights. It’s all by design when a first-time visitor makes a turn from a Josef Albers or a Robert Motherwell and unexpectedly encounters a gauzy view over water to a gently rolling landscape.

The opposing view—from the lawn, over the reflecting pond, into the transparent pavilions—is equally compelling. In fact, it’s the iconic image of the Modern.

“In an early ideas competition, we asked a number of architects to propose a ‘water feature.’ It was a purposely undefined and open-ended request, because we wanted their imaginations,” says Auping. “What Ando produced was this simple lake. It wasn’t radical, or even especially dynamic. It was just brilliantly there. It showed a kind of confidence in nature.”

THE MODERN ART MUSEUM OF FORT WORTH
Architect: Tadao Ando
Year completed: 2002
Best view of the building: From across the pond looking west, at dusk
Collection: International developments in post–World War II art in all media