The Kimbell at 40: An Evolving Masterpiece
Kimbell Art Museum
October 7 through December 30, 2012
The Kimbell Art Museum will showcase the largest-ever display of its world-renowned permanent collection in a unique exhibition this fall, as part of a three-month-long commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the opening of its building, Louis I. Kahn’s modernist masterwork, on October 4, 1972.
For this milestone exhibition, more than 220 masterpieces from the collection will be displayed throughout the Museum’s galleries. To tell the story of four decades of collecting, works of art will be arranged in chronological order by the year in which they were acquired by the Kimbell, rather than by period or by the culture from which they originated. On view from October 7 to December 30, The Kimbell at 40: An Evolving Masterpiece will also feature seldom-seen architectural models and archival photographs, as well as didactic panels that document the Kimbell’s architectural legacy and its formidable record of acquisitions, exhibitions, and educational programming.
“The Kimbell’s leadership has never wavered in its steadfast dedication to the pursuit of quality, beginning with the Museum’s founders, Kay and Velma Kimbell, who set out to establish an art museum ‘of the first class’ in their hometown of Fort Worth,” said Eric M. Lee, director.
“As the Museum looks forward to the completion of a second building, this is a perfect moment to showcase the Kimbell’s many accomplishments over the last four decades and to experience the permanent collection in a new way,” adds Lee. A highly anticipated pavilion by Renzo Piano, featuring concrete walls, wooden beams, and a glass roof, is slated to open across from the Kahn building in late 2013.
As visitors move through the distinctive presentation of The Kimbell at 40, they will encounter in one section such diverse works as Courbet’s Roe Deer at a Stream, a Chinese Yuan dynasty ceramic vase, a Cycladic Figure of a Woman and a Japanese Momoyama screen of Wheat, Poppies and Bamboo; in another section, La Tour’s Cheat with the Ace of Clubs shares the gallery with Cézanne’s Man in a Blue Smock, a 7th-century Nepalese gilded copper statue of the Standing Buddha Shakyamuni and an Olmec jade figurine. Such unexpected juxtapositions underscore the Museum’s founding concept: that the Kimbell would “form collections of the highest possible aesthetic quality, derived from any and all period in man’s history, and in any medium or style.” Over the years, this goal has remained steady even as the Kimbell has defined its focus, entrusting the collecting of American art and contemporary art to its neighbors, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The Kimbell at 40 begins with an introductory gallery on the lower level featuring works acquired by Kay and Velma Kimbell from the late 1940s to the 1960s. These consist primarily of 18th-century British paintings and illustrate the Museum’s collecting roots and the Kimbells’ desire to bring a greater appreciation of art to the people of their community. This gallery will also chronicle the architectural legacy of the Kimbell Art Museum, beginning with the iconic Louis I. Kahn building and looking ahead to the Renzo Piano pavilion. The exhibition resumes in the light-filled south and north galleries upstairs, continuing the Museum’s narrative to the present day. Exhibition sections correspond to the tenure of each of the Kimbell’s directors—beginning with Richard F. Brown, the Museum’s first director (director 1965–79), and including Edmund P. Pillsbury (director 1980–98), Timothy Potts (director 1998–2007), and Eric M. Lee (director 2009–current). This unorthodox and thought-provoking display also suggests the unpredictable twists and turns that characterize the art of collecting.
Brown’s vision and influence, while overarching, is felt most tangibly in the early section of The Kimbell at 40 corresponding to the years 1965 to 1975. Many of the works included here are still considered to be among the Museum’s greatest treasures, including Monet’s Point de la Hève at Low Tide, Bellini’s Christ Blessing and the 8th-century bronze Bodhisattva Maitreya from Prakonchai, Thailand—the first acquisition made by Brown and the first work of Asian art to enter the collection. The next chapter reflects the increase in major acquisitions made possible by the settling of the Kimbell estate in 1975: on view here are such masterpieces as Duccio’s Raising of Lazarus and El Greco’s Portrait of Dr. Francisco de Pisa. The section representing the 1980s and 1990s, by far the most extensive, interweaves works by Fra Angelico, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Picasso, Matisse and other European masters with Asian, African, and Precolumbian treasures such as the Chinese Bodhisattva Torso; the Japanese Shaka Buddha; the terracotta Head, Possibly of a King, from the Ife culture of Nigeria; a Standing Bodhisattva from the ancient region of Gandhara; and an inlaid figurine of a Standing Ruler from the Wari culture of Peru. Bernini’s Modello for the Fountain of the Moor, Michelangelo’s Torment of Saint Anthony and Poussin’s Sacrament of Ordination are among the highlights of the latter portion of the exhibition that illustrate the Kimbell’s ongoing commitment to enriching the collection with acquisitions of the highest caliber.
To further enhance the presentation of the collection, the Kimbell’s director, curators and conservators have written supplementary wall labels for certain key works; these will provide expanded historical context or anecdotes regarding the acquisition process, provenance research, or conservation challenges.
Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell Art Foundation, which owns and operates the Museum, was established in the 1930s by Kay and Velma Kimbell in partnership with Kay’s sister and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Coleman Carter, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Kimbell purchased their first paintings. They continued to collect artworks, mostly portraits of the British and French schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, and when Mr. Kimbell died, in 1964, he left his collection and entire personal fortune to the Foundation.
By 1966, the Foundation’s board of directors had appointed Richard F. Brown the Museum’s first director and set the policy of forming “collections of the highest aesthetic quality, derived from any and all periods in man’s history, and in any medium or style.” Two aspects of that plan would have the greatest impact on changing the Kimbell collection: an expansion of vision to encompass world history and a new focus on a small number of key objects. The collection—intentionally small—now consists of only about 350 works that touch individual high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance.
Equally important in the development of the Kimbell as a major world museum has been its initiation of highly acclaimed international loan exhibitions, including retrospectives devoted to the great painters Poussin, Ribera, Tiepolo, Stubbs, Vigée Le Brun, Gauguin, and Monet. Other major exhibitions originated or co-organized by the Kimbell include Spanish Still Life in the Golden Age, 1600–1650 (1985), The Blood of Kings: A New Interpretation of Maya Art (1986), Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (1992), Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (2007), and Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome (2011). The Museum has also played host to major traveling exhibitions, beginning in 1973 with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings from the U.S.S.R. and including The Great Bronze Age of China (1980), Impressionist Masterpieces from the Barnes Collection (1994), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (2006), The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago (2008), and Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea (2010).
The Kimbell Art Museum, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974), is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. A new building, designed by the world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano and now under construction, will provide space for special exhibitions, allowing the Kahn building to showcase the permanent collection.