Arts / Museums

Hotly Anticipated New Kinder Building Set to Make an Arty Debut in Houston — Jigsaw Like Stunner is a Museum Game Changer

Epic Expansion Puts Latin and International Artists Front and Center

BY // 11.07.19

Dateline Houston: All art-world eyes will be on Texas, come fall 2020.

The big news arrived with an announcement from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston that its much anticipated new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building will open in the  fall of 2020 (exact date TBA).

By all accounts, the stats and the architecture are equally impressive. When it unveils, the Kinder Building will come in at 183,528 square feet (not including its ample 53,685 square-feet underground parking garage).

With 100,000 square feet devoted to exhibition space, it amps up the MFAH’s overall exhibition space by a game-changing 75 percent.

Architect Steven Holl aims to make his signature sculptural statement with this building, which when observed from the air possesses a jaunty configuration resembling an abstract jigsaw puzzle. The destined-to-be starchitect then softens the aggressive stance of the new Kinder Building by the addition of fluted pillars of glass that wrap its façade and promise to envelop the new museum edifice in a luminescent glow.

Evening view of glass tubing on the east facade of the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building. Evening view of glass tubing on the east facade of the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building by New York-based Steve Holl Architects. The new Kinder opens fall 2020, the final addition to the 14-acre Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus.

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Then there’s the news that the $450 million capital campaign has been reached — and surpassed, making the Kinder Building the final grand jewel in a campus, which is the largest cultural project ongoing at the moment in North America.

The Kinder is the touchstone of a remade campus that has added during this decade, a new Glassell School of Art, also designed by Steven Holl Architects, distinguished by its BBVA Rooftop Garden with a cool inclined, walkable feature and dramatic interior sculptural staircase as well as the state-of-the-art Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation, by San Antonio-headquartered Lake | Flato Architects.

The Kinder Building adjoins the 1986 Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden by Isamu Noguchi and the new Glassell, while being across the street from two other landmarks of the Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus: the Caroline Wiess Law Building (dating from the 1924, by neoclassical architect William Ward Watkin, joined by two Mies van der Rohe additions, of 1958 and 1974, including the architect’s expansive Brown Pavilion) and the Audrey Jones Beck Building, by Spanish architect, the Pritzker Prize Laureate Rafael Moneo, completed in 2000.

The Kinder — a Grande Finale Building

But The Kinder is more than a work of architecture — it’s a testament to the MFAH’s commitment to retelling art history, spun from a viewpoint of the Southern Hemisphere.

Within this new structure, Latin American art will be ambitiously and unequivocally front and center.

Other core strengths of the collection that will be showcased in the Kinder Building are the MFAH’s collection of photography — among the Top 10 collections in the world — as well as postwar American painting; prints and drawings including the Peter Blum archive spanning 1980-1994; and design, craft and decorative art tilting to the contemporary.

For the public and this writer, the calling cards of the new Kinder and Sarofim Campus — the finale of a grand master plan that has re-imagined 14 acres in the heart of the Houston Museum District — will be seven site-specific commissions by artists whom reflect the international vision of the MFAH, with a focus on globalism and diversity.

One of the MFAH’s greatest hits is its James Turrell tunnel linking the Law and the Beck Buildings. When the Kinder Building opens, its will possess not one, but two subterranean tunnels bearing artworks.

Venezuelan-born Carlos Cruz-Diez will take over one — among the international chromatic artist’s final works — with an immersive environment of colored light that we predict will become the defining moment of the reborn Sarofim Campus.

The Cruz-Diez tunnel will connect the Kinder with the Law Building.

One of Carlos Cruz-Diez’s signature color-saturated chambers. Now the MFAH’s new Kinder Building will feature a tunnel of chromatic light, one of the late Latin American artist’s final works. (© The artist, courtesy designboom.com)

The second tunnel at the Kinder, connecting the building to the Glassell School, has been assigned to international Scandinavian talent Olafur Eliasson, who will forge a light-based work challenging viewers’ perfections. Nineteen yellow light fixtures contrast with purple-filtered natural light to establish a unique perceptual dialogue.

The biggest name among these commissions is Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Museum-goers will encounter his bamboo, aluminum, silk and mirrored dragon on the ceiling of the Glassell, adjoining the Kinder’s Eliasson tunnel. Ai Weiwei’s dragon sculpture will hold court above a drop-off atrium for schoolchildren.

Internationally exhibited Houston-based former MFAH Glassell Core Fellow Trenton Doyle Hancock thrillingly contributes a tapestry, woven in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. At 10 x 22 feet, it’s a punctuation point of the Kinder’s restaurant.

At the entrance to the Kinder, Spanish installation artist Cristina Iglesias has been tapped to create a water element activated by a cast-bronze topographical form that will alternately be covered by water then drained, mimicking the effects of a tidal pool.

Three sculptures by Korean master Byung Hoon Choi, best known for his melding of design and art, will greet visitors at an adjacent entrance to the Kinder. Formed from unpolished Indonesian basalt, the torqued trio evoke the Asian tradition of scholar’s stones.

Meanwhile the African continent is represented by a work at the entrance to the Kinder Building’s Cruz-Diez tunnel. Ghana-born, Nigeria-based El Anatsui’s metallic tapestry formed from found objects, including wrappers salvaged from liquor bottles, will hang from the ceiling like a grand pennant to globalism.

MFAH director and Margaret Alkek Williams chair Gary Tinterow issued a statement to accompany the Kinder Building announcement: “For some eight years now, through our campus plan, we have been stepping up in every way to match the growth, diversity, and dynamism of our city.

“When we open the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building in fall 2020, we hope to welcome the entire world to an expansive, beautifully designed complex of buildings and urban gardens, revealing the previously unsuspected riches of an international collection we could never before exhibit in such range and depth.”

Stay tuned.

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