You may ask yourself-well…how did I get here? I had a free ticket from Southwest Airlines and wanted to maximize the value – so, from LA, we weren’t squandering it on a trip to San Francisco. I was thinking more along the scale of Boston, Manhattan, or Washington D.C. But a recurring thought was I really wanted to see the Kimbell Museum designed by Louis Kahn. So off to Fort Worth we went for a long weekend. I wondered what else we would do to fill the rest of our weekend over and beyond seeing the Kimbell and half-heartedly shook out a few more leads. It turns out we had a great visit.
We stayed at a B&B called Azalea Plantation. It’s such a treat not to be an anonymous ghost in some cookie-cutter institutional building of a hotel. We really enjoyed our breakfast visits (and the great, home-cooked breakfasts too) with our hosts / “innkeepers” Martha and Richard and other guests as well. It was a chance to learn some Texas history, get leads on where to dine, hear about a local quirk – the customary blue-bonnet flower photo-ops., and tornado stories
Got to the Kimbell. The outside of the building, formally, was a little lackluster for me – a bit coffin-like. But beautifully scaled down with a water feature and grove of trees at its upper-level entry. This is the same grove of trees Kahn intended for the courtyard of the Salk Institute (good thing Barragan’s response at the Salk won out – see October 21 post). Given the Kimbell’s scale and context, the grove idea works here and creates an inviting outdoor room with cooling shade and draws the visitor into the museum. The Kimbell’s interior is the soft underbelly to its otherwise stalwart exterior. The building was designed in section to bounce and spread daylight into its galleries and so its interior is graciously daylighted – not only casting the artwork into a true-color reading, but rendering the concrete of the building itself into soft, subtle colors of skyblue, rose, and amber – which means Kahn is not just a great architect, but a great Kahn-crete salesman too. I’ve never seen concrete cast this warm and colorful – except at the Salk. As for that radiant daylight though, the effect is radiant thermal warmth too. I wondered what kind of demand the daylighting puts on the cooling requirements in the summer.
(Digression: also worth mentioning, the film “My Architect” is a great documentary film by Louis Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, about his journey to learn about his architect-father. It’s a “must see.”)
Then came The Modern. The Kimbell is an appetizer-size museum so when we ducked out of its lower-level gallery, we were presented by the main course: the Modern Art Museum. What a gem! Designed by Tadao Ando, the building riffs off the rhythms of concrete galleries that comprise the Kimbell, scales it up to 2- stories and organizes it around a reflecting pool contiguous with the floor of the museum itself. Much like the MOMA redesign in New York, also by Ando, the visitor gets a sense of procession and progress through the building with long views that connect back into distant galleries or out of the building – providing a sense of phrasing to the galleries and rest for the visitors’ eyes from the constant close-ups. The exhibits presented some refreshing surprises too: drawing studies by DeKooning illustrating his process of abstraction, and, a personal fave, one of Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic. I’ve managed to see a handful so far. This was one of the sharper renditions. Also among artists’ series: a Serra sculpture punctuates one of the building’s corners outside – a daunting vertical mode of his oeuvre. Additionally, the cafe there was one of the better museum cafes I’ve been to – good food, and hospitable staff. We went back a second day just for lunch (day one was just a wine & cheese pick-me-up).
Another highlight was the Fort Worth Water Gardens (designed by Phillip Johnson). Every city should have one of these. The “Bilbao effect” has nothing on this.