Kimbell Art Museum Ready to Open New Building

Piano Pavilion triples museum's gallery space

The Kimbell Art Museum's eye-popping addition is ready for its public debut.

Piano Pavilion, a building of glass, concrete and wood, triples the museum's gallery space and will house classrooms, an expanded library, underground parking and an auditorium.

The new building, which was designed by architect Renzo Piano, opens to the public on Nov. 27. Piano was relaxed and excited enough to play an impromptu game of Frisbee with museum director Eric Lee.

"[I'm] happy the job is done," Piano told reporters. "It's finish(ed). It's over."

The interiors are as arresting as the exterior, whether it is the north gallery featuring African and pre-Colombian works or the spacious auditorium lit by the two-story light well.

The building is a work of art in addition to the dozens it houses inside. Piano Pavilion sits just 65 yards west of the one designed by Piano's mentor, Louis Kahn. The Kahn building and museum opened in 1972.

"The new one doesn't mimic the old one; it's a complementary story to tell," Piano said. "The Kahn building is a bit more introverted; this one is more extroverted."

Perhaps the most important part of his new building is how it leads people to the original one through the correct and intended entry point on the western side, Piano said.

"The new building pay big homage to the Kahn building by bringing the entrance to the right side, and this is something very important," Piano said. "I cannot say what Kahn should feel today, but I think he should be happy about this."

Piano couldn't say how his mentor would think of the new addition, saying that it dangerous territory. But he seemed more than satisfied with the finished product, even though some have been critical of the expansion plans.

Some critics said that, by touching the trees and green space on the western side of the Kahn building, Kahn's vision has been damaged, but Lee dismissed the notion.

"I think the new building has brought more life to this part of the Kahn building," he said. "And I think, as I said before, 99 percent of visitors to the Kimbell never set foot on this side of the building."

The museum badly needed the more than 100,000-square-foot building to simply display its collection, Lee said.

"The growth of this institution is really not to become bigger, it's to serve better the community, so to add space that we really needed," Piano said.

The building really invites people in and to look out into nature while looking at the exhibits, he said.

"This just the right homage we got to do to the master," Piano said.

Admission to see the Kimbell's collection is free.

Lee said the museum is still working to see where permanent collections will go and where visiting shows will be set up, but the staff is excited for the future in its expanded campus.

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