Sharon Lorenzo reviews the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s newest addition.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1924

Amidst the frozen storms and months of isolation from the corona virus, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston was able to open its newest addition of a 14-acre campus designed by Steven Holl Architects. In addition to the main building funded by the Kinder family, surrounded by glass tubing with translucent surfaces, the Glassell School of Art and Cullen Sculpture Garden were revised and expanded as well.  Starting in 1924 with a classic federal façade facing the intersection of Main Street and Montrose Boulevard, there have been two major additions to the first museum by architects Mies van Der Rohe and Rafael Moneo in 1974 and 2000.  This last addition is the culmination of philanthropy which has left the new management of the MFAH without a single cent of debt on its $465 million dollars of recent expense for the 164,000 square foot Holl additions. The MFAH is the largest cultural project in the USA in 2020 and continues to thrive, thanks to many generous donors like the Cullen, Kinder, Glassell, Beck, Law and Sarofim families.

Mies van der  Rohe addition , 1974

Audrey Jones Beck Building, 2000

Kinder Building by Night, 2020

Kinder Building by Day, 2020

Cullen Sculpture Garden, 2020

The interior space in the new building allows for some very unusual commissions of renowned artists which greatly enhance the permanent collection. The first to greet each visitor is a gurgling pond by Spanish artist Cristina Igelsias, cast in bronze and assembled on site.

Cristina Iglesias, Inner Landscape, 2020

Rising in the inner lobby is a striking mobile by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) purchased from his estate. The circulating air moves the mobile as visitors come and go below its expanse.

Alexander Calder, Mobile, Aluminum rods, 1949

Gary Tinterow, the current director of the MFAH, joined the staff in 2011 after serving at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as head of the departments of modern and contemporary art. He has worked with the curator of Latin American art, Mari Carmen Ramirez, to acquire significant items in that field which fill the galleries on the first floor of the Kinder Building.

Gary Tinterow, Director- MFAH

Mari Carmen Ramirez, Curator-Latin American Art

Mari Carmen brought the creation of Venezuelan artist, Carlos Cruz- Diez (1923-2019) known for his work in kinetic art, to join one building to another with an underground tunnel. Connecting with the work of neon artist, James Turrell (1943-), the visitor to the MFAH can move from one light experience to the next.

James Turrell Tunnel, The Light Inside, 1999

Carlos Cruz- Diez, Chromosaturation,  2020

The Kinder building with its wide open spaces, can accommodate very large works such as this painting by American artist, Frank Stella (1936-) known as the Damascus Gate, from 1967. A graduate of Princeton University, Stella designs many of his works today on an iPad and has them prepared in his studio which is the size of a football stadium in Rock Tavern, New York. Ironically there is also an exhibition at this time in the Beck building of an English modern artist, David Hockney, who often works on his iPad to make brilliant interpretations of the work of French artist, Vincent Van Gogh. The MFAH teamed up with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for this exhibition of ten works by Van Gogh paired with contemporary efforts by Hockney. The stylistic drift from one to another is a marvel to behold.

Frank Stella, Damascus Gate, 1967, acrylic on canvas

Frank Stella studio, Rock Tavern, New York

David Hockney Woldgate, 2005                     Vincent Van Gogh, Field of Irises, 1888

In addition to the masterpieces in the MFAH interior, there are some stars in the sculpture garden as well. One of my favorites is this shining work by Anish Kapoor, a British sculptor, born in Mumbai, India. His work, Cloud Column, was made in 2006 and transported by ship across the Atlantic, then trucked to Houston, weighing 21,000 pounds.  It required a 675 ton crane to lift it into place on the garden plaza.

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Column, stainless steel, 2006

The entire effort in Houston is a testament to the long tradition of devotion to the arts in this city. Collectors and benefactors unite to acquire the best of kind to share with the population in public venues.  Cooperating with the University of Houston’s department of art history, students can study the objects first hand and share in the extensive library and resources of the Museum of Fine Arts as well. It is a model for our nation of how to get things done that benefit many generations of both local residents and visitors alike.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Sharon Lorenzo 2021