Everyone in attendance was properly masked and seated in socially distanced chairs as MFAH director Gary Tinterow talked about how the new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, due to open to the public this Saturday, underlines both Houston's growth and diversity in the wide range of its offerings.
“What an asset for the city this is. Especially since 92 percent of our visitors come from Houston and are local,” Tinterow said before an audience both in person and virtually from as far away as Croatia.
“From one small building in 1924, it’s astounding to me to realize today that we are now the third or fourth largest museum in the country,” building co-namesake and MFAH Chairman of the Board Rich Kinder (with wife Nancy looking on) offered. “There’s an old saying I like, ‘I’ve made more mistakes thinking too small than thinking too big.’ And we’ve thought big here.”
The 237,000 square-foot Nancy and Rich Kinder Building is dedicated to showing the MFAH’s own large (and in recent years, very rapidly expanding) collection of international modern and contemporary art across a wide variety of mediums including photography, prints, paintings, sculpture, craft, decorative arts, and mixed-media pieces. Steven Holl Architects built the structure, which includes a large underground parking garage.
The Kinder grounds also feature a reflecting pool and sculpture garden, and join the Caroline Wiess Law Building and the Audrey Jones Beck Building as part of the greater 14-acre Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus. The Kinders and Sarofims were the lead donors (ponying up a combined $150 million) for a campaign that has to date raised a total of $470 million, beating its original goal for construction and development.
Tinterow expounded in a one-on-one chat with the Houston Press about the freedom and creativity MFAH curators now have with exhibits and flexible thematics at the Kinder.
“I think that the freedom that we’re exploring comes from the fact that we’ve diversifying our collections, especially in purchases from the last 25 years. So they lend themselves to fascinating juxtaposition,” he says. “And that is the most difficult kind of display to create. We want to make interesting conversations between works of art from around the globe.”
The Kinder Building is divided into three floors. The street level will feature metalworks and sculptures, with immersive installations in a Black Box Gallery. The second floor galleries are organized by curatorial departments, with exhibits crossing artistic borders, themes, and chronology. They’re divided into Latin American and Latino art; prints and drawings; decorative arts, craft, and design; and photography.
“In the Latin American department, we’ve collected over 850 items in the past 25 years, and now we have a permanent place to show them, to see the breadth and depth of our collection, along with the cross-cultural pollination” Rachel Mohl, MFAH Assistant Curator of Latin American and Latino Art told the Houston Press. “Houston is a nexus of diversity, and our collection reflects that.”
Finally, the third level offers thematic explorations of works in the MFAH collection, with the inaugural themes of Collectivity; Color into Light; LOL! (the use of humor in art); Line into Space; and Border, Mapping, Witness.
It’s that last theme that visitors might find some of the more arresting pieces of work as it addresses very contemporary issues of immigration and our relationship with our neighbor to the south with both found and creative art, and in particular photographs.
In the disturbing video projection La Piñata (The Piñata) by Terese Serrano, a man with a wooden pole alternately sexually assaults and viciously beats to pieces a pinata in the eerie form of a young Mexican woman in the 1990s.
Serrano wants to draw attention to the hundreds of women and girls gone missing in the northern state of Chihuahua, victims of both physical and workplace abuse.
“One of the things we often think about in art is that it’s beautiful. But we don’t always discuss how art could address the harder issues in life like forced migration and violence against women or racism,” Alison de Lima Green, the Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at MFAH, told the Houston Press.
“But they’re not just reportage. They engage the emotions, but they also make you think about context. And it’s not just the artist that’s a part of this, it’s the visitor.” She adds they the location of La Piñata (The Piñata) was moved from its original location right at the gallery entrance to better give museum goers a chance to prepare for and absorb its meaning.
Arguably, the works on display inside Nancy and Rich Kinder Building are the most diverse inside any one structure on the entire campus, and certainly stretch most people’s collective boundaries of “art.”
And unlike those other buildings, many of the artists represented in the Kinder building are not only still alive, but producing more works that may or may not find some wall or stand space in future Kinder exhibits. In any case, it certainly provides a big jolt to Houston’s art scene, as well as helping to expand the MFAH and city of Houston’s burgeoning reputation around the world as an art town.
For more information on the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, its exhibits, and the free general admission MFAH weekend (and until November 25 for the Kinder), visit mfah.org