Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture
Kimbell Art Museum
March 26-June 25
3333 Camp Bowie Blvd.
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
There have been other exhibitions of Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture – organized by Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany – but the one that opened March 26 at the Kimbell Art Museum is special.
It’s in a museum that he built, and in incorporates pastels loaned by family members that have seldom been exhibited. Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, in a press preview March 23 that patrons Kay and Ben Fortson “oversaw the Louis Kahn building project and, of course, still lead the Kimbell today.
“Of all the masterpieces that have been placed in the [Kimbell Art Foundation’s] stewardship, the Kahn’s building is arguably the most loved,” Lee said.
American architect Louis Kahn (1901–1974) is regarded as one of the great master builders of the 20th century. His projects range from the Kimbell, built in 1966-1972, to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, 1959–1965, and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1962–1983.
The exhibition includes architectural models, original drawings, photographs and films, and documents all of Kahn’s important projects from his early urban planning concepts and single-family houses to monumental late works such as the Roosevelt Memorial in New York City, 1973-1974) and posthumously completed in October 2012. It is the first major retrospective of Kahn’s work in two decades.
The family loaned pastels especially address Kahn’s interest in composition and color.
“This particular exhibit is special, organized by the Kimbell to show his work as art hanging in his museum, so it’s pretty thrilling,” said daughter Sue Ann Kahn. She, her sister, Alexandra Tyng, and their brother, Nathaniel Kahn, were in Fort Worth for the opening.
Both daughters talked about their father’s obsession with excellence and his consistent challenge to be the best that could be.
Tyng is a painter, but she didn’t start working in color until after her father’s death. She worked instead with black and white drawings.
“He was always trying to get me to use color. He didn’t criticize my color, but he did criticize my lines a lot and was forcing me to be more expressive. … He was always very positive, but he was demanding,” Tyng said.
“My love was music, which he also was very engaged with, and he would, again, encourage me to do better,” Sue Ann Kahn said. “He would come to a concert and he’d say, ‘You dropped the end to your phrases all through this. I think you could do better.’ He was appreciative, and he would listen, but he could also see that I could do better.”
She thinks he treated his students the same way.
“He was very critical and very demanding, but he wasn’t harsh or negative. A lot of architectural criticism is they just tear you apart. It’s a kind of tradition. He never felt that that was appropriate,” she said.
“I think he understood because people were negative to him as a child because he wasn’t great in school but he could always draw,” Kahn said. “He said children should study things they’re good at. … He felt very keenly that people should develop their talents.”
The amount of information in the exhibit is stunning, and visitors should plan to spend some time to get the full impact.
And when they leave the museum, they can look over their shoulder and see the material result of the thought and creative process they have just seen inside.