The Design and Construction of the Kimbell Art Museum: A 30th-Anniversary Exhibition

The Design and Construction of the Kimbell Art Museum: A 30th-Anniversary Exhibition

September 21, 2002 to November 3, 2002

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Kimbell Art Museum’s opening, and to honor its architect, Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974), the Kimbell Art Museum presented a special exhibition of sketches, drawings, models, and photographs entitled Light is the Theme: The Design and Construction of the Kimbell Art Museum. The exhibition was on view from September 21 through November 3, 2002, and was curated by noted Kahn scholar Patricia Cummings Loud, the Kimbell Art Museum’s curator of architecture. Admission was free.

Commented Dr. Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, “There has never before been an exhibition devoted to the design and construction of Kahn’s crowning masterpiece, the Kimbell. Thirty years after its opening, it is regarded by many as the finest museum building of the twentieth century. The magic of its light, its elegant forms, and its restrained materials are as inspiring and beautiful today as when it first opened its doors. This is one of the few buildings that does not get old.”

Among the exhibits were seven of Kahn’s early drawings for the Kimbell that had never been exhibited and were only recently acquired by the Louis I. Kahn Collection of the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. These sketches, several executed in the pastels that Kahn often used for travel sketches, are among the finest and most evocative concept drawings for the projected building. Among them, six date from 1967 and probably figured in the presentation of the Museum’s schematic design that won approval from the Kimbell’s board of trustees in late November of that year. The seventh was created in July 1969, as the site was readied for construction in Fort Worth.

The exhibition also included other seminal sketches, views, and sections of the Kimbell from the Kahn Collection, which was formed when the state of Pennsylvania purchased the works in Kahn’s office at the time of his death to form a Kahn archive. Items from the Kimbell Art Museum’s own collection included four models illustrating the progression of the design from Kahn’s initial version of February and March 1967 to the penultimate scheme represented by the final model of 1968 (the building itself represents the final distillation); the letter written by Louis Kahn to Velma Kimbell, with a sketch of the site plan, explaining the landscape he envisioned for the Museum; and photographs of the architect and others that document the building’s construction and opening to the public in the first week of October 1972.

A public celebration took place on Saturday, October 5, 2002, in commemoration of the Museum’s opening day thirty years before. This celebration included a Family Festival, with public performances and art projects and activities, and a special lecture by Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia University. The Museum also presented screenings of a new film about Kahn’s life and work, My Architect, by Nathaniel Kahn, the architect’s son.  

In conjunction with the 30th-anniversary exhibition, the Kimbell Art Museum also reissued the classic 1975 book Light is the Theme, an anthology of beautiful photography of the building with comments on architecture by Louis Kahn, compiled by Nell E. Johnson. The title for the book (and this exhibition) was taken from Kahn’s description of the Kimbell.

Promotional support for the exhibition was provided by American Airlines and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Caption: Louis I. Kahn, conceptual drawing for the Kimbell Art Museum (detail), 1967