By: Malcolm Mayhew
“Like the old-time Indian lodges, [the Amon Carter] faces the rising sun on the ground that drops away to the east,” Esquire magazine published June 1961 shortly after the museum opened.
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art will finish on Sept. 1 what some would say is its most significant remodel since opening 55 years ago. Thinner glass using the latest technology replaced the cumbersome 54 panes of glass and shades that stifled the view and relationship between the building and downtown Fort Worth.
New sleek sliding glass doors replaced the revolving doors, inviting people with strollers and wheelchairs. The famed “front porch” facing east to the downtown skyline, which is arguably the best panoramic view in Fort Worth, will offer famous architect Florence Knoll-designed couches and chairs, setting a new tone for how museumgoers use the museum. While this furniture will be inside the foyer known as the “Main Gallery,” tables and chairs will also be outside, inviting people onto the grounds.
Museum Director Andrew Walker said historically museums have been about collection and preservation, but it is a “new day” at the Amon Carter.
“We need to look at the next generation of museumgoers and to make the museum more like a town square,” Andrew said. “How can we gather? What can museums do to provide truly a defined public space?”
The remodel reflects this trend in other Fort Worth museums and all over the country. A museum’s task is to connect the patron to the art within its walls, and Andrew said their goal is to deliver art through more innovative avenues to their visitors, pointing to successful projects like Millennium Park in Chicago.
“We are confident to say that we’ve created this framework that is beginning to reach out into the grounds,” Andrew said. “How can we begin to use our outdoor spaces that will [one day] provide an opportunity like Sundance Square?...We are aware that the environment around us is changing.”
Patrons to the Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth sit in the glowing natural light of these world-class structures, read, sip coffee, attend a lecture, wedding or cocktail party, and they may or may not attend an exhibit. The Kimbell expansion completed in fall 2013 allowed architects at the Renzo Piano Workshop to weave what Piano calls the “sacred” (art viewing) and “profane” (socializing). This brings them into the museum on a regular basis, not just once a year to pop in for an exhibit introducing multiple points of entry.
“We are providing experiences through the collection. It is becoming more and more prevalent across the country. It is the way information is being trafficked. They want the experience and not just absorb information passively,” Andrew said.
Structurally, this is the smallest remodel the Amon Carter museum has undergone when compared to the expansions in 1964, the addition of another 36,000 sq. ft. in 1976 and an earlier façade remodel in 1996, but Alfred Walker, 36-year veteran employee and facilities director, said it is the most important because of what it will mean to the community.
Once strictly for art viewing, paintings will be removed from the Main Gallery and a few surprise sculptures will decorate the area. A new vestibule invites patrons to interact with collections using digital technology. Now there are only 29 panes of glass, and the new technology blocks 99 percent of UVA/UVB rays, 89 percent of the sun’s total heat energy and 98 percent of the total light transmittance. They are in the process of hiring a local landscape architect to update the grounds, something Alfred said was always important to Amon G. Carter’s daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson.
“Even outside we are looking at ways we can have some areas where there is more seating, maybe shade where people can sit and look at a book,” Alfred said. “Amon Carter called it his front porch. He loved that view.”
Sept. 26, the museum will host a party open to the public from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. in its front yard. Food trucks, cocktails and live music will entertain the guests, again, while they enjoy the best view and conversation with the city of Fort Worth.
“When you see that façade, it changes the dynamic of how people are welcomed into the museum,” Alfred said.
For the first time, Fort Worth residents and travelers from afar will be invited to sit on Amon G. Carter’s front porch to watch the sun paint the buildings orange.
By: Malcolm Mayhew