photos courtesy of Art Museum of South Texas unless otherwise indicated
It takes but one step onto the grounds for it all to come into focus. When world-renowned architect Philip Johnson came to town to design the Art Museum of South Texas, the region’s premier monument to the arts, he not only offered Corpus Christi a gateway to art but a lens through which to see itself.
When strolling the manicured lawns of this prime chunk of bayfront real estate, don’t be surprised if you imagine yourself on the Mediterranean or in the Caribbean. That’s the power of the bay. It’s tough to find a view that is not postcard-perfect.
Sparkling Museum by the Corpus Christi Bay
photo by Visit Corpus Christi
The 30,000 square-foot Johnson-designed building is made from gleaming white shellcrete, which is exactly what it sounds like – an aggregate of shells, sand and a concrete-like mortar. Sort of an adobe for the humid set, the material – found in structures all over the Coastal Bend dating back hundreds of years – is a tribute to the region.
The museum first opened to the public October 1972. In 2006, it expanded with a second building designed by Mexico City Modernist architect Richard Legorreta. To ensure the two structures would coalesce, Legorreta respectfully consulted with original site architect Johnson. The result was a 21,530 square foot marvel featuring the Mexican architect’s signature pink accent (the museum’s entrance) and peaked rooftop pyramids to complement and resonate with certain features in the rounder, more womb-like original building.
Both structures feature massive windows that allow natural light to flood in, with the latter highlighting specific views of the bay with clever window placement. Every square inch is dedicated to the viewing of art. The two-story walls provide backdrop to enhance the drama of the smallest works as well as large, building-sized installations. Even folks oblivious to the allure of art can appreciate the sheer magnitude of the place.
The Art’s the Thing
But let’s not get carried away. It’s not called the Architecture Museum of South Texas, after all; it’s all about the art. As grand as the edifice is, it serves the purpose of enhancing, not overshadowing the experience of getting lost in art.
Over the years, the museum has amassed more than 1,500 works, all with common threads of connection to the region. The Dr. Clotilde P. Garcia Spanish Colonial Gallery, for example, housed in the original building, is a magnificent collection illustrating the through line between pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial and contemporary art inspired by these periods. Opened in the Spring of 2016, it is the museum’s first permanent exhibition.
The museum’s permanent holdings include works by Billy Hassell, a painter whose depictions of nature exude a psychedelic Frida Kahlo-flair, and an estate’s-worth of paintings and personal effects of Dorothy Hood, a Texas-born Modernist, known for her brilliant color field works, for whom there will be a dedicated show, The Color of Being / El Color del Ser, running late-September, 2016 to early-January, 2017.
We know that Texans have a reputation for staking claims to the biggest and the best, but we say with confidence that there is no other institution like this along the entire Gulf Coast.
Open for Interpretation
Like the ultimate mirror, a powerful telescope or a finely tuned microscope, the Art Museum of South Texas helps us peer into Southern Lone Star culture via design, architecture and visual art.
The most important element in any museum, of course, is you, the viewer. Come see Corpus Christi’s wonders and the windows through which we enthusiastically view them. Click to book your trip to Corpus Christi now!