Less than a month from its grand opening, Asia Society Texas Center’s new headquarters stands serenely in the heart of Houston’s museum district. The pristine, rectangular building is the work of Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, best known for renovating and expanding the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2004. The two-story, 39,000-square-foot space, which includes two galleries, an education center, a performing arts theater and a café, is slated to make its public debut on April 14.
The USD 48.4 million Texas Center spared no expense in using the finest quality materials to construct its new building, as indicated in a detailed breakdown of each element on their website. The primary material for the walls of the new building is Jura limestone, which was cut and quarried in southern Germany—a total of 470 1,440-cubic-foot blocks were excavated in order to find 50 blocks of acceptable color and hardness. “Taniguchi is a very demanding architect and this was built to his standards,” explained Fritz Lanham, the Texas Center’s director of communications and marketing.
At the main entrance, visitors are met with a white sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara of a little girl—a signature motif for the Japanese artist. Nara’s work is part of the ground floor display, which following the building’s opening will feature an exhibition of contemporary Asian artists who have a connection with Texas. “The selected artists are either from Texas or have studied here at some point, or their works are owned by local collectors,” Lanham told ArtAsiaPacific. Nara’s work, for example, is part of the Chaney Family Collection, which was started by the late Houston businessman Robert H. Chaney.
The ground level also houses a café, which looks out into the front lawn of the center. Next to the café, on the same floor, stands a towering 14-foot-tall sculpture by Houston-born Mel Chin. Cabinet of Craving (2012) resembles a giant black spider, made of oak, with a glass cabinet for a body, containing an ornate porcelain tea set placed on a silver tray. Referring to the English desire for such commodities that led to the 19th century Opium Wars, “Chin is touching upon issues of appetite, addiction and exploitation,” explained Lanham.
On the second floor is the main exhibition space, the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, “Treasures of Asian Art: A Rockefeller Legacy,” will present 60 traditional artworks—including bronze and stone sculptures from South and Southeast Asia, and ceramics from China, Korea and Japan—selected from the collection of Asia Society founder John D. Rockefeller III. Situated next to the Sarofim Gallery is the Allen Sculpture Garden, which features a site-specific installation by Korean minimalist Lee Ufan. Relatum – signal (2011) comprises a large stone (apparently sourced from Long Island rather than locally, due to time constraints) in juxtaposition with a slab of steel, against a backdrop of black bamboo trees. Moreover, the 75-year-old artist traveled to Texas to personally oversee the installation of what is Lee’s first commissioned piece for a public institution in the United States.
With its final preparations underway, the Asia Society Texas Center will kick off its inauguration with a four-day celebration. Beginning with the Center’s annual Tiger Ball gala on April 12, which will be chaired by the likes of former US president George HW Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, the series of opening events will also include the unveiling of the building on April 13, followed by the Open House and First Look Festival, for the public, on April 14 and 15.