Going Public

Art patrons often open their homes to the public. Frequently, they even build museums to house their bountiful and historically relevant collections. Such famous collections include the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (opened in 1903), The Frick Collection in New York (opened in 1931), and of course, the Menil Collection in Houston (opened in 1987). In recent years, more collectors, including some in Texas, have taken to displaying their collections publicly, and as contemporary collections continue to grow in size and scale, exhibitors’ need for more space is providing the public with unexpected opportunities to see and experience art.

Dallas’ mega-collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky housed much of their collection in the Preston Hollow home that Richard Meier, FAIA, designed for them in 1996. For some time, the Rachofskys have lived elsewhere, opening their home and their rapidly growing collection to public tours. Thus, their recent decision to move back into the home presented the couple with a few challenges. Questions about appropriate art storage had become pressing, and the possibility of living in the house while continuing to allow public access to the collection seemed daunting, to say the least.

To solve both problems, Howard Rachofsky approached Vernon Faulconer, another Dallas collector, about the possibility of housing their collections together. They decided to purchase and renovate an 18,000-sf warehouse in Farmers Branch, located just north of Dallas. Dallas-based Droese Raney Architecture was up to the task and transformed the space into a contemporary gallery supported by the latest in climate-controlled art storage, with some nice offices to boot: The Warehouse, as the space is officially called, is seamlessly divided into 16 galleries, a library, staff offices, a break room with kitchen, a loading dock, a classroom, and the all-important 8,500-sf of storage space for the two collections. Together, the collections include over 700 works that are either on display or stored in The Warehouse.

Droese Raney’s past projects include many large-scale retail, commercial, and residential spaces, but this is their first museum-quality space. Many specifics of the project were dictated by Howard Rachofsky, who was interested in a rehabilitation that included a new concrete floor, added skylights for most of the gallery spaces, and new fluorescent lighting. The architects also designed furniture for the gallery spaces and a table for the library/conference space. “We tried to use as much of the original structure as possible and adapt to the existing shell,” commented David Droese, AIA. “The building is about the art — the architecture is meant to complement the exhibitions. It is the environment to display the collection.”

The Warehouse, like many contemporary art galleries, has exposed rafters and ductwork marking its high ceilings. It is also very white. The flow of the galleries is effective, each room varying in size and accommodating works ranging from large sculptures by Tom Friedman and Sterling Ruby to smaller paintings by Gerhard Richter and Marlene Dumas. The collections are showcased by means of rotating exhibitions and are on view to museum, architecture, and school groups; individuals may also visit, but only during open hours.  

The building is situated inconspicuously along the highway, and the property and its large parking lot are gated. A poured concrete wall sets off the stairs, and the building’s grey exterior differentiates it from its industrial surroundings. “From the outside it is a modern industrial building, not giving much away,” noted Droese. “But, once you are inside, it is a world-class gallery rivaling spaces in New York City and Europe. You forget that you are in an industrial business area and are immersed in spaces filled with some of the best art in the world.”

Meanwhile, in San Antonio, the Linda Pace Foundation has opened a public gallery to showcase its collection of contemporary art. Linda Pace, the late artist, collector, and philanthropist who created Artpace’s International Artist-in-Residence program in San Antonio, is memorialized with this new addition to the community. In 2001, Pace bought and rehabilitated the old Duerler Candy Factory, which opened in 2005 as new lofts on Camp Street; she also purchased the lot across the street and created Chris Park. A vacant barn-like structure (it was part of a trade school and then became an auto paint shop) occupied the northeast corner of the park site, and Poteet Architects turned the space into a personal art studio for Pace. Jim Poteet, FAIA, was the lead designer on the rehabilitation of the lofts and also collaborated with Pace and others on the design of the park. When Pace passed away in 2007, her foundation again turned to Poteet, who created an award-winning gallery and office space in the former barn building. The foundation used the small gallery in the office, as well as Pace’s former loft in the Camp Street building, to house exhibitions. In 2012, a need for more exhibition space encouraged the foundation to rethink the barn once more. It was a bittersweet project for Poteet, who transformed the award-winning office and gallery project into a full-time gallery, SPACE, which opened in April.

At almost 2,300-sf, the design of SPACE is similar to that of The Warehouse. The open plan is finished with concrete floors, white exposed trusses and ductwork, and six eastern-facing skylights that give the rectangular volume a neutral, white-box feeling. A garage door with frosted windows breaks up the neutrality of the many white walls. SPACE is open to the public free of charge and features rotating exhibitions from Pace’s collection of more than 500 objects.

The Warehouse and SPACE are indistinguishable from top-flight commercial galleries in Chelsea, Los Angeles, and London. The two buildings’ role is to support the display of engaging, sometimes challenging, contemporary art, perhaps providing an even better setting than the former residential ones. Collectors like the Rachofskys and the Linda Pace Foundation are broadening the cultural base in Dallas and San Antonio — educating the public about art and sharing their incredible collections with those in the community who seek out art. Luckily for us, they invested in making sure that it would be seen.

Rachel Adams is an independent curator based in Austin.

Published in the July/August 2014 issue of Texas Architect.