New Book and Film on Kimbell History to Be Released in October
When Texas business legend Kay Kimbell died in 1964, he left behind a sizable art collection and a vague but imposing mandate: to “build a museum of the first class.” No one could have foreseen the extent to which his dream would be accomplished.
In October, a new book and accompanying documentary, both titled Of the First Class: A History of the Kimbell Art Museum, feature the intimate, behind-the-scenes story of how the Kimbell became what it is today.
In his research for the book, Fort Worth author Tim Madigan conducted scores of interviews with key figures in the museum’s history and spent more than a hundred hours visiting with Kay and Ben Fortson, longtime president and executive vice president of the Kimbell Art Foundation. Madigan narrates the documentary, produced by award-winning New York filmmaker Ultan Guilfoyle.
“Tim Madigan’s book and Ultan Guilfoyle’s documentary tell the fascinating history of the Kimbell that only insiders have known before,” said the Kimbell’s director, Eric Lee. “It is a powerful human story of the personalities who, against all odds and in an unlikely place, created one of the world’s most respected cultural institutions.”
Madigan and Guilfoyle will discuss the book and documentary before an October 5 screening in the Piano Pavilion’s auditorium, with a book signing to follow. The film will also run in the pavilion on an hourly loop throughout the weekend.
“Telling this remarkable story and working with Ultan on the documentary have been among the most profound experiences of my career,” said Madigan, the author of five previous books and a longtime writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It is the story of art and architecture, to be sure. But above all, it is about people, with Kay and Ben Fortson at its heart. That the Fortsons would trust us with the memories of their remarkable journey is humbling beyond measure.”
Also figuring prominently in the book and film are legendary characters from the museum’s past. Among them is the Kimbell’s first director, Richard Fargo Brown, who engaged in an international treasure hunt to begin the Kimbell’s collection and hired architect Louis I. Kahn to design its iconic building. Brown’s successor, Ted Pillsbury, cemented the Kimbell’s international stature with a series of stunning acquisitions. Then, early in the new century, the Fortsons turned to acclaimed architect Renzo Piano, who designed a second jewel for the Kimbell campus.
The book and documentary feature high drama, disappointment, tragedy, and, ultimately, triumph.
“I think learning the inside history of the Kimbell will enhance the museum experience for those who visit,” Madigan said. “From the beginning, Kay and Ben Fortson insisted on the highest standards for their museum—only the best. The result is the remarkable institution that we have today. I think readers of the book and viewers of the film will be inspired by how religiously those standards have been adhered to over the decades, by so many people.
“Perhaps that is the real story Ultan and I try to tell.”