MEMPHIS — As the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts prepares to open its visually striking Little Rock complex in April, the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, some two hours northeast, is preparing to build its own sleek new facility.
Unlike Little Rock's museum, which is staying put in MacArthur Park, the Brooks will be moving from its longtime Midtown location in Overton Park to a site overlooking the Mississippi River. The main entrance to the 112,000-square-foot complex will lie along downtown Front Street between Monroe and Union avenues on Cotton Row. The target year to open is 2026.
Founded in 1916, the Brooks is Tennessee's oldest and largest art museum. Highlights of its varied collections totaling 10,000-plus works include the renowned Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Of particular interest to Arkansans is a gallery devoted to paintings by native son Carroll Cloar. The widely celebrated Cloar created surreal images spun from childhood memories of the Delta.
When plans were unveiled a year ago for the riverfront site, officials praised the landmark Overton Park property as "having served the museum well over the decades. However, the aging structure is beset with leaks, climate-control issues, and paltry storage space." It is uncertain how the current building will be used after the move.
The new museum, about 25% larger than its predecessor, is being designed by the international Herzog & de Meuron firm in partnership with the Memphis-based design collective archimania. Preliminary construction work on the $150 million project includes demolition of a former firehouse.
Herzog & de Meuron's architects have described their vision as "a glass pavilion with textured, earthen cladding and wood elements. Situated on a bluff directly above a cobblestone river landing, the museum's base will be 'forged' out of the ridge and support the upper part of the low-slung structure while providing tucked-away space for parking and other uses."
All the museum's galleries will sit on a single level. Galleries housing the permanent collection will be "organized in a continuous, looping fashion around a wood-clad central courtyard." The courtyard will provide an "outdoor room" for daytime and evening events.
The architects foresee the museum as a facility that will bear five different facades. These facades include the roof, which will be landscaped and "equipped with an accessible deck where visitors can take in sweeping river and city views."
A fresh approach to reinstalling the Brooks' vast holdings is planned. According to a museum release, the new arrangement of the permanent collection "will tell a story of art that dissolves the usual dividing lines between eras and mediums. Rather than the traditional emphasis on national schools, the rehanging will showcase works within the inter-related geographies of Europe, the Americas, Africa and the global contemporary."
There will also be "a renewed emphasis on contemporary African-American art." The museum has announced plans to acquire works from noted Black artists including Sanford Biggers, Rick Lowe and Vanessa German.
A gallery at the present Brooks location displays drawings and printed details about the future site.
The panel "Framing the Mississippi" suggests that "the River Window and Riverview Terrace will be some of the most compelling spaces at the New Brooks, with free access and unparalleled views. The River Window welcomes visitors with a beautiful, framed view of the Mississippi ... ."
Under the label "More Places to Explore," visitors learn that the architects had a vision to put the New Brooks theater on a mezzanine above the lobby to free up the first floor for the galleries and education venues.
Another panel reports that "visitors will enter the galleries on either side of the lobby, and strategically placed 'pause spaces' will allow them to view and reconnect with the courtyard and river. This single-floor and non-hierarchical approach, along with how artworks are placed, will ensure that no art form is privileged over another."
The new museum will take up a city block, showcasing much of its offerings on the first floor there at Front Street, according to "The Front Porch" description. The lobby "connects the street to all the rest of the museum: from the expanded galleries and education spaces, museum store and full-service cafe to the many places for public gathering."
Meanwhile, on the museum website, guests are invited to tour the museum's current Overton Park campus, 1934 Poplar Ave. in Memphis. The current facility includes 29 galleries, two art classrooms, a research library and an auditorium. Forthcoming events there include:
◼️ "Where the Wild Things Are" movie screening 2-4 p.m. Jan. 7
◼️ "Maurice Sendak Through the Lens of Opera — a Tour with Ben Smith," 2-3 p.m. Jan. 8
◼️ "Black Artists in Context Lecture and Teacher Workshop," 1-2 p.m. Jan. 21.
All events are free; RSVP online at brooksmuseum.org. For more information and to keep up with construction news, visit the website or call (901) 544-6200.