Although Amon G. Carter, a Fort Worth publisher and philanthropist, and Philip Johnson, a famed New York architect, never met, their visions combined to create the museum now celebrated for its outstanding collection of American art.
Like the collection it houses, the building has expanded and adapted to the demands placed upon it, but remains first and foremost a place where people can come to experience American art. It is a fitting tribute to Amon G. Carter himself and to his vision of a great museum for the city "where the West begins."
Amon G. Carter (1879-1955) had long expressed his desire to build a public institution in which to display his impressive collection of works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. Although Carter did not live to see his dream fully realized, his thirty-two-page will provided for the establishment of the museum that today bears his name.
Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was one of the proponents of the international style - a simple and unadorned architectural style that expresses classical structure through the use of modern materials. With the Amon Carter Museum, Johnson created a simple, elegant design that combined the warmth and richness of bronze with the creamy, intricately patterned surface of native Texas shellstone. His design was inspired by the Renaissance-style loggia - a covered, open gallery that looks out over an open court. Accordingly, the museum's east facade faces a terraced, grassy plaza surrounded by a walk.
Sheltered by the arched portico, the museum's front wall consists of a two-story curtain of glass windows with bronze mullions. Johnson wrote that this curtain wall separated "the art from the city, the cool from the warm, the peaceful from the active, the still from the windy." The main entrance leads directly into a two-story hall of Texas shellstone, dark extruded bronze, rich brown teak, and a floor of pink and gray granite. Beyond the main area, Johnson designed five intimate galleries of equal size for the display of art. On the mezzanine level, he placed five similar rooms for a library and offices; today they serve as galleries for rotating exhibitions, each with a balcony that looks out over the main hall. The latter space provides a grand, yet serene, setting for works of sculpture and paintings.
Although the museum was initially conceived as a small memorial structure, its collections grew rapidly, and the institution soon required additional space. In 1964, only three years after the museum first opened, a 14,250-square-foot addition was completed to provide space for offices, a bookstore, a research library, and an art-storage vault in the basement. Joseph R. Pelich (1894-1968), an associate architect of the original building, carried out the work and consulted with Johnson to assure consistency with the original architectural vision.
Johnson created a simple, elegant design that combined the warmth and richness of bronze with the creamy, intricately patterned surface of native Texas shellstone.
The museum opened yet another addition, designed by Johnson and his partner, John Burgee (b. 1933), in 1977. It expanded the museum's area by 36,600 square feet, more than doubling its original size. The three-story section, which came to a point at the junction of Camp Bowie Boulevard and Lancaster Avenue, included more office space, a two-story storage vault, a greatly expanded library, and a 105-seat auditorium.
These new additions, however, did not keep pace with the expansion of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art's collections and programs. On November 17, 1988, the Trustees announced plans to expand the museum to provide three times the existing space for the display of art. Philip Johnson would again spearhead the design, making the building as a whole a singular example of his work, a project he called "the building of my career." For the first extended time in its history, the museum closed to the public in August 1999, and for two years Johnson's design was implemented. While the 1961 building was retained and refurbished, the early additions (1964 and 1977) were removed, and in their place, a vastly expanded structure was erected. With its overall size increased by nearly 50,000 square feet, the museum reopened to the public on October 21, 2001.
A cultural district has grown up around the museum and its neighbor institutions, and the building is noted for its architecture as well as for the artwork it contains.