The Art Museum of South Texas Celebrates 50 Years - The Bend Magazine

The Art Museum of South Texas Celebrates 50 Years

An ode to the the Art Museum of South Texas, a landmark that sparked a thriving fine arts movement in South Texas.

Photography Provided by Art Museum of South Texas Archives

Our beloved Corpus Christi has its quirks. Idiosyncrasies abound; there is an undeniable connection and appreciation for this city living deep inside all those who are lucky enough to know her. Over the years, Corpus Christi has had to fight hard to keep local culture at the forefront and not to be taken over by big box stores or big-city dollars. While there will always have to be some give and take in order to maintain a thriving community, now is a great time to honor the strides Corpus Christi has taken to become the arts and cultural gemstone that she is. 

In 1972, the Art Museum of South Texas (AMST) turned heads — as arguably America’s premier architect at the time, Philip Johnson, was flown in to construct the stunning white building that sits on the Corpus Christi bayfront. Fifty years later, the museum celebrates the building by looking at its past, present and future. The museum’s director, Sara Sells Morgan, launched the 50th anniversary year by examining AMST’s legacy using the themes: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who have we been?

Among Philip Johnson’s best-known designs are his modernist Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut; the postmodern 550 Madison Avenue in New York; the 190 South La Salle Street in Chicago; and the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

“What propels us forward is the success of our past,” said Morgan, “and we have seen the effects our exhibition and educational programming have had on our community.” Examples of this sentiment include a few second-graders who came to the museum on a CCISD field trip, and were later hired as employees. Similarly, creatives who are now successful artists frequently reach back to AMST, explaining how an exhibition they saw years ago was inspiration for a certain series of work or even a career path.

“What propels us forward is the success of our past.”

-Sara Morgan Sells

“We know that our outreach is enhancing creative awareness in our community,” Morgan continued. “AMST stands as a cultural tourism destination, bringing in visitors and dollars to our community. We want to continue to make Corpus Christi better by providing exceptional programming for locals and visitors to enjoy.”

The advancements in presenting art and delivering enriching arts education programs has come a long way in 50 years, and Morgan said she can only imagine how the continuing integration of technology will change the way museums serve as cultural institutions for their communities. 

Did you know Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns attended the grand opening of AMST in 1972?

“[AMST] is excited about the future of museums as we all begin to shake the cobwebs off our identities, transitioning from stodgy bastions of antiquities to vital centers for creativity,” said Morgan. And at the intersection of art and technology, she said that tech will “not only attract a younger demographic (thus ensuring the longevity of museums) but will also make our collections, exhibitions and curriculum accessible to a much wider audience.”  

The Art Museum of South Texas is currently home to more than 1,850 works of art.

As the museum looks into the future, everything goes back to fulfilling its mission, which comes down to two things: education and exhibitions. 

“As for education, there is a mountain of research that shows integrating the arts into education improves verbal, reading and math skills. It increases the ability to analyze and problem-solve; it builds self-confidence; it develops observation skills that develop the ability to make decisions,” Morgan explained. “These are the skills that might keep a kid from dropping out of school. These are the skills that employers look for when hiring.”

The Art Museum of South Texas is often considered one of Johnson’s finest small public buildings and is an early example of postmodern architecture in the United States.

The second part is the exhibitions AMST presents. “For many, AMST is the only opportunity to see fine art exhibitions within a 150-mile radius,” said Morgan, “When you look back at the artists whose work we have showcased, it’s a testament to the history of art.” 

In fact, AMST currently has on view works of art by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella — talk about making history. As AMST continues to provide quality arts education and diverse exhibitions, we are on the edge of our seats to see what they do with the next 50 years.

Looking for more Arts + Culture? Check out Coastal Bend Artist Liz Dumas-McMullan on the Art of Color or Corpus Christi Mariachi Made Modern.