Modern art, masterpieces and Kanye: Here are some interesting facts about San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum

Throwback Thursday: McNay Art Museum
Throwback Thursday: McNay Art Museum

SAN ANTONIO – With its blend of art, architecture and atmosphere, the McNay Art Museum has been a Texas and San Antonio staple for more than 60 years.

“We’re the very first modern art museum in all of Texas, but we didn’t start that way,” said Richard Aste, McNay director and CEO. “In fact, if you would have visited us on this very spot 100 years ago, you would have been standing in a 100-acre goat farm.”

The museum, located in the 6000 block of N. New Braunfels Ave. off Austin Highway, was the original home of its namesake, Marion Koogler McNay.

It was built in the 1920s during the Spanish Colonial Revival movement and still features the same distinct ceilings, columns and courtyard.

McNay was an artist, educator and visionary. She collected pieces of art from galleries in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Her collection was the foundation of the McNay Art Museum.

“She had advisers on both coasts calling her and identifying works of modernism for her growing collection,” Aste said. “No one in South Texas was collecting in this way. There was no comparable collection in this part of the United States.”

One of the very first paintings McNay purchased was an early masterpiece by prominent Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

The painting is a 1927 portrait of a 5-year-old Mexican girl named Delfina Flores.

(Image of Delfina Flores painting by Diego Rivera via McNay Art Museum.) (KSAT)

“It’s still an iconic work in the collection and continues to be an enchanting work for the youngest visitors to our grounds and our campus,” Aste said.

Aste said McNay never wanted to confine herself to acquiring art from one region or area. She thought across borders.

“She didn't focus only on artists in Paris or New York,” Aste said. “She went south of the border, in her definition of modernism to include Mexico.”

McNay died in 1950 at the age of 67. Her vision was to transform her home into a modern art museum. Within four years of her death, the McNay Art Museum opened its doors to the public.

What began as McNay’s collection of 700 pieces of art has since grown to nearly 23,000 pieces of art, some of which are loaned out to museums around the world.

(Image provided by McNay Art Museum.) (KSAT)

Today, the McNay welcomes 200,000 visitors annually that enjoy a collection of works from some of the greatest artists around the world including Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

This year the McNay will open its first fashion exhibition with a focus on the 1990s and an exhibition dedicated to Selena Quintanilla.

This summer, it will display its largest exhibition ever that celebrates Mexican artists such as Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Orozco and Siquieros.

The museum continues Marion Koogler McNay’s legacy of engaging the San Antonio community through beauty and representation.

“All of the acquisitions that enter this building, the new works that we bring in to grow the collection, speak directly to who we are as San Antonio, as what we look like and what we’re passionate about,” Aste said.


Other renowned artists with works at the McNay include: Paul Gauguin, Edward Hopper, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The 25 acres of landscaped grounds include sculptures by Robert Indiana, Luis A. Jiménez Jr., George Rickey, Joel Shapiro and Kiki Smith.

A bronze sculpture of Kanye West called “Kanye, 2015” is on display at the McNay. It was created by artist Kehinde Wiley and is one of the more popular sculptures at the museum.

("Kanye, 2015": Bronze sculpture by Kehinde Wiley via McNay Art Museum) (KSAT)

More than 45,000 adults, teachers, students and families take advantage of a variety of education programs and innovative educational resources.

Aste is only the third director in the museum’s 65-year history and the first of Hispanic descent.

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