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Dallas/Fort Worth: In the Art of Texas

"Dallas has heaps to offer," said Doug Harmon, the cowboy-boot-wearing president of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But, of course, folks can come to Fort Worth and get all the culture they want without worrying about the problems of big urban areas."

Naturally, the Dallas camp's view was different. "Anybody interested in art would be foolish not to visit both places," said Phillip Jones, Harmon's counterpart in Dallas. "If they're looking for the whole arts package, though, including first-class hotels and fine dining, they could hardly do better than Dallas."


Dallas Museum of Art's arty entry. (Carolyn Brown)

DETAILS Dallas/Fort Worth

GETTING THERE: American Airlines flies from Reagan National to Dallas and is quoting a round-trip fare of $224. AirTran flies for about $185 round trip from BWI.

GETTING AROUND: Although most visitors rent cars, Dallas has an efficient bus and light rail system. The Trinity Railway Express trains between both downtown areas cost $4.50 round trip and take about an hour each way. Info: 214-979-1111, www.dart.org.

WHERE TO STAY: In Dallas, the buzzed-about place is the boutique-style Hotel ZaZa (2332 Leonard St., 800-597-8399, www.hotelzaza.com). The bar/restaurant, Dragonfly, has a lavish decor and a fabulously decked-out clientele. Doubles start at $239 and go way up.

The Melrose (3015 Oak Lawn Ave., 800-635-7673, www.melrosehotels.com), also in Dallas, is a more traditional option. The comfortable guest rooms have wood paneling and the bathrooms are Texas-size. The Library is one of the city's snazziest cocktail bars. Doubles booked on the hotel's Web site start at $149. With a fall special, guests who book two nights at $199 per night get a third night free.

WHERE TO EAT: Abacus (4511 McKinney Ave., Dallas) offers such haute dishes as pan-seared foie gras and duck confit crepes. Dinner, the only meal served, runs about $120 for two, with wine.

Located in Deep Ellum, Dallas's nightlife center, Monica's (2914 Main St.) serves Mexican fare with a twist. Try the chili pumpkin lasagna and pink tacos made with salmon and salsa. Lunch for two, with drinks, is about $30.

The Cafe at the Nasher Sculpture Center (see below), catered by Dallas's renowned Mansion on Turtle Creek, is an interesting, airy spot for tortilla soup and other light fare. Lunch is about $15 a person.

ART VENUES:

Fair Park, the site of 25 art-deco buildings, is two miles east of downtown Dallas and is open 24 hours a day. Admission is free for pedestrians, except during fairs and other special events.

Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St., 214-922-1200, www.dm-art.org. Admission $10.

Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St., 214-242-5100, www.nashersculpturecenter.org. Admission $10.

Crow Collection of Asian Art, 2010 Flora St., 214-979-6430, www.crowcollection.org. Free.

Modern Art Museum, 3200 Darnell St., 866-824-5566, www.themodern.org. Admission $6.

Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-332-8451, www.kimbellart.org. Admission to the permanent collection is free; rates vary for special exhibits.

Amon Carter Museum, 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-738-1933, www.cartermuseum.org. Admission to the permanent collection is free; rates vary for special exhibits.

INFORMATION: Dallas Visitors Center, 800-232-5527, or Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, 214-571-1301, www.visitdallas.com. Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-433-5747, www.fortworth.com.

-- Gary Lee

Art fans can reap the fruits of the competition. With so many venues featuring such a variety of visual arts, a visitor could easily take in the best of both cities -- starting out surrounded by impressionist paintings in Dallas, ending with postmodernists in Fort Worth and taking in a marvelously preserved collection of Asian masterpieces in between. I devoted the first day and a half of a long weekend exploring the Dallas scene, then hopped a commuter train to Fort Worth for a day-long tour of its art venues.

Dallas is a city of 1.2 million residents an easy 2 1/2-hour plane ride from Washington. The stylish entertainment and lodging scene make a suitable base for an arts getaway. Hotel ZaZa, the Mediterranean-themed boutique property where I based myself, is a work of art all its own. The hallways are covered with photographs of film stars, and my Texas-size bedroom was fashioned in the over-the-top style of Gianni Versace.

My first outing was a swing through Fair Park to see the facades of the art deco buildings. The site of the state fairground, it's a vast setting of 233 acres, 10 minutes from downtown by car. Scattered about it are 25 buildings constructed in the high European building style between the world wars. Architecture fans could spend a whole day going gaga over the bounty here. For this novice, there were three standouts. The front of the Hall of State is covered with a bas relief depicting six marching soldiers. The Magnolia Lounge, designed by architect William Lescaze, has a solid volumetric massing supplanted by floating planes and adorned by slender metal piers. The Women's Museum, with its stucco exterior, features a sculpture of a woman rising out of cactus -- classic deco.

Later, at the Crow Collection, I found one of the most extensive, well-preserved assortments of Asian art and artifacts I have seen outside of Washington's Freer Gallery. There were breathtaking works from across Asia: intricately painted scrolls and screens from Japan; carved Buddhas and other religious sculptures from India; and a spectacular display of jade objects, including hairpins, carved animals, bowls and jewelry from China.

The gallery is best known for its China collection, and a couple of the dozens of pieces in this section dazzled me. One was a wonderfully preserved collection of jade vases from the Qing dynasty. The other was "Caparisoned Horse," a brightly colored glazed figurine dating to the 8th century in the Tang dynasty, meant to be used by the departed in the afterlife.

Across the street at the Nasher, I lost myself in sculptures. This private collection of local real estate developer Raymond Nasher is home to some captivating pieces. Among them: Matisse's breathtaking "Large Seated Nude," David Smith's "The Forest" and three busts Alberto Giacometti did of his brother, Diego. But for me, the most stirring piece in the two-acre garden was "Bronze Crowd," a work of 36 bronze headless figures by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. As I gazed at it, a guide pointed out Nasher, the 82-year-old founder of the gallery.

"Howdy," he drawled as I approached. "How can I help you?" And for the next 20 minutes he ambled along with me, explaining how he and his late wife had started collecting sculptures to display in their Dallas home. They eventually met and befriended many of the artists who produced them, including Henry Moore, Abakanowicz and Mark di Suvero.

"We never bought anything just to collect it," he said. "We only took home works that we loved."

In this city with more star-studded restaurants than New Orleans, meals provided a welcome break between museum visits. My favorite dinner began with lobster shooters, a more tasty takeoff on oyster shooters, and continued with wood-grilled shrimp. The setting was Abacus, one of Dallas's most-beloved eating spots. For after-dinner cocktails, I tromped off to Nikita, a bar with the kind of buzz I would have expected to find in New York's SoHo. The walls were covered with nesting dolls and other Russian paraphernalia, and the bartenders served every possible brand of vodka mixed with every imaginable mixer.

In Fort Worth, I headed straight from the train station to a public bus for the 10-minute ride to the Modern Art Museum. With a 40-foot-high glass facade surrounded by a 1 1/2 -acre pond, the Modern is a place that Japanese architect Tadao Ando visualized as a swan floating on water. Although I couldn't quite grasp that image as I looked over the exterior, its sheer beauty left me awed. The bounty inside -- Andy Warhols, Jackson Pollocks and other works from the mid-20th century to the present -- is even more impressive.

Many of these paintings and sculptures are oversized, and the stark, spacious rooms provide the kind of space they need to breathe. It's hard to imagine "Vortex," the 233-ton rust-colored sculpture by American artist Richard Serra that occupies a prominent space in front of the museum, at home anywhere else.

As I walked between rooms, the art almost begged me to pick a favorite. With so much to see, that was not easy. Robert Motherwell's "Elegy to the Spanish Republic"? Warhol's self-portrait? They would awe the most jaded viewer. But Martin Puryear's "Ladder for Booker T. Washington," a sculpture depicting a ladder disappearing toward the ceiling of a narrow, boxy room, was one piece I would make a trip back here to see.

After 2 1/2 hours of viewing Motherwells, Anselm Kiefers and other bold works, I felt drained. But it seemed a shame to come all this way without looking next door in the Kimbell. One step inside and I was glad I'd made the effort.

I started with an exhibition devoted to works depicting Venice by British painter J.M.W. Turner, then browsed rococo drawings by French 18th-century artist Francois Boucher. Both shows were finely curated, offering a glimpse of Old World masters that was in perfect counterpoint to the bare, contemporary feel of the Modern.

Gary Lee will be online Monday at 2 p.m. to discuss this story during the Travel section's regular weekly chat on www.washingtonpost.com.


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