Dallas/Fort Worth: In the Art of Texas

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By Gary Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2004

The tortilla soup brought me back to the heart of Texas.

Before that, a trek through museums had taken me around the world. Gazing at a colorful, ancient figurine of a horse at the Crow Collection, I was suddenly somewhere in 8th-century China. Next door at the Dallas Museum of Art, a spectacular display of Yoruba masks transported me to an East African village. Finally, the Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and other sculptures in the grandly landscaped garden of the Nasher Sculpture Center made me feel as if I were in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Then came a late afternoon lunch in the Nasher's sun-splattered cafeteria: a gigantic bowl of spicy broth, with avocados and crunchy tortillas. Sure, you can get tortilla soup in restaurants everywhere from Boston to Mexico City, but only in one place I know do they dish out a version this tasty.

Yeah, y'all, this was Dallas.

But oh, what a far cry from the backdrop of TV's J.R.-vs.-Sue Ellen tiffs and the center of everything supersized, from stretch limos to surgically enhanced body parts. "If you come looking for big hair or Stetson hats, you're in for a letdown," said Martha Tiller, a public relations specialist and former social secretary to Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. "My Lord, that is so old millennium."

In more recent years, the neighboring cities of Dallas and Fort Worth have turned themselves into a sprawling showcase of first-rate paintings, sculptures and architecture. Both Southwestern urban areas boast art "theme parks" spread over dozens of acres; between the two cities, there are seven museums that aficionados rank among the best in the United States, and at least a dozen other worthy repositories of paintings and sculpture.

Fort Worth grabbed the lead in the transformation of this corner of northeast Texas into a major arts destination two years ago with the opening of its boldly designed Modern Art Museum. This spectacular display of post-1940s works by international artists is the anchor of a trio of art buildings clustered on the edge of the city. Next door is the Kimbell Art Museum, featuring European art up to the early 20th century and works from Asia and other regions. Next to that is the Amon Carter Museum, one of the best places in the country to view the works of Frederic Remington and other artists of the American West.

Not willing to take this cultural comeuppance easily from the dusty cow town 33 miles down the Tom Landry Highway, Dallas a year ago opened the Nasher, an alluring space designed by famed architect Renzo Piano (creator of Paris's Pompidou Centre, among other high-profile arts venues). The building, which stretches the length of a city block, houses one of the world's largest private collections of sculptures. It's the latest addition to a multi-structure downtown Dallas museum scene.

The Dallas Museum of Art, a few steps away, has an impressive array of works by impressionists and other European painters, as well as one of the most extensive collections of African art in the United States. The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection, the only museum specializing in Asian art and artifacts in the Southwest, is just down the street. Fair Park, the site of Texas's 1936 centennial celebration, has one of the largest concentrations of art deco exposition buildings in the world.

Although they have begun crafting cooperative arts tours, officials from the two cities have a hard time masking the traditional Dallas-Fort Worth rivalry. Historically, Dallas has been considered the faster-paced and more urbane place, a modern commercial and business center. Fort Worth, a 40-minute drive away, thinks of itself as an overgrown family-friendly town with a distinctly western outlook.

"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."


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© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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