The art of performance

Posted on 08 Jan 2009 at 4:49pm
By David Taffet | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

The Arts District’s long-time residents — the museums — welcome their performing arts breathren with special exhibits celebrating their connection


IT’S ALL A MASQUERADE A video installation by Yinka Shonibare at the DMA shows the influence of opera on the visual arts with gender-bending brio.

Until now, the term "Arts District" in Dallas has basically referred to one kind of art venue: museums. (Oh, and the Meyerson.) But with the focus so strong on the performing arts as the Wyly and Winspear near opening, the three major museums, each in its own way, has planned a welcome for its new neighbors in its exhibits this fall.

Filling the temporary galleries in the Dallas Museum of Art is All the World’s a Stage, the first major exhibit conceived and presented under the leadership of the museum’s new director, Bonnie Pitman. Culling works from local collectors combined with pieces in the museum’s own storehouses, the exhibit features works relating specifically to the performing arts to show how dance, theater, music and opera have affected the visual arts throughout time and in all cultures.

Musical instruments from around the world and sculpture and paintings from the Renaissance through modern period demonstrate how artists have influenced and documented performance for thousands of years. Among the highlights of more than 100 pieces: a group of Degas’ ballet dancer paintings in pastels and Picasso’s The Guitarist.

But classical painting is just part of the story. The DMA has extensive Asia, Africa and South Pacific collections, with masks and instruments usually exhibited as works of art taking on significance as performance pieces.

A second exhibition, opening this weekend, is Performance/Art, which directly celebrates the new center. That installation (in the Barrel Vault and adjacent galleries) features the work of six contemporary artists influenced by the performing arts. Installed in one focus gallery is work by Dallas artists Frances Bagley and Tom Orr based on their sets and costumes for the 2006 Dallas Opera production of Nabucco. Studies for the Winspear’s curtain, designed by Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca, fill another gallery.

Across the street, the Nasher Sculpture Center celebrates the opening of the Wyly and the Winspear with The Art of Architecture Foster+Partners. With models from projects built around the world, the Nasher highlights the work of the Winspear’s architect.

So why architecture in a sculpture gallery?

"What is a building other than a large sculpture?" asked Nancy Nasher in a preview of the display recently.

The museum’s new director, Jeremy Strick, also noted that, "A few years ago we presented an exhibition of our own architect, Renzo Piano." This exhibit continues that tradition of including architecture in the museum’s always interesting mix of sculpture.

Spencer de Grey, head of design for the Winspear project, conceived, designed and executed the exhibit at the Nasher. None of the models on display were built for the Nasher; all are originals used by Foster during construction of those projects.

The exhibit puts in perspective how the Winspear represents, on one level, a culmination of Foster’s theories and ideas which have been put into practice over the last 40 years.

Among the most interesting and detailed is a model used in the creation of new public space at London’s British Museum. The entrance was designed in the early 1800s for thousands of visitors. The new design accommodates the millions per year that visit today.

The scale design includes thousands of miniature people walking through the grounds, filling the auditoriums and wandering the halls of the museum.

Connecting Uptown and the Arts District with a park built on new spans over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, Dallas is hoping for the same success London had with another Foster project. The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian walk built over the River Thames.

De Grey says the impact on the poorer neighborhoods to the south has been dramatic. But he said that it has had a positive effect on the wealthier north bank as well with attendance at nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral up 40 percent.

Downstairs, the exhibit is devoted to the Winspear construction itself. Models show the various canopies that were considered before settling on the one eventually selected. Computers aided in many ways, such as determining the exact size and placement of louvers in the canopy to shade the main building and create comfortable public space to sit outside and have coffee.

The oval upper face of the building, De Grey noted, was made red due to the color’s close association with opera: red curtain, red seats. They decided to make a bold statement by facing the upper portion of the building in red glass.

Illustrations of the chandelier, among the building’s most spectacular design features, are included too. Rods of light hang as the audience enters the main hall.

As the performance starts, they retract into the ceiling and appear to be a sky of twinkling stars.


STYLE AND SUBSTANCE The 30 St. Mary Axe building in London, designed by Norman Foster, shows the ethic the architect brought to his designs for the Winspear.

To create a random pattern, the designer first relied on a computer. When the computer’s patterns did not seem random enough, they changed to a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. So when looking at the retracted rods from floor level, the view will represent a small portion of the sky as photographed by NASA.

De Grey also explained the angle upon which the building is set. While the canopy is square with Flora Street and the highway, the building sits at an angle to avoid creating a narrow alley with the Meyerson Symphony Center next door.

While the Nasher and DMA attempt to connect the performing and visual arts, the Crow Collection welcomes the performance halls by simply doing quite a bit more of what it does so well. They kicked off their fall festivities the last week of September with filmAsiafest and last week with a fashion exhibit by Yeohlee Teng.

Wild Flowering: The Crow Family and Asia tells the story of five decades of collecting Asian art by the museum’s family of benefactors. Blossoming Stone: Qing Dynasty Jade puts more than 100 pieces of the museum’s jade collection on display. Along with the Yeohlee exhibit, these installations remain on exhibit through New Year’s weekend.

Regular events continue including Tranquil Tuesdays, an hour of yoga at the museum, and Inside Asia: Art, Music, Culture, Wednesday events that range from haiku workshops to a series on the teas of Asia.

This article appeared in Applause, The Dallas Voice Visual & Performing Arts Guide 2009 print edition October 9, 2009.

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