Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pritzker Prizes in Dallas/Forth Worth

If you have asked me before I got on the road: "Hey, Gil, where along your serpentine path across this country will you have your finest food and see the most elegant expressions of American art and architecture?" I probably wouldn't have said: "The greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metropolitan area." In fact I probably would have mocked you for asking such a pretentious question. But to my surprise this is exactly what happened in Dallas and Fort Worth.

We left Austin yesterday morning and stopped at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower center, which our Frommer's guide says is a "must-see." We are not convinced it is a "must-see" site. It was pretty enough, and we discovered the name of our new favorite plant (horsetail!), and we saw some really large ants and dragonflies. In Texas, even the ants and dragonflies are bigger.

From there we headed north four hours to Dallas, where we stopped off to see a few architectures and check out some art. First we went to the Nasher Sculpture Center, designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Renzo Piano. We checked out some sculptures and saw some drawings by Rachel Whiteread, who is not an architect but whose drawings (of water towers and herringbone floors) seem architectural. We also saw and basked in the not air-conditioned cool of installation by James Turrell.

Then we wandered around in the sweltering heat (the heat here in Dallas/Forth Worth is as oppressive as the air conditioning in Dallas/Fort Worth) and saw the Wyly Theater, designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas.

We crossed the street (the sweltering, sweltering street) and saw the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony center, designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect I.M. Pei.

We would have liked to see the insides of these buildings, but since it was the middle of the day no one would let us in. It is hard to judge the beauty of a building based solely on their outsides, but I ranked the buildings in the following order:

1. Nasher
2. Wyly
3. Symphony (mostly because of the ugly red thing on top)

We then drove over to the Sixth Floor Museum, which lives on the (you guessed it) sixth (and seventh) floors of the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly, depending on your perspective) shot President Kennedy. The museum contains a truly encyclopedic quantity of information about Kennedy, his ascension, his family history, his campaign for presidency, his social, economic and world agenda, and, not surprisingly, his fatal trip to Dallas and the aftermath of the assassination. They have the area where Oswald shot from walled with plexiglass, so you can't actually stand on the spot and look down at the street. But I stood at the window adjacent to the sniper's nest, and looked down at the street and thought to myself as quite a few cars drove by that the shot(s) seemed totally possible. It was actually quite eerie, and somewhat vertiginous looking down at the spot where Kennedy was shot. They didn't allow photography in the museum; if they did I would have included a shot out the window towards Elm St, where the motorcade sped off.

We actually drove down the motorcades escape route for a while to get on the highway that led us to the glorious MCM Elegante hotel just north of Dallas. When we checked in we saw the following just before we entered the double-doors:

Just in case we forgot we were in the heart of Texas, our hotel reminded us.

We had a late dinner at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. The word on the street (or the guide book) is that the restaurant here has the best food in all of Texas. I will go on record at this point and say that we have had some very fine meals in Texas, and my loyal reader will probably remember that we have had some very fine meals on this trip. All-in-all this was one of the finest dining experiences I've had in my life. The valet didn't know what to make of our car, with the box on top and the back filled up with crap (containing, of course, my 24" iMac and my Gibson es-335, which is some very expensive crap, but which to the average or even the very discerning valet merely looks like a car full of crap). They made us a little welcome card, with my name printed on the envelope, which they handed to us as soon as they sat us down in an elegant corner booth. They then proceeded to overwhelm us with well-proportioned and exceptionally simple food, served by knowledgeable, helpful and not overly intrusive people. I don't have much to say about the filet mignon with marrow butter and the barbecue prime rib that I ate; I could go on for hours about the watermelon, feta and crunchy prosciutto salad. We blew three days worth of per diems on this meal, but it was worth every penny.

This morning we drove into Fort Worth for more art and architecture. We stopped first at the Kimbell Museum, designed by Louis Kahn, who would have won a Pritzker prize if it existed during his lifetime. We saw Picassos and Matisses and Cezannes, and then we sat outside (in the mind-bending heat) and sketched the building (well, Rebecca did; I wrote poems about Georgia and South Carolina). Did you know: the museum is free! And like many of the other museums, handguns are forbidden inside the museum. (You know you're in Texas when this must be written in big letters on the front door to a museum.)

From there we went across the street to The Modern Art Musem of Fort Worth, which they refer to as "The Modern," designed by Pritzker-price winning architect Tadao Ando. The building is enormous and sort of calming, a great concrete and glass presence, with the three main viewing galleries perched over a shallow lake. We ate lunch in the egg shaped Cafe Modern (which was about 60 degrees inside), and began drafting an open letter to whoever would listen about the perils of over-air-conditioning. Rebecca drank hot tea (it was 100 degrees outside) to warm herself up; she had goosebumps all over (can you believe she forgot to bring her sweater?). After lunch we explored the expansive and niche-filled museum, scoffing at all the art that consisted purely of large blocks of color or things which seemed like we could have made them ourselves (for example: the giant pile of hard candies); we sat and watched a fascinating little animated short depicted a series of jetliners flying inside a house. We read the following from an interview with Tadao Ando about his building: "There is an image I have in mind that is not typical of any of my buildings. I envision this building as a swan floating on the water. From a distance, it is the image I think you will see. To make a building look like a swan is not an easy job. [Laughter] But it is not impossible. It has been done before."

A few other things we saw at the Modern:

Note: this is a photograph of a sculpture, not a photograph or living human being. The figure here is about 1:4 or 1:2 scale of a human being, but it looked like she was about to start telling us about the Great War.
From there we wandered over the Amon Carter Museum, designed by Philip Johnson, the first architect to win the Pritzker prize. This museum contained many, many paintings of cowboys and horses and cowboys on horses, which I must say I wasn't all that interested in. We did see a collection of Ansel Adams photographs, a pre-glimpse to some of the land we will see when we head farther west (but we'll be heading north and east first). And we did see this lovely ceiling.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pritzker prize, click the link. In a nutshell it is like the Nobel prize for living architects. Apparently you're nobody in architecture until you build some kind of big ass building in Dallas or Fort Worth, or maybe it's just that there's a lot of money in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and they like there philanthropy and big things. So they found themselves the best architects they could find to build some big ass art houses.

We are leaving Texas tomorrow. Driving home from dinner tonight (the salad bar at Whole Foods Market) we both were simultaneously saddened by this fact. Texas marks a turn in our journey, literally and figuratively. We are literally turning north and east (after a long period of going south and west); it marks the end of our Southern journey. We will be spending the next weeks or so with family, which will be a different kind of traveling than the last two weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment