I’m not one to feel an excessive amount of civic pride when it comes to hometown sports teams, but if our hometown arts institutes had a cheering squad, I’d be shouting “Be aggressive!” and shaking my pom poms at every opening night performance or exhibit preview party.
So when the newly renovated Marriott Dallas City Center recently asked me to be their guest and get to know the Dallas Arts District, I felt a tinge of disloyalty when I immediately said yes, but I vowed to stay true to Team Houston Arts. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t soon come to admire Dallas’s ability to combine art with late-night partying.
The Dallas Arts District touts itself as the largest arts district in the country. I will concede that statistical point scored for Dallas, but only because the city cheats.
The Dallas Arts District touts itself as the largest arts district in the country. I will concede that statistical point scored for Dallas, but only because the city cheats by putting performing and visual arts in the same district. I don’t begrudge them this win because my legs and gas tank approve of putting all those arts goodies within a few city blocks of each other.
To celebrate their victory, or perhaps just to beat the Texas heat, the District throws a couple of giant evening block parties twice a year and invites the whole city. For their Summer Block Party on June 15, they didn’t seem to mind a few Houstonians crashing the fun.
To make way for a herd of food trucks and the thousands of Dallasites ready to artistically party until midnight, the streets were blocked off in front of the three main visual arts institutions in the district: the Crow Collection of Asian Art, The Nasher Sculpture Center, and The Dallas Museum of Art.
People wandered from one collection to the next with only the Dallas Art Museum charging an entrance fee. In addition to actual art, the institutes offered tours, talks, henna tattoos, movies, music and, most popular, complimentary Asian beer.
Lost in the Dallas Museum of Art
I didn’t get to explore the Nasher until the next day, mostly because there was so much to do and I kept getting lost in the Dallas Museum of Art. It seemed to have the most frantic atmosphere that night. Music from the concert in the museum cafe could be heard throughout the galleries, and every gallery seemed to be inhabited by a tour group or hordes of kids doing art projects.
Crossing the street, I found the Crow collection to be enhanced by the late night atmosphere, once I made it past the throng of people in the free Asian beer line. The glass walled hallway filled with a thousand hanging blue origami cranes was particularly wondrous at night. Likewise, I felt like I had wandered into some hidden existence not visible in the day when viewing the intimate exhibition, Noble Change: Tantric Art of the High Himalaya. The beautiful copper alloy sculptures depicting bodies entwined in motion were partially hidden by sheer curtains and seemed created just for night viewing.
Unfortunately, the next big block party isn’t scheduled until Spring Break 2013. Fortunately, they throw a smaller version of the block party every third Friday of each month, except August.
Tranquility has landed
I was disappointed I didn’t make it over to the Nasher Sculpture Center to catch a glimpse of their garden’s sculptures, pools, and fountains lit for the evening, but since the sculpture garden was the setting for a concert then a movie, I probably wouldn’t have appreciate the garden’s tranquility like I did in Saturday morning sunlight.
The absence of crowds the next day also allowed me to really enjoy one of the Nasher’s limited exhibitions, Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s Cuddle on the Tightrope, and by enjoy I mean walk, crawl, and play on the art. While the Nasher’s informational material explains Neto’s work draws on the “lessons of minimalist sculpture and Brazilian New Objectivity of the 1960s and 70s,” for me, it asks the eternal question: Is it art or is it the coolest playground equipment ever?
While Neto’s work draws on the “lessons of minimalist sculpture and Brazilian New Objectivity of the 1960s and 70s,” for me, it asks the eternal question: Is it art or is it the coolest playground equipment ever?
Later that Saturday, I also had a chance to sample what performing arts Dallas has to offer just a few blocks away at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Certainly the touring Jersey Boys, which I caught at the Winspear Opera House and Gods of Carnage (which I did not) at the Wyly Theatre are hardly plays exclusive to Dallas, but I will begrudging admit (again) that the inside of the Winspear is spectacular.
I’d love to see a performance of the Dallas Opera in the Opera House. Just don’t tell the Centers Hobby or Wortham about my brief flirtation with their Dallas rival.
Not in the Arts District, but still another night art party will be happening until November at the Dallas Arboretum. They keep the grounds open until 10 p.m.on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for the exhibition by world-renown glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Tuesdays and Thursdays Chihuly nights include a concert, so art and flora lovers can wander through the gardens admiring Chihuly’s work while listening to the Dallas Wind Symphony or 1980s cover bands.
By the end of my Dallas weekend, I would concede the city’s got art game. For Houston art fans, it might even be worth turning that staycation into a stay-in-state-cation. Maybe they'll even let us throw a tailgating party at the Opera House among the food trucks.