Lucie Wolner - 2012-10-12
Dallas and its rivers of oil personify uninhibited capitalism, but the city is less famous for its museums. Mistake. The Dallas Arts District, created in the 1980s and in constant evolution ever since, is the USA’s largest arts quarter.
A description of Dallas will often begin with the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Since 1989, a museum dedicated to the president’s memory exists in the heart of the business district downtown: the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Located on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, the brick building that Lee Harvey Oswald fired from, the museum holds 40,000 objects related to the events of 22 November 1963. A notable exhibit is George Jefferies’s 8mm film, previously unavailable to the public, in which Kennedy can be seen greeting the crowd a few moments before he was shot. It seems that nearly 80% of Americans believe that Kennedy’s death was the result of a conspiracy.
But the third-largest city of Texas is not only about the past. With the Dallas Arts District, an ‘arts quarter’ covering nearly 30 hectares (68 acres) and constantly evolving, Dallas is graced with the largest area devoted to the creation of art in the United States. Largely financed by money from oil and business, it was designed by some of the world’s greatest architects, including Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano.
Dallas’s vibrant Arts District
First stop: the Dallas Museum of Art. Its curator, Olivier Meslay from France – formerly of the Louvre – explains that, ‘The ambition of the Arts District is to create a cultural avenue via urbanism. Our museum opened in 1984. The more recent buildings all around it are the results of a vision spanning over thirty years. The project is part of a strategy aiming to revitalise the centre. Today it is possible to walk from one site to another.’ The Dallas Museum of Art is a real treasure trove holding 24,000 works of art from Europe, Africa and Asia. The Wendy and Emery Reves collection displayed in a replica of La Pausa, the house that Coco Chanel had built in the South of France in 1927, was a choice attraction. This museum, just like most of the others here, is 80% financed by private funding. ‘In Dallas,’ Meslay says, ‘there is a strong tradition of charitable donations. There is also a desire to give back to the city what it has given, a notion that was common in France before the Second World War.’
A unique and varied cultural scene
At a few steps from the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center features the works of Picasso, Matisse, Miró, Moore and Giacometti. Some of the collection’s sculptures are gracefully displayed in the garden, an oasis of well-being within the city. Music lovers are also in luck: the nearby AT&T Performing Arts Center offers eclectic programming, including operas, musicals, pop concerts and dance. Somewhat removed from the other venues, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is currently the Arts District’s big project. Beginning in January 2013, it will house the Dallas Museum of Natural History, the Science Place and the Dallas Children’s Museum.
Yes, the Arts District attracts a good deal of attention, but other, older buildings and places in and around Dallas are well worth a visit, especially Fair Park. Built in the Gothic and Art Deco styles, this educational and cultural complex was built for the 1936 World Fair and truly merits a detour, notably for the Hall of State, a monument dedicated to the history of Texas. For a jaunt outside of Dallas, head for Highland Park, a Texan Beverly Hills where the posh residences seem to enjoy participating in their own beauty pageant.