Dallas was founded in 1844 along the Trinity River.
Today this river is only navigable by small canoes. Dallas became a
commercial center when north-south and east-west railways intersected
in the city in 1873. Further boosts to its development came with the
discovery of oil in 1930 and the advent of air-conditioning which made
the inhospitable hot and humid climate more bearable.
Today its population is 1.3 million while its
sister city, Fort Worth, has a population of more than 700,000. The
Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has a total population exceeding 6
Recently I spent time as a visiting professor in the impressive
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and in my
free time, availed myself of the opportunity of exploring the cultural
sites of the area. I was fortunate to attend the opening production of
Verdi's Otello at the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in the
Arts Center in Dallas. This ultramodern facility was designed by the
British-based firm of Foster and Partners. On the outside there is a
canopy which functions as a sunscreen to protect from the intense Texan
heat. The interior has a characteristic horseshoe-style auditorium and
the acoustics are superb. With this new Otello and a stunning new venue, the Dallas Opera has joined ranks with other major international and national opera companies.
Right next to the new opera house is the Morton H. Meyerson
Symphony Center, a state of the art concert hall designed by famed
architect I. M. Pei. This is the home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Nearby are a series of museums. Pride of place goes to the Nasher
Sculptor Center. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, this small museum
contains Raymond Nasher's collection of modern art, including works by
Calder, de Kooning, Giacometti, Hepworth, Kelly, Matisse, Miro, Moore,
Picasso, Rodin, Serra, Maillol and Borofsky. Since this is a large
collection, the pieces rotate through the museum and the tastefully
designed sculpture garden.
The art district also houses the Dallas Museum of
Art which is especially known for its collection of the arts of the
ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It also has a
collection of European and America painting, sculpture and decorative
arts. The final museum in the arts district is the Crow Collection of
Asian Art. Its exquisite collection is devoted to the art of Japan,
China, Tibet, India, Nepal and Southeast Asia.
Situated in another section of the city is the Meadows Museum,
which is on the campus of Southern Methodist University. This boasts a
collection of classical Spanish painting reputed to be one of the best
outside Spain. Glossing the walls are marvelous paintings by El Greco,
Velazquez, Murillo, Goya, Picasso and Miro. There is also a fine
collection of sculptures by 20th century masters including Rodin,
Maillol, Giacometti, Moore, Smith and Oldenberg, together with recently
acquired sculptures by Calatrava and Plensa.
Despite these enticing museums, the most popular
tourist attraction in Dallas is the site of the assassination of John
F. Kennedy. It is situated in the former schoolbook depository and its
sixth floor served as the alleged perch for the assassin, Lee Harvey
Oswald. The sixth floor has been transformed into a fascinating
in-depth museum chronicling the life and legacy of JFK.
Another astounding experience awaits the visitor who travels to
Fort Worth, a short train ride away. At a price of $2, this ride
represented a real bargain. Nevertheless, I was one of the few people
in the carriage. Train travel is not the thing in Texas as everyone
drives. Several museums are gathered together in the Fort Worth
cultural district. Pride of place goes to the Kimball Art Museum. The
building, designed by Louis Kahn, opened in 1972 and is a work of art
by itself. Conceived as a long, low building with repeated parallel
galleries, it makes innovative use of natural light by means of a
plexiglas skylight inserted into every vault. The curatorial policy
emphasizes quality over quantity and this exquisite collection
comprises only about 350 pieces. The emphasis is on European painting
and sculpture and includes masterpieces by Fra Angelica, Duccio,
Donatello, Bernini, Velazquez, Cranach, Murillo, Caravaggio and La Tour
among many others.
Its most recent acquisition is the first painting by Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony
a work executed in oil and tempera. This is the only Michelangelo
painting in a US collection and only one of four easel paintings of the
master known to exist.
Adjacent is the Modern Art Museum. Designed by Tadeo Ando, its
five pavilions of concrete and glass are surrounded by a reflecting
pool. It houses one of the foremost collections of modern and
contemporary art in the central US. All modern art movements and styles
Another major attraction is the Amon Carter museum, a stunning
building designed by Philip Johnson. It is devoted to American art with
masterpieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, including those of
Remington, Russell, Church, Homer, Eakins and Chase as well as works by
Davis, Dove, Hartley and O'Keeffe. The museum also houses one of the
major collections of American photographs spanning the history of the
medium from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital prints.
Both the arts district in Dallas and the culture district in
Fort Worth have become architectural showcases with a total of 6
buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects.
It is astounding that with only two exceptions all the cultural
complexes mentioned above were primarily financed by high minded local
philanthropic industrialists and civic leaders who clearly take a great
pride in their cities. The results speak for themselves.
The writer, emeritus professor of medicine, is an avid
traveler and photographer. He frequently writes, reviews and lectures
on medical topics, music, art, history and travel. Additional pictures
from this as well as other trips can be seen on www.pbase.com/irvspitz.