Dallas and Fort Worth

Philanthropy and civic pride give birth to major cultural institutions.

Dallas was founded in 1844 along the Trinity River.Today this river is only navigable by small canoes. Dallas became acommercial center when north-south and east-west railways intersectedin the city in 1873. Further boosts to its development came with thediscovery of oil in 1930 and the advent of air-conditioning which madethe inhospitable hot and humid climate more bearable.

Today its population is 1.3 million while itssister city, Fort Worth, has a population of more than 700,000. TheDallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has a total population exceeding 6million.

Recently I spent time as a visiting professor in the impressiveUniversity of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and in myfree time, availed myself of the opportunity of exploring the culturalsites of the area. I was fortunate to attend the opening production ofVerdi's Otello at the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in theArts Center in Dallas. This ultramodern facility was designed by theBritish-based firm of Foster and Partners. On the outside there is acanopy which functions as a sunscreen to protect from the intense Texanheat. The interior has a characteristic horseshoe-style auditorium andthe 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. MeyersonSymphony Center, a state of the art concert hall designed by famedarchitect I. M. Pei. This is the home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.Nearby are a series of museums. Pride of place goes to the NasherSculptor Center. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, this small museumcontains Raymond Nasher's collection of modern art, including works byCalder, de Kooning, Giacometti, Hepworth, Kelly, Matisse, Miro, Moore,Picasso, Rodin, Serra, Maillol and Borofsky. Since this is a largecollection, the pieces rotate through the museum and the tastefullydesigned sculpture garden.

The art district also houses the Dallas Museum ofArt which is especially known for its collection of the arts of theancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It also has acollection of European and America painting, sculpture and decorativearts. The final museum in the arts district is the Crow Collection ofAsian 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 acollection of classical Spanish painting reputed to be one of the bestoutside Spain. Glossing the walls are marvelous paintings by El Greco,Velazquez, Murillo, Goya, Picasso and Miro. There is also a finecollection of sculptures by 20th century masters including Rodin,Maillol, Giacometti, Moore, Smith and Oldenberg, together with recentlyacquired sculptures by Calatrava and Plensa.

Despite these enticing museums, the most populartourist attraction in Dallas is the site of the assassination of JohnF. Kennedy. It is situated in the former schoolbook depository and itssixth floor served as the alleged perch for the assassin, Lee HarveyOswald. The sixth floor has been transformed into a fascinatingin-depth museum chronicling the life and legacy of JFK.

Another astounding experience awaits the visitor who travels toFort Worth, a short train ride away. At a price of $2, this riderepresented a real bargain. Nevertheless, I was one of the few peoplein the carriage. Train travel is not the thing in Texas as everyonedrives. Several museums are gathered together in the Fort Worthcultural district. Pride of place goes to the Kimball Art Museum. Thebuilding, designed by Louis Kahn, opened in 1972 and is a work of artby itself. Conceived as a long, low building with repeated parallelgalleries, it makes innovative use of natural light by means of aplexiglas skylight inserted into every vault. The curatorial policyemphasizes quality over quantity and this exquisite collectioncomprises only about 350 pieces. The emphasis is on European paintingand sculpture and includes masterpieces by Fra Angelica, Duccio,Donatello, Bernini, Velazquez, Cranach, Murillo, Caravaggio and La Touramong 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 Michelangelopainting in a US collection and only one of four easel paintings of themaster known to exist.

Adjacent is the Modern Art Museum. Designed by Tadeo Ando, itsfive pavilions of concrete and glass are surrounded by a reflectingpool. It houses one of the foremost collections of modern andcontemporary art in the central US. All modern art movements and styleswell represented.

Another major attraction is the Amon Carter museum, a stunningbuilding designed by Philip Johnson. It is devoted to American art withmasterpieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, including those ofRemington, Russell, Church, Homer, Eakins and Chase as well as works byDavis, Dove, Hartley and O'Keeffe. The museum also houses one of themajor collections of American photographs spanning the history of themedium from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital prints.

Both the arts district in Dallas and the culture district inFort Worth have become architectural showcases with a total of 6buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winning architects.

It is astounding that with only two exceptions all the culturalcomplexes mentioned above were primarily financed by high minded localphilanthropic industrialists and civic leaders who clearly take a greatpride in their cities. The results speak for themselves.

The writer, emeritus professor of medicine, is an avidtraveler and photographer. He frequently writes, reviews and lectureson medical topics, music, art, history and travel. Additional picturesfrom this as well as other trips can be seen on www.pbase.com/irvspitz.