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Patron Magazine, October 20

         Gonna take a sentimental journey,

         Gonna set my mind at ease,

         Gonna make a sentimental journey

         To renew old memories….

The Nasher at 10 years!  How extraordinary now to trace its beginnings back to the house that Ray and Patsy bought long before they built the collection that made them famous in the annals of Twentieth Century Sculpture.

Enter through the front door in those days, and what greeted you was a formidable, overwhelming female figure by Gaston Lachaise, the woman who bowled over Nanuli Shevardnadze when she saw it at Washington’s National Gallery.  The wife of the Soviet foreign minister loved it because she thought it looked like her, ample.  Turn left, and there was a graceful Jean Arp, said in one account (Epitome of Desire by Robert A. Wilson) to be the Nashers’ first great acquisition.

Then, on the other side, the magic of the place revealed itself in full:  The Giacomettis, tragic in their implications that could not be foreseen in the early Cubist Head by the Swiss master, much less the elegant male figure by Auguste Rodin that gazed ahead in 1876 and saw nothing but beauty in the anatomy of the century to come.  It would be a world compatible with the blissful Kiss by Constantin Brâncusi that rested happily on the dining room table.

There was a time when Ray considered creating a museum and sculpture garden at his house, with its spectacular setting, stretching in ever-green ecstasy in every direction.  But he worried about the neighbors and the opposition they could bring to bear at City Hall. Of course there has been trouble enough with a neighbor in the Arts District, unimpeded by any public process of law or planning, but no need to talk about that now.  This is a sentimental journey, remember?

                  Got my bags and got my reservation,

                 Spent each dime I could afford,

                 Like a child in wild anticipation,

                 Long to hear that all aboard.

When Ray settled finally on the site of the Nasher, he settled also on Renzo Piano as the architect who could make the project sing.  It was a brilliant choice. Enveloped by the calm of good proportion, the Nasher Sculpture Center, seemingly, was born perfect. Every decision, however arbitrary at the time, appears now to have been inevitable.

Anchored in the order of the Greek imagination, however Genoan its disposition, the Nasher is suffused with unalloyed joy.  Renzo Piano is so attuned to tuning out the cacophony of life in Italy, from Versace to Berlusconi, that his walls absorb the follies of those who fail to grasp their inner meanings.  Endowed with the ancient poise of olive trees that know their indispensability, the Nasher exudes a world of youthful beauty, wit, and resonance, a world where it is always afternoon, as Tennyson once wrote.

But I forget my sentimental journey.

                 Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven;

                 I’ll be waiting up for heaven,

                 Counting every mile of railroad track

                 That takes me back….

But why go back?  Nostalgia is nothing alongside the sheer excitement of the Nasher now.  Take the show of Katharina Grosse, with its fantastic forms and colors deliriously fresh from Berlin–geological, anthropological, psychological and more fun than a Ferris wheel and roller coaster rolled together.  Or the sounds of Soundings, new music at the Nasher, willing to be weird, strangely affecting, or dangerously serious.

All this can be traced to the masterful direction  of Jeremy Strick whose breathtakingly original and strategic intelligence has made the Nasher flourish as a bastion of the new.  “The unique setting and collection of the Nasher allows us to create resonant conversations between masterpieces of modern sculpture and the most advanced expressions of contemporary artists,” he said.  “The exceptional beauty and intimacy of the building, garden and collection fosters innovation and experimentation and helps us to see things in new, fresh ways.”

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of this icon of high spirits unconstrained, Strick has  commissioned ten works of sculpture, to enlighten the landscape of Dallas and show its people something about themselves they may never have known before.  This project he calls the Nasher XChange.

One of the first artists summoned was Liz Larner of Los Angeles, perfect for the project since X’s already were central to her vocabulary.  The site she chose was ATEC, the confluence of art and technology at the University of Texas at Dallas.  It made sense for Liz Larner since the models (think the original clay) for her sculpture are developed on a computer.  Then, with 3-D manufacturing, she makes a mold into which stainless steel , in the case of UTD, is poured.

“It’s very large,” Larner explained, describing the Nasher piece.  “You enter into the center of it….deep inside ATEC.”  She cautioned her viewers not to be misled by the digital aspects of her work. “I am very much about the real. ”

Liz Larner also is very much about Texas, in her California way.  She made a grand tour in the mid-1990s, from Marfa to the home of Ray Nasher in Dallas where she saw the collection for the first time.  She fell in love, as everybody does, with Brâncusi’s Kiss, but also with For Dolores by Tony Smith, a complicated, geometric work in Carrara marble, mathematical really, which would appeal to Larner.

What appeals to her, also, is “the elastic relation between the Nasher and the city,” posing always the question: “what’s the museum and how far does it reach?”

Certainly it reaches to Vickery Meadow, small, urban  land of 27 languages—African, Asian and more–  where Houston’s Rick Lowe is creating a Pop-up Market (he calls it social sculpture) that will open to the public on the third Saturday of each month from October through February.  Spaces there will be temporary—maybe white cubes designed by JHP, plus two other architectural firms in Dallas, but the products on sale—arts, crafts and foods created with guidance from Lowe —will be made to linger in the memory of all who encounter them.

The thing that’s exciting about the Nasher,” said Rick Lowe, is that “it’s one of the most cutting-edge cultural institutions in the country.”  What’s more, he added, “I have never been in a situation where the museum is so supportive of the artist.”

It was a short trip for Ruben Ochoa from Los Angeles to the Trinity River Audubon Center where the lawless dump it once had been seemed natural for his rough materials, ready or not, to be shaped into the sculpture he imaged for them.  For the Audubon he ordered 100 galvanized steel fence posts, some eighteen feet tall, and bent them into a Flock in Space, designed to resemble in spirit Brâncusi’s Bird in Space.  Grounded in concrete, they might seem to some, he said, more like a “bolt of lightning.”  

Lara Almarcegui might seem like a bolt of lightning too. A Spanish artist living in Rotterdam, she is one of the most provocative figures in the Nasher Xchange, provocative because she bases her work on the rubble of life, the tearing down and building up then tearing down again, and again, making landfill of dreams long lost and the Ozymandian ambitions of every generation.

Fresh from the Venice Biennale, where she did the pavilion for Spain, dumping in it 700 pounds of brick, concrete, wood, glass and steel that would have been needed to build it in the first place –ashes to ashes– Almarcegui has in mind for the Nasher a small house in South Dallas that has been empty for years. She will demolish it, collect what’s left and bury it, leaving a small mound of earth to suggest that someone once  lived there, perhaps with hope.  This will be a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity which will build another house on the lot in yet another cycle of a city on the edge.

As for the Nasher, what inspires her there is the dedication to sculpture, which “often is forgotten.”

No one, however, will forget Charles Long and the fourteen-foot high happening he has in mind for NorthPark Center.  It will be a giant inverted pyramid made of rock with three kiosks ten feet away in three directions, each equipped with touch screens inviting passersby to give $3 to $5 to the North Dallas Food Bank, CASA (for kids on alcohol or drugs), or a library at the mall.

If you do, said Long, a “goofy, cartoony coin” will appear on the screen.  Swing it toward the fountain–that’s the pyramid–and you’ll hear a swishing sound as money, Gatsby-like, explodes on the surface, creating, by projection, “a cascade of dollar bills.”  The name of the work?  Fountainhead.  Ayn Rand lives on, but not in the way she might have expected.  “I’m mixing up the value,” declared Charles Long.  “It seems like there’s all this money, but it’s an illusion.”

Charles Long has the closest relation to the Nasher collection of any artist with whom I spoke.  That’s because he’s a professor at the University of California at Riverside  and teaches those sculptures.  His favorites?  The haunting wax-over-plaster heads by Medardo Rosso.  Also Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Girl   because this wooden talisman is “so strange and beautiful…The way it was shown at the Nasher [made it possible to see] the back of the piece…the big nails and wire that put head and body together…It demystifies things quite a bit.”

Mystery is what Vicki Meek was seeking when she chose Bishop College as the scene of her work for the Nasher XChange.  “Why are you doing this?”asked Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, which stands now where Bishop used to be.  That campus vanished years ago, he pointed out.  “That’s exactly why I’m here,” retorted Meek.  She wanted to understand how Milton Curry, as president of Bishop, championed the arts, in the unlikeliest of days, including the efforts of Ann Williams which led to the Black Dance Theatre.

Searching for the mystery of creative endurance, Meek is building fifteen cultural markers of porcelain enamel, similar to what she used at the Hatcher Station for DART.  Drawing on mythology, African imagery, old newspapers, articles and yearbooks plus computer apps, the pieces will line the main drag, all the way to the chapel.  Appearing in each of them will be Milton Curry, the “ghost image,” she said, “anchoring all these works.”

And what of the Nasher for Vicki Meek? “I’m drawn to Giacometti,” she said, “and always to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, [especially] Rodin.”  She sees in this work a depth of craftsmanship too often missing today.

What better time than the tenth anniversary of the Nasher for Martin Iles to reconvene the Good/Bad Art Collective of Denton.  The group will hold forth on the fourteenth floor of Bryan Tower, turning it into a TV studio on October 19, where those who stop by will be interviewed, taped, and edited into a documentary that is “more David Lynch than infomercial” and aired on various television stations.  It will celebrate not only the Nasher but also the reunion of compatriots who admit to being “kind of radical [as well as] legendary.”

“To be picked up out of obscurity shows how involved Jed [Morse] and people at the Nasher are.  They’re not afraid to take chances.”  So said Martin Iles, and he was right.

                  Never thought my heart could be so yearny;

                 Why did I decide to roam?

                 Going to take a sentimental journey,

                 Sentimental journey home.

May the Nasher always be the home of the free, of the brave, of the new, the bold, the daring, the unexpected, the unconventional, the unafraid, the unforgiven, the high order of art and life that, true to the two whose name is by the door, never, ever settles for the second-rate.

Happy anniversary, Nasher Sculpture Center.