Dallas Museum of Art plans major expansion and raises existential questions – The Dallas Morning News | Candle Made Easy

Late last year, without much excitement, the Dallas Museum of Art took concrete steps toward a major expansion and hired architects Perkins & Will to conduct a design study for a future construction project. This study will help the museum determine the scope, location and cost of such a building and develop a process for hiring a design architect.

“We are now in a very early stage of planning what this will look like,” says the museum’s director, Agustín Arteaga. “The strategic plan will guide what we will do going forward.”

The museum has informed the city that owns the museum building of its intentions. “We will continue to have discussions with them about the public utility of this expansion,” said Jennifer Scripps, director of the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

The need for more exhibition and storage space is being driven by the planned arrival of the so-called Fast Forward legacy of 2005, in which Dallas arts patrons Robert and Marguerite Hoffman, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, and Deedie and Rusty Rose pledged their collections to the museum. Exactly when these collections will arrive has not yet been determined, but when they do arrive the gifts could total more than 1,000 works, most of them contemporary art.

Howard and Cindy Rachofsky (top right), Robert and Marguerite Hoffman (bottom left), and Deedie Rose (bottom right) agreed to donate their art collections to the Dallas Museum of Art (top left) after their deaths. All photos were taken on February 15, 2005 at the DMA and each family’s home.
(BRAD LOPER / 83785)

There are other imperatives for the museum, including a desire to expand its reach into the Dallas community.

“As they expand, I see it as an opportunity to expand their collection and add to the very limited number of color artists they have in their collection,” says influential Dallas artist and curator Vicki Meek.

This would be the museum’s first major expansion since 1993, when architect Edward Larrabee Barnes added a new wing to his original museum building, which opened in 1984.

The museum has three clear options for the location of an expansion project: it can build on itself (the Barnes Expansion was designed to support additional floors); it may erect a new wing on its Ross Avenue lawn; or it could build or acquire a satellite elsewhere in the city — a return to Fair Park, the museum’s first permanent home, would be an intriguing possibility.

PUBLISHED September 14, 1979 - Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (center) displays a model of...
PUBLISHED September 14, 1979 – Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (center) displays a model of the new Dallas Museum of Art.(CLINT GRANT/Staff Photographer)

The museum is at a difficult moment to contemplate such a project, not least due to COVID-19 which has halved its annual attendance. The museum expects 455,000 visitors this year. Before the pandemic, attendance had surpassed 900,000, according to Arteaga.

Aside from lost traffic and associated revenue, which is likely but not necessarily a temporary condition, the museum must grapple with a number of existential questions about what it means to be an encyclopedic art museum as we move into the mid-21st century. century move.

Who exactly is the museum for? The general public in all its diversity, or its wealthy patrons who make its existence possible but also determine its fortunes and reap enormous rewards in the form of prestige and tax benefits for their gifts and support?

Balancing this equation has become an increasingly difficult task as the sources of extreme wealth have been intensively studied. Artists and activists seem unwilling to tolerate patrons and funding sources they perceive as morally flawed. In 2019, for example, an artist-led protest forced arms supplier Warren Kander to resign from the board of directors at New York’s Whitney Museum.

There is a very slippery slope. Who says what money is dirty or not? There is hardly a museum in Texas that is not funded in a significant way, directly or indirectly, by fossil fuel revenues, including the DMA.

“There’s an umbilical cord that connects these museums to extreme wealth,” says Andrew McClellan, a professor of art history at Tufts University who has written extensively on the art museum’s history. “American museums are really upset in this regard because we decided to turn down federal funding.”

A photo from 2002 shows
A 2002 photo shows “Stake Hitch” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen at the Dallas Museum of Art. The massive work was commissioned for the museum’s Edward Larrabee Barnes Downtown building, which opened in 1984. (HELEN JAU / 174152)

The stratospheric price development on the art market has further increased this dependency. The rise of NFTs, an uncontrolled new class of digital art, brings its own acquisition, storage and presentation challenges. Will the museum expansion need to include a server farm to accommodate them?

Probably not.

“My priority is a building that serves our community, a building that is functional, accessible, transparent and respects today’s context,” says Arteaga, who is an architect by training.

That’s not particularly revealing, but some insight into his thinking can be gleaned from his comments on the museum’s current home. “It was built with the intention of protecting everything that goes on inside,” he says of the rather stubborn, isolated museum Barnes designed. That was an appropriate stance when sat alone in the Arts District, although it’s somewhat at odds with the museum’s desire to embrace the community both physically and metaphorically.

Barnes was a conservative choice for the original building, an understated modernist with a genteel manner. Philip Johnson, a longtime nemesis, described him as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing”. He was rehired for the 1993 expansion by the museum’s then director, Rick Brettell, who wanted a seamless building that would not overshadow the museum’s collection. It doesn’t, although it can be a challenge to find your way around.

“We’re struggling with navigation,” says Arteaga. For some, and I count myself among them, this difficulty has its own appeal; Wandering the museum rooms is an opportunity for chance encounters and discoveries.

If the museum really values ​​diversity, hiring a design architect would be a good place to show it. Every cultural building in the Arts District was designed by a male architect, and most of them are white (with the exception of IM Pei).

Several firms of varying leadership have recently built museum projects in Texas, including David Adjaye (the Ruby City Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio), Johnston Marklee (a drawing center for the Menil in Houston), and WORKac (the Blaffer Art Museum, also in Houston). . New York-based company So-Il has also created several well-received new art spaces: the Amant Art Campus in Brooklyn and the Shrem Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of California, Davis. All of this deserves attention, as does Dallas-based architect Max Levy, a poet of light and shadow.

Choosing an architect is, or should be, an uplifting and fun project. It’s not so pleasant to raise the money to pay for what this architect could build. When the original Barnes Building was constructed, the city provided $24.8 million in bonds and matched $20 million in private donations. Annual city support for programs and maintenance is approximately $2 million. (It was higher last year thanks to federal COVID-19 relief funds.)

A similar expansion project, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts’ Kinder Building, which opened in 2021 to a design by Steven Holl, cost around $150 million. This figure does not include the additional and ongoing costs for maintenance, staffing and other requirements that come with new construction.

The Houston Museum could shoulder these burdens since its financial position is significantly stronger than the DMA’s with an endowment of approximately $1.8 billion compared to the DMA’s $270 million.

The danger is that the museum board, driven by its patrons, imposes debt and increased financial obligations on taxpayers to support their own tax-deductible donations.

And those gifts are disturbingly vague. In 2005, when promised, the Fast Forward legacy was described as “irrevocable.” But since that time numerous works have sold out, including a 1961 canvas by Mark Rothko sold by Marguerite Hoffman for $17.6 million and a sculpture by Jeff Koons sold by the Rachofskys for $28.7 million was sold.

“The overall understanding of the museum is that I can do anything to add to the collection along the way,” Howard Rachofsky said news last year.

Whatever the final form these gifts take, creating a new home for them and for the museum’s other needs will test its priorities. “Are you supporting the artists in town or building buildings?” asks Meek. “We’re a city that focuses on facilities and not what happens in the facilities, much less the artists who make the things that are used in the facilities.”

As the DMA contemplates expansion, it must meet all of its stakeholders and commitments – and that’s a lot to ask of the architecture.

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