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Ten Years On, the FTW Modern’s Architect Returns

by Jerome Weeks 5 Nov 2012 6:43 AM

It became a new icon for Fort Worth: the Modern Art Museum shimmering on its pond. It’s also been something of a turning point in the career of Japanese architect Tadao Ando.


It’s been ten years since the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, visited his design, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. KERA’s Jerome Weeks spoke with him.

KERA radio story:

The 71-year-old Tadao Ando landed eight hours ago from Osaka, Japan, and hasn’t stopped since. There’ve been lectures and tours of other museums. Now he’s autographing books in the Modern Art Museum café (below).

The Pritzker Prize-winner has reason to celebrate his creation. He’s a prolific and prominent architect in Japan. But the Modern was Ando’s first major project in the US. The highly photogenic building has been his calling card (almost literally: Light and Water, Kenneth Frampton’s 2003 survey of Ando’s work uses the Modern for its shimmering cover shot). Ando says he now regularly comes through DFW airport – on his way to new commissions in Mexico and the US.

There’s another reason for Ando to value the Modern. It’s next to the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis Kahn.


Tadao Ando at book signing. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Ando says (through an interpreter), “For our generation of architects, Mr. Louis Kahn was like a god. I think, in terms of peacefulness and the quiet exuded by a building, probably nothing can compare to the Kimbell in the U.S.”

UTD art professor Richard Brettell sees the influence as key to the success of the Modern: “I think the Modern pays homage to a building which he admires enormously and for that reason, it’s a kind of leap for him.”

Brettell reviewed the Modern in 2003 and expressed strong reservations about such things as the building’s noisy, oversized lobby. But ultimately, even Brettell called the Modern the most important museum design since Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Brettell says, “I do think that the building has these moments of complete poetry.”

Ando’s renown as an architect derives from the Japanese traditions and the sophistication he brings to minimalist forms. These are generally shaped out of silky-smooth concrete, much like the concrete in the Kimbell, and a break with the beton brut (raw concrete, aka ‘brutalism’) of such earlier modernist masters as Le Courbusier (see, for example, I.M. Pei’s Dallas City Hall vs. his later Meyerson). Many architects leave poured, pre-form concrete with the wooden grain and rough imprints left by the plywood and two-by-fours that help shape it (see the interior of the City Performance Hall). In contrast, Ando’s pre-formed concrete is extremely polished, almost pristine. It’s a material he clearly loves, turning something humble and ever-present into a gem-like shape.

As for the Japanese traditions he evokes and quotes, the Modern’s main galleries are just tall boxes. But their exteriors evoke ceremonial Japanese tea houses, tea houses sitting serenely by a pond (below). Through Ando’s use of sunlight and water, he’s made big blocks of reinforced concrete seem to float. As he says, “It was in my thinking to create really weightless space.”

In particular, he borrowed the deep verandah and large overhang of the teahouse to shade the Modern’s galleries, as well as the exterior walkway that often circles a tea house. In the Modern’s case, the walkway is internal: Ando arranged the museum’s galleries to be circled by the halls. That way, sunlight bounces through the halls and helps illuminate the galleries, but only indirectly.

Ando says, the water garden wasn’t always in his plans. He did want the Modern’s interior and exterior to interact, to intermingle, especially when it came to sunlight. Then he saw North Texas: “It looked more like an arid desert. So the most important thing would be the water and trees.”

The Modern’s deep verandahs and its pond site adapt traditions from the Japanese teahouse (right)

Many of Ando’s most distinctive buildings seem to involve water in some form. Brettell believes that “water is something that he wants everything to be. Glass is water. The sheen of stone is water — you know, the sense of everything being reflective.”

The Modern is an oasis. But it’s also a building designed specifically for contemporary art, with its layout and its high ceilings. The museum has showcased nine-foot-tall self-portraits of Andy Warhol and Martin Puryear’s sprawling, giant wooden sculptures.

Brettell says the museum has used the galleries well with its exhibitions. Ando agrees. He’s pleased with how the Modern’s turned out, how it’s being run.  “Construction is one thing,” he says, “but it’s the people that use the building who will nurture and actually make the building work.”

We’re in the Modern’s boardroom. It’s on the top floor and overlooks the water garden. An assistant pulls up the window shade to see the evening sun. Ando points to the pond and its reflections dancing on the Museum’s glass walls.

“You see those very fine ripples of water, the light reflected on the surface of the water?” he asks. “The water can’t be shallow. You need the right depths to have this effect.

“I really love it.”


Here’s the release on the Modern’s other 10th anniversary events, which include a number of new acquisitions and temporary loans being put on display, beginning with KAWS’ Companion (Passing Through) now outfront at the Modern (below).

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Celebrates 10 Years in Tadao Ando-designed Building with New Acquisitions

December 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s building designed by Tadao Ando. The Modern will mark the anniversary with a series of new acquisitions on view this fall, culminating in a celebration gala and dinner on December 6, 2012.

Director Marla Price comments, “These are exciting additions to the Modern’s permanent collection. We are acquiring work by important new artists in several cases and increasing our holdings of works by Vernon Fisher, Dan Flavin, Howard Hodgkin, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, and Nicholas Nixon.”

Among the acquisitions is a rare early wall drawing by Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), one of the pioneers of conceptual and minimal art. This is the third work by LeWitt to become part of the permanent collection. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, LeWitt began drawing lines directly on the walls of buildings, an action that radically transformed the role and definition of drawing in contemporary art. These drawings now exist as a set of signed instructions written by the artist, which are then executed by museum or gallery technicians. Wall Drawing #50A, 1970, consists of hundreds of hand-drawn lines in colored pencil (red, yellow, and blue) stretching across a large wall, overlapping each other, and measuring approximately 11-by-16 feet. From a distance the accumulation of these lines creates a large, foggy plane of color, but a closer look reveals a delicate web of intricately rendered lines.


Another important addition to the Museum’s significant holdings in minimal art is a Dan Flavin (1933–1996) light sculpture, Untitled (for you Leo, in long respect and affection) 4, 1978, recently purchased at auction from the late Los Angeles collector Max Palevsky (1924–2010). Made of yellow and blue fluorescent light fixtures, the work is installed across the corner of a wall. This work was dedicated by Flavin to Leo Castelli, the famous contemporary art dealer from New York. The work is a classic example of Flavin’s talent for blending different colored lights to create a continually active and vibrant space. The blue and yellow tubes of light create various shades of green that emanate from the corner of the room. The Museum’s permanent collection also includes Flavin’s Diagonal of May 25, 1963, a white fluorescent light acquired in 2002.


A monumental painting by artist Mark Bradford (b. 1961), Los Angeles, will also be unveiled as part of the celebration, the first in the Modern’s collection. Crafting semi-abstract paintings from fragments of the urban environment—billboard paper, posters, newsprint, and street debris—Bradford’s works are layered with multiple materials and meanings. An African American who grew up in south-central Los Angeles, the artist’s richly textured collages merge his fascination of the personal space of painting with the sprawling, continually changing street facades of the city and the particular political and racial tensions that still exist there.


The Modern’s newly acquired painting is titled Kingdom Day, 2010, and is one of Bradford’s most ambitious works to date, consisting of four 10-by-10-foot canvases. An homage to the Kingdom Day Parade in Los Angeles, which takes place every January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the work specifically refers to the 1992 parade, the same year four policemen were tried and acquitted for beating Rodney King, inciting riots throughout Los Angeles. The painting, which on first take appears almost abstract, presents an ambiguous and turbulent image. Various colored banners and words are obscured by a field of gestures that resemble sparks from an explosion. At the same time, the painting suggests a topographical read: a satellite view of the Southern California coast covered by violent atmospheric static.


Other new works to be debuted between September and December include a monumental charcoal drawing by artist Robyn O’Neil (b. 1977), Los Angeles, entitled These Final Hours Embrace At Last; This Is Our Ending, This Is Our Past, 2007. This nearly 14-foot-wide drawing depicts a vast ocean with a small figure that hangs over it by a thread. O’Neil’s spacious drawing will be contrasted with a small but potent recent painting entitled Ice, 2008–10, by Howard Hodgkin (b. 1932), which consists of an intensely blended bluish-white brushstroke advancing out of a reddish ground. O’Neil’s drawing is the first of her work to enter the permanent collection, and Hodgkin’s work is the third painting to be acquired for the Modern.


A new video and sound installation by Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) will also be unveiled during this anniversary celebration. The work, Studio Mix, 2010, is inspired by a set of finger exercises that the composer Béla Bartók wrote for children learning the piano. A video image of Nauman’s hands enacting the possible combinations of the four fingers and thumb is suspended in a dark gallery accompanied by three sound elements: Nauman’s voice calling out the instructions for the different finger and thumb combinations; a piano played by artist Terry Allen and recorded in response to Nauman’s instructions; and Nauman intermittently speaking the words “for children, for children.” The Museum’s permanent collection also includes, Nauman’s Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor), 2000, acquired in 2001.


In December, the 10th anniversary month of the opening of the new building, the Museum will present a significant, new installation by Jenny Holzer (b. 1950), her first to be acquired by the Museum. This special commission (title to be announced, 2012) will be unveiled at the gala on December 6. The artist’s signature, kinesthetic light-emitting diode (LED) signs, will deliver Holzer’s controversial texts in “Ando blue,” including many of her famous truisms: MONEY CREATES TASTE; YOUR OLDEST FEARS ARE YOUR WORST ONES; SLIPPING INTO MADNESS IS GOOD FOR COMPARISON; MOTHERS SHOULDN’T MAKE TOO MANY SACRIFICES; LACK OF CHARISMA CAN BE FATAL.


Holzer’s glowing language will travel down long channels that extend from one end of a central, large clerestory gallery to a glass wall at the edge of the pond, creating rivers of text that give the illusion of penetrating the water. This major work, among other surprises, will give the collection a new look for the next decade.



On view beginning September 9:


On loan to the Modern as part of the 10th anniversary celebration, this colossal work—measuring 16 feet in height—depicts one of KAWS’s (b. 1974) iconic characters in three-dimensional form and will be installed at the entrance of the Museum. COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH) has traveled internationally over the past two years at such acclaimed venues as the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; the Standard Hotel, New York, New York; the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Aldrich, Connecticut; and Harbour City, Hong Kong.


On view by October 21:

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #50A, 1970

Dan Flavin, Untitled (for you Leo, in long respect and affection) 4, 1978

Nicholas Nixon(b. 1947), The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts, 2011 is the newest addition in Nixon’s ongoing series of photographs, The Brown Sisters, initially acquired by the Modern in 2005.

Mark Bradford, Kingdom Day, 2010

Robyn O’Neil, These Final Hours Embrace At Last; This Is Our Ending, This Is Our Past, 2007

Howard Hodgkin, Ice, 2008–10


On view by November 16:

Vernon Fisher (b. 1943), The Coriolis Effect, 1987. A gift from the artist, this work was previously on view in the special exhibition, Vernon Fisher: K-Mart Conceptualism.

Bruce Nauman, Studio Mix, 2010


Unveiled during gala on December 6. On view to the public December 7.

Jenny Holzer, title to be announced, 2012



10th Anniversary Gala and Dinner

Thursday, December 6

(ticket prices to be announced)


Tuesday Evening Lecture Series

Tuesdays, 7 pm


September 11—David Dawson, artist and longtime assistant and friend of Lucian Freud


September 18—Nicholas Nixon, artist


September 25—Rosson Crow, artist


October 2—KAWS, artist


October 9—Martin Gayford, art critic, writer, and subject of the painting Man with a Blue Scarf by Lucian Freud


October 16—Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, founder and principal of Marlon Blackwell Architect


October 23—Michael Auping, chief curator, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth


October 30—Gary Simmons, artist


November 13—Bruce Nauman, artist


November 27—Howard Rachofsky, art collector


December 4—Jenny Holzer, artist