Visiting the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a pleasant rediscovery, since I’d been in New York for the majority of the time the Modern has been open in its Tadao Ando-designed building in museum district. Full disclosure: I may be biased, I have such warm fuzzy feelings for that area of Cowtown. I went to high school in nearby Arlington and spent many hours on the Kimbell Museum’s lawn in high school and during college breaks. I only went to the Modern once before they opened the Ando building in 2002, and didn’t have the faintest idea how strong their collection was.
In a new installation of permanent collection works the curators have given us fresh eyes to see the undersung collection. In the smaller of the second floor gallery spaces, usually reserved for director-favorite Sean Scully, is a Robert Motherwell survey of 70+ works, all from the museum’s extensive holdings. For some reason I did not have it in my head that Motherwell was making his Elegies to the Spanish Republic until as late as 1990. Schooled! That is one long-running series, as he began making them in 1948.
The first floor galleries give a fresh look at items in the collection that have spent some time in storage, as over half of the 60+ pieces currently on view were not in the previous permanent collection installation. Also new is that the works are not arranged strictly by chronology, but in a more narrative theme of movements. Beginning with the figurative, led by heavy hitters like Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Milton Avery, and followed by an entire gallery of Philip Guston, the viewer is led through abstract works, pop art, then into the minimal. Some of my favorites included Ben Shahn’s “Allegory,” several Morris Louis canvases that do not disappoint, and “Male Head IV” by new-to-me artist David Bates.
The museum has a strong showing of permanent installations, most notably works with spaces designed around them: Martin Puryear’s ever-so-tall “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” and Anselm Kiefer’s “Book with Wings” in its unusual round gallery. I am as impressed by that round gallery as I am by the artwork itself (which is to say, I don’t love the sculpture but I do love the oval-shaped home). Two other permanent highlights of a visit to the museum are Richard Serra’s “Vortex” in the front of the building and Roxy Paine’s “Conjoined” on the back lawn. Visible from many angles within the museum and cafe, “Conjoined” gleams silver in the sunlight, set off by the green lawn across the reflecting pool, a welcome bit of shiny irregularity against the careful vertical and horizontal lines of the building itself. Interesting note: when looking up the Paine trees on The Modern’s site and in a Google image search, I found that I disliked many of the images. Nearly all are taken from the vantage point of the back wall of the sculpture garden, with the building in the background. Truly, the building is lovely, but those shots don’t do the sculpture much justice. A fresh reminder of how important it is to see art in person whenever possible, eh?