The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has an artistic legacy that stretches from the 19th to 21st centuries.
The concept of “modern,” by necessity, must evolve along with the times. An object, idea or person, once labeled “modern,” can only remain so for a limited period, before the passage of years renders it outdated, the antithesis of new.
Entire artistic movements have suffered this fate: Modernism, for example, developed in literature through the first decades of the 20th century, and soon came to infuse art of all varieties. Now, however, giants of Modernist art like James Joyce and Egon Schiele seem firmly rooted in the past, and even so-called Postmodernism is becoming a relic of the previous century.
From this viewpoint, it seems remarkable that anything could claim modernity in the face of passing years, much less decades. Yet modern art museums do just that, and grapple with the changing face of art to present a picture that remains always current, always fresh. Some museums manage this better than others; a few special ones, such as the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, transcend their function as stewards of contemporary art, and become centerpieces of their community’s cultural life.
In a story that has unfolded across three centuries — the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st — the Modern has not only changed, but blossomed into a vibrant showpiece institution.
“We’re the oldest art museum in Texas and one of the oldest museums in the western United States,” says Kendal Smith-Lake, manager of communications for the museum. “We first received our charter in 1892 as the Fort Worth Public Library and Art Gallery. The name and mission have, of course, evolved over the years.”
Twenty-five local women founded the Public Library and Art Gallery in an effort to inject 19th-century Cowtown with a dose of culture. In 1901, the fledgling institution became the Carnegie Public Library Art Gallery, and acquired its first piece of art, George Inness’s Approaching Storm, in 1904. The museum’s first exhibition in 1909 preceded another change of name, to the Fort Worth Museum of Art, which established a permanent focus on the visual arts.
The name and mission changed a few more times over the next several decades, and in 1987 became defined by a single epithet: modern. The current building, designed by internationally-renowned architect Tadao Ando, celebrated its grand opening in 2002.
Since the New Modern opened, Fort Worth has come to appreciate its showpiece museum as a destination for much more than just art. Tuesday Evenings at the Modern, which continues through April 19th, gives the public a free opportunity to hear lectures from noted artists, historians, critics and architects. Magnolia at the Modern is a film series that brings independent films and art cinema to Fort Worth. New films screen every weekend, and present a golden opportunity to see important cinematic pieces otherwise unavailable in Fort Worth theaters.
Cafe Modern has also made the museum one of Fort Worth’s most popular and exquisite destinations for brunch and lunch. With menus designed by Executive Chef Denise Shavandy, Cafe Modern presents fresh, seasonal food made exclusively from scratch with all-natural ingredients.
As far as elegant dining environments go, no other Metroplex restaurant can compete with Cafe Modern, oriented as it is with expansive views of the Modern’s exquisite landscaping and reflecting pool. To enjoy dinner at Cafe Modern, patrons can join Friday Night at the Modern. Table reservations are recommended, as the popular weekly event gives an opportunity to indulge in a romantic, cultured night out.
Of course, the Modern’s extracurriculars only supplement the museum’s premier offering: the art itself.
“We hope the diversity of options will be a catalyst to entice visitors into our galleries and experience art they might not have seen before,” says Kendal. “Our mission is to collect and display modern and contemporary art, so these offerings serve as an invitation to get people in our door and open their eyes to something new.”
In order to place a continued emphasis on “new,” the Modern maintains the special FOCUS series to expose the public to emerging artists. Museum-goers can rely on the FOCUS series to keep them abreast of current trends in the world of art; at the same time, the Modern’s special exhibitions shine a spotlight on some of the established giants of modern and contemporary art.
The museum’s next major exhibition, a retrospective of the work of Frank Stella, opens on April 17th. One of America’s most important living artists, Frank Stella’s retrospective will stand as the single-most comprehensive collection of his career to date. About 120 works showcase the artist’s proficiency from the 1950s until today, and include sculptures, paintings, maquettes, reliefs and drawings.
Confronted with the Modern’s bounty of riches, a visitor may wonder about the curators’ selection process. Kendal Smith-Lake explains:
“First, our curators look for artists and exhibitions of work from the 1940s to present that have had an impact on our society and artists working today. They research new art and artists constantly, and investigate international art to bring in work that they feel is important for the Fort Worth community to see, experience, and learn from.”
At its core, the Modern Art Museum exists to serve the people of Fort Worth. Practically everyone has at least one memory affiliated with the museum, whether it was a particularly impactful exhibition, attendance at a special event, delectable lunch, or an encounter with Richard Serra’s Vortex, the massive outdoor piece that lends itself so well to echoes.
As for the overall importance of the arts in Fort Worth, consider the popularity of the MAIN ST Arts Festival, or the sheer bounty offered through the presence of three world-class art museums in a single cultural district.
“Fort Worth has shown that the arts are very important,” says Kendal. “They bring interest and culture to our community, along with an economic impact. People and companies alike are attracted to Fort Worth thanks to the arts, and the Modern is important in that the work we show isn’t shown anywhere else. We’re lucky to have three museums that collect and exhibit artwork from different eras.”
The next time you find yourself with an open afternoon, or even just an hour to kill, make your way down to the Modern. If it’s been awhile since your last visit, you can expect an entirely new experience, from the exhibitions to the cafe menu, the films in the theater to the goods in the shop. After all, that’s what it’s all about for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth: keeping it fresh.