I was working in the Cotton Exchange building in downtown Dallas (the Cotton Exchange is gone now – they blew it up a couple years after I left) while they were building the skyscraper tower of the Trammell Crow Building. The construction site was visible from the windows of our office suite. I watched the steel skeleton climbing up and up – watched the workers scrambling over the latticework of girders. I watched the granite and reflective glass being raised and affixed to the building’s outer skin.
There is always a connection with a building that I watched go up. Since I saw it stretched out in time from the inside out – I feel I know all of its secrets. I know the shortcuts the architect made to get the outer shape. I saw the ventilation, plumbing, and elevator shafts carved out of the interior.
At one time the walkway around the base of the building contained an amazing collection of European sculpture and was one of my favorite places. The sculptures have been removed – and there is the promise to replace them with Asian pieces.
Behind the office building, on a floor level below, facing Flora street across from the Nasher Museum is the Crow Collection of Asian Art. Trammell and Margaret Crow have been collecting Asian art since the 1960’s and built the museum under a pavilion in back of the office tower. It is a small but effective museum, and a welcome addition to the other museums and performance venues in the Dallas Arts District – helping the area move towards the tipping point of becoming a well-known destination. In addition to exhibiting pieces from the permanent collection – the Crow Museum has developed a reputation for hosting impressive visiting temporary exhibitions.
Oh, one more thing. Admission to the museum is free.
A free museum is viewed in a different way than one that you have to pay to get in the door. Instead of making a big deal out of it – preparation and anticipation – you tend to simply wander in and take a relaxed view of the wonders within. I like it.
I have a confession to make – this time that I walked in to the museum it wasn’t because I had heard of some revelatory amazing exhibition or even that I felt the need for peaceful contemplation of a thousand years of artistic production.
I had to pee.
There are not a lot of public restrooms in a big city downtown. The homeless tend to take over and destroy any facilities that are open to anyone. So I decided to duck into the Crow Museum to use their restroom. Since I am a person that likes to meet their obligations – even though I should be able to use the bathroom and leave, there have been many times I’ve been to the Crow to see their art and not used the bathroom – I felt obligated to at least take a quick walk through the galleries.
I walked into the big room past the gift shop and found that it had been emptied. There was a bench in the center of the room and three digital projectors were shining on a long wall. The effect was that of a widescreen film being shown in a bare wooden room – very clean and beautiful. One guy was sitting at one end of the bench – I walked over and sat down on the other.
At first the film was showing some credits and bits of poetry while the soundtrack played some electronic music. It was very peaceful, but not much too it and after a few minutes I wondered, “Is this it?” It was an interesting thought – all this space and technology used to simply throw a few words on the wall along some jangling sounds. I began to wonder if it was an elaborate joke.
It wasn’t. I had come in right at the credits at the end. Soon the presentation looped back to the beginning and the real show began.
This was a film by Qiu AnXiong, an artist from Shanghai. The exhibition was called Animated Narratives and consisted of a two-part video installation called New Book of the Mountains and Seas, along with paintings associated with it.
The video started with a hand drawn animation of waves on the sea, then moved to a pastoral landscape. Soon, a farm appeared to grow on the land like an organic thing. The farm quickly grew to a village and then a walled town. Civilization continued to grow in an organic way – with fantastic animals taking the place of oil rigs, pumps, transportation, and warcraft. Everything grew and grew, with many scenes reminiscent of recent events, but warped into a strange surreal organic landscape. The Middle East (or something resembling it) is ravaged by oil production, the terrorists strike in a version of 911 even more surreal than reality, and then the inevitable disaster and destruction obliterated everything.
The film was in black-and-white and appeared to be animated ink drawings. After walking around and looking at some of the paintings, it was clear that it is actually paint on canvas. The artist overpaints as he photographs his work and generates the animation that way.
I really enjoyed the film and its presentation. You really have to see in it in its carefully constructed widescreen format to appreciate the work, but if you can’t make it to the Crow:
Here’s an online version (wait through the ads). I’m not sure how long this will be online.
Here’s another link to a version of the piece.
If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s about three minutes of the film. This section is near the end, and it does not do justice to seeing it live.
I enjoyed it enough to come back a couple days later and take a look at part two. This is another widescreen video set up in the mezzanine two floors higher up in the museum. It’s another animated work, this time concerning mad cow disease, genetic programing, biowaste disposal, environmental catastrophe and man’s eventual fate among the stars.
I couldn’t find the whole thing, but here is a bit of part two.
Don’t be afraid to wander into a museum, more or less unplanned. I should do this more often. I should not be so cheap to be afraid to do this even when I have to pay for it.