Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born), Nasher XChange, Entry Seven of Ten

Previously in the Nasher XChange series:

  1. Flock in Space, Nasher XChange, Entry One of Ten
  2. X , Nasher XChange, Entry Two of Ten
  3. Fountainhead , Nasher XChange, Entry Three of Ten
  4. Moore to the Point, Nasher XChange, Entry Four of Ten
  5. Buried House, Nasher XChange, Entry Five of Ten
  6. dear sunset, Nasher XChange, Entry Six of Ten
Inside - Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born), Alfredo Jaar, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas,  Texas (click to enlarge)

Inside – Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born),
Alfredo Jaar,
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

I didn’t have to go very far to visit Alfredo Jaar’s Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born) at the Nasher. All I had to do was walk across the garden to the structure made of pine and plastic, tinted green. It was newly constructed and the timber still smelled of moist-cut forest. With a raised wooden floor reached by some wooden steps and a row of folding canvas director’s chairs arranged along the walls it was a tranquil, peaceful spot – separated from the din and hustle of the city both by its walls and the insulating layer of the Nasher garden itself.

I sat down and waited… waited to hear something….

Even though I only had to walk a few feet to get to the art the day still counted as a bike ride day – I had ridden the DART rail from Richardson to downtown and ridden over to the Bishop Arts District to meet some folks – and we rode back across the Jefferson Viaduct to the Nasher. It was a beautiful day, even though I had to fight the State Fair crowds on the train.

We were there for a lecture on the Nasher XChange exhibition – ten works of art spread out over the vast expanse of Dallas. As I have said before, the lecturers kept talking about how big and sprawling Dallas was (true, of course) and of the many miles in a car necessary to travel to the sites. This, I knew was not necessarily so – though it took a paradigm shift to understand that it was not only possible, it was fun, to move around the city using only feet, a bicycle, and a DART pass.

After all, I was sitting there in the lecture (sweating a bit) after having traveled from Richardson, to Oak Cliff, and back to downtown without getting in a car.

And I decided to see all ten without firing up an internal combustion engine.

The exhibition was in honor of the Nasher’s tenth anniversary. I could not look at Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born) without thinking of the time I came to the Nasher with my own son only a few months after it opened. He posed with some of the sculptures, I wrote it up in my old journal The Daily Epiphany and was able to rewrite it as a magazine article and sold it to Richardson Living. The Nasher sent me some free tickets.

Years later, we came back and I took some more pictures. Lee is bigger now.

Lee sitting by Night, 2004

Lee sitting by Night, 2004

Night (La Nuit)

Night (La Nuit) – 2011 (they had moved the sculpture)

Eve, by Rodin, 2004

Eve, by Rodin, 2004

Eve, by Rodin

Eve, by Rodin, 2011

My Curves are Not Mad - Richard Serra, 2004

My Curves are Not Mad – Richard Serra, 2004

Richard Serra - My Curves are Not Mad

Richard Serra – My Curves are Not Mad – 2011
Look at how much the trees in the garden have grown.

Now, back to sitting in Alfredo Jaar’s room of wood and green plastic. It is quiet, only the murmur of some folks talking and an occasional foot tread. Sunlight streams in from the open door and the skylights overhead, mixing with the emerald glow from the translucent panels.

Suddenly, there is a sound, recorded and amplified, pouring from unseen speakers. It is an odd sound, almost unearthly. It isn’t really a cry… but it is. It is the recorded first sound of a newborn baby. The exhibit will record the first utterances of newborns in three Dallas hospitals and replay these ever day at the same time they were born. This has only been going on for a short time, so you have to wait for the sounds, but they should grow until mid-February when there will be a cacophony of first cries.

From the Nasher Website:

Alfredo Jaar
New York, New York
Music (Everything I know I learned the day my son was born)
2001 Flora St.
Nasher Sculpture Center

An installation that celebrates newborns and their limitless futures as Dallas citizens, bringing their voices together in a touching, symphonic experience.

Jaar’s project is inspired by what it means for a museum to celebrate an anniversary: What does it mean to be born, grow and then reflect back on 10 years of life? Most importantly, how can an institution like the Nasher Sculpture Center acknowledge the community it is a part of? Instead of reflecting on important institutional moments, Jaar intends to celebrate the births of newborn citizens and the limitless possibilities of their futures. Inside a pavilion designed by Jaar and located in the Nasher Garden, visitors will hear recordings of the first cries of babies born in Dallas between October 1, 2013 and February 1, 2014.

In collaboration with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, Methodist Dallas Medical Center and Parkland Health & Hospital System, the sounds of the first moments of life will be recorded and uploaded to the pavilion. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, the recordings will be played each day at the precise times of the births and new recordings will be added continuously. The diversity of voices and their intermittent occurrence within the space create an ever-changing musical composition that provides simple yet profound reminders of our city’s continuing growth. For the hundreds of families that choose to become a part of this artwork, the Nasher Sculpture Center will provide special memberships to the museum – a one-year Giacometti Level Membership for the participating families and a first-ever Lifetime Membership for the babies.

I dug around on my hard drive and found the journal entry I wrote on Saturday, May 1, 2004 – about the visit that Lee and I paid to the newly-opened Nasher. Here’s the text of the entry.

The Daily Epiphany
Saturday, May 01, 2004

The Nasher Sculpture Center

Were art to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness.
—-José Ortega y Gasset

Even though it’s been open since last October, I haven’t had the chance to go visit the new Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas. I wanted to go and I wanted to take Lee. The other day, I asked him if he wanted to see, “The best sculpture in the world.” He replied, “Dad, I sort of like sculpture; those cows and horses in front of the car show we saw downtown, they were really cool.” Still, though I ached to see the place and Lee wanted to go too we are so busy I haven’t been able to put together the time. It costs ten bucks to get in so it’s not a drop by proposition; for that much cash I want to take my time.
This weekend was soccer-full, so I didn’t think we’d be able to make it. All night Friday was full of booming storms, the sky lit up light electric fireworks, the wind blowing bending trees and whipping clouds of water through the neighborhood – real rainout weather. At dawn this morning the phone started ringing with the cancellation news – the games in Arlington, the games in Mesquite, even the games in various spots that Nicholas had agreed to ref (he’s trying to save enough money to buy a portable DVD player) were all called off due to submerged fields. Although the sky was overcast, dreary, and featureless slate gray, the rain stopped by ten and the day, though a bit chilly, was passable and Lee and I took off for the new sculpture center – driving to White Rock and catching the DART train downtown.

I had heard good things about the place but upon walking in and seeing it up close and personal I was totally blown away. It is magnificent.

The building that houses the inside part of the collection is at the north end of the site. It is an incredible construction of light – steel, pale stone, and glass arranged in a series of feathery pavilions full of stunning art. We took a swing through a visiting show of Picasso work, arranged alongside Nasher’s own Picasso pieces. We didn’t stay inside very long (I knew we’d come back and look closer) because, as beautiful as it is, the building’s most stunning function is as a frame for the sculpture garden outside and the allure of that green sward was irresistible.


Lee sitting on Scott Burton’s Schist Furniture Group (Settee with Two Chairs) near the northern end of the garden. In the far background you can see one of the curved pavilions of the main building.

The Nasher Sculpture Center sits right in the heart of the city; at the crossroads of giant busy screaming highways (three different interstates and two state highways cross within a mile of the center), at the feet of clusters of towering glass, stone, and steel office buildings, and with bustling crowds of workers packing the sidewalks and tunnels of a monstrous center of commerce. One rectilinear patch of land is yanked from this ugly knot of hustle and bustle and transformed into a peaceful oasis of three-dimensional art. At first, you don’t even notice the sculptures dotting the lawn. The trees, the grass, bits of stone, pools and sprays of water are art enough. Only after you drink in this unexpected bucolic landscape do you notice the other artwork – the arranged piles of steel, stone, or bronze that are carefully arranged among the rooms marked out by the careful plantings of trees, bamboo, and areas of water.

Lee and I walked around grinning like idiots. It was wonderful.


I liked this spot. To the right is Eve, by Auguste Rodin, the rectangular piece with round holes is Squares with Two Circles (Monolith) by Barbara Hepworth¸ and the copper-gold colored work on the left end of the pool is Working Model for Three Piece No. 3: Vertebrae by Henry Moore. Beyond the green reeds to the right, you can see the dark rectangle which is the entrance to Tending (Blue) – the gray stone on the far right side is the outer wall of the installation of the work itself.

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.


Lee inside of James Turrell’s Tending (Blue).

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.
“What’s up with that?” I asked.
“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.
“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

Lee and I wandered around for a long time; we took a bunch of pictures (I have material for quite a few entries from the camera – hope y’all don’t get sick of them) and had, all in all, a wonderful time.

We were looking at a few last pieces up by the entrance, getting ready to leave, when I noticed an older balding man in a tan leather coat come into the building. He was alone and nobody said anything to him as he walked slowly past the desks and into the center itself.
“Lee, look who that is,” I whispered.
“Dad! That’s him!”

It was Raymond Nasher himself – the guy who had built the place, the guy that owned all the sculptures. There was no doubt about it – we had seen several long interviews with him in that film and I was sure who he was. He passed through the Picasso exhibit on into the gallery that held the greatest concentration of smaller sculptures.

I watched as he moved through the displays stopping at a half-dozen pieces. He’d gaze closely at each, intently examining it for a few seconds and then move on. What must be going through his mind? In the film we had seen the men moving the works from Nasher’s private house. These are works of art that have spent years, sometimes decades, in his private home. They must feel so familiar to him… bring back so many memories. Now he has to walk among strangers to view his own prized possessions – the pieces that he and his wife spent their lives finding, the collection they put together together.

I wanted to say hello to him – to thank him, but it didn’t seem right, especially inside where it was so quiet. I decided if he walked outside I’d speak to him but he descended a flight of stairs and went through the glass doors into the private management offices.


Double Glass, by Ray Lichtenstein

I was a wonderful afternoon for me, and I hope for Lee too. I was very glad he went with me. There was a lot of talk in the film how the Nasher Sculpture Center will become a mecca for art lovers all over the world especially when combined with the Dallas Museum of Art right across the street. Now, on the day we were there, there weren’t too many folks – maybe the weather. That was fine for the day; it gave Lee and I a nice chance to see the place at our leisure and not have to fight the crowds. Still, I feel my life is a little better simply for having gone to that place, and I hope you will go there someday too.