Dallas Cowboys Art Museum?
Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James Smith/Dallas Cowboys
Imagine two classic archetypes: an American football fan and an Art Lover. One wears face paint and absurd headgear, the other glasses and an absurd scarf. Now take these two archetypes and come up with a place in which they could co-exist happily. Chances are whatever you came up with your answer was not Cowboys Stadium. While that might be a given place of happiness (or worship depending on your feelings about the football) for our football fanatic, what can our art aficionado find in such a place?
Completed in May 2009, the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a statistical inspiration. As the largest domed stadium in the world, it boasts the world's largest column-free interior and a high-definition video screen that puts all others to shame, hanging from 20-yard line to 20-yard line. But this enormous venue also houses something not many sports stadiums can claim---a museum-worthy collection of nearly two dozen contemporary art pieces. It’s a safe bet that never before has art and athletics coexisted so seamlessly.
As art critic David Pagel noted in his introduction to the collection, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones sought to create a place that was “more than just a football stadium.” Jones’ vision was to give a chance to football fans that “may not be inclined to go to an art museum” to have their horizons expanded, and “look at art in other ways.” According to Pagel, Jones believes that, “Great sporting events and great works of art do something similar: They get people talking.”
At the Cowboys Stadium art definitely works. It works in the main concourse over and around entrances, over the concession stand, on walls next to the stairs, ramps and elevators, and in lobby spaces. All the artists featured are contemporary working artists who continue to create and inspire viewers around the world. There’s a whole gorgeous brochure chock full of information detailing the story behind the art and the artist. The stadium also offers art tours---in-person with a live guide or audio tour, or virtually by way of the Art at Cowboys Stadium app. To get you started, here are my five favorites from the collection.
Unexpected Variable Configurations: A Work in Situ (1998) by Daniel Buren. Wall painted yellow with hand-drawn grid and 25 screen-printed aluminum plates. Photo by Richie Humphries/Dallas Cowboys
An acquisition piece, Unexpected Variable Configurations: A Work in Situ by French abstract minimalist Daniel Buren pushes its audience to question not simply, “What is art?” but specifically, “Is this art?” Located over a concession stand in the main concourse of the stadium, Buren’s geometric paneled piece may not initially read as “art.” Without any recognizable figurative aspect and the regularity of the panel placement and measurement, the piece reads almost as if it’s just a whimsical part of the building. Yet the gregarious nature of the color choice and random placement of striped tiles seem purposeful and the viewer is not satisfied with their initial judgment---perhaps it is art after all. Buren seeks this ambiguity in his work. He prefers the compelling nature of the unexpected piece, especially as it works in integrating a space. He believes, “any work can be transformed by its surroundings,” and in the case of Unexpected Variable Configurations, surroundings are also transformed by the work. The interplay between this piece and its location encourage even the most disengaged of viewers to question, even if briefly, the function of the piece.
From a Legend to a Choir (2009) by Trenton Doyle Hancock. Vinyl print. Photo by Richie Humphries/Dallas Cowboys
Trenton Doyle Hancock’s From a Legend to a Choir is a site-specific commission on a massive wall next to the stadium ramp. Hancock’s imaginative and overwhelming work is always a curiosity with its continuing narrative of "The Mounds.” The saga has been unfolding throughout the artist’s career portraying the birth, life, and death of these half-human, half-plant mutants. Every one of Hancock’s paintings and installations is a moment in the story of the Mounds, their mortal enemies, the Vegans, and their main protector, Torpedo Boy. The riot of colors and figurative aspects create a crazy quilt and are a guaranteed jaw dropper. Hancock’s work can be fun and frightening, a cartoon dreamscape-nightmare that appeals or repels depending on a viewer’s current personal feelings. To learn more about Hancock, check out the PBS Art 21 episode, “Stories.”
Blondnoir (2008) by Jacqueline Humphries. Oil and enamel on linen. Photo by Richie Humphries/Dallas Cowboys
Compared to the majority of the stadium’s collection, Jacqueline Humphries' Blondnoir has a quiet, subtle presence that does not seem to fit immediately with the color, impact, and sheer scale of the rest of the pieces. Comprised of many shades of silver and grey, Humphries layered her work in a collapse of several different compositions into one canvas. Truly the photograph of Blondnoir fails to really capture the reality of the metallic paint. The reflective glare forces the viewer to move about the painting and consider it from different perspectives revealing the different compounded facets. The artist herself dubs her paintings "impossible to photograph” because of their changing nature based in their attempt to unify a variety of perspectives. The impact of Blondnoir is best felt face to face with the work.
Coin Toss (2009) by Annette Lawrence. Stranded cable. Photo by Richie Humphries/Dallas Cowboys
Commissioned specifically for the space within which it stretches, Annette Lawrence’s enormous gravity-independent sculpture immediately transforms the space it inhabits. The simplicity of the structure works to create a mesmerizing grace and settled feeling of taut stillness and contained potential. This potential turns into movement when an audience walks under the sculpture causing the piece to seemingly spiral as intersection points of crossing cables change at the speed of the viewer’s movement. Lawrence seeks to create things with “a sense of motion even though they are still” and was inspired by “circles turning,, or a coin toss, for this specific piece. As part of the project, Lawrence and Cowboys Stadium security guard Phil Whitfield engaged in a mutual exchange of learning and respect as they traded art lessons for football knowledge. Whitfield says whether people admit to liking the piece or not, he sees them admiring it and concludes: “We’ve all got a little art in us.” Listen to the full interview with Whitfield and Lawrence and be sure to check out this video from 2005 about a similar commissioned piece to see her process first-hand.
Detail from Blue Field Explosions (2009) by Gary Simmons. Urethane, pigment, and oil stick on wall. Photo by Richie Humphries/Dallas Cowboys
The location of Gary Simmons' Blue Field Explosions ensures stadium goers feel the impact of the piece whether they’re heading up or down the stairs. The space was a new challenge for Simmons for whom an essential part of his work is the ability to physically interact with and manipulate the piece. Each line is shifted and smudged by the artist enabling the audience to literally see the effect of the artist’s hand in the work. Simmons’ piece harks back to the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein which took its inspiration from comic strips. In the case of Blue Field Explosions, however, the action that led up to such explosions is left up to the discretion of the viewer experiencing the dynamic aftermath. In this short video Simmons talks about the challenges of creating a hand drawing in a football stadium.
Have you visited the art collection at Cowboys Stadium? What's your favorite piece---and why?