Kultur: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
A Mexican tricolor battalion flag (top), a U.S. Infantry flag, and a variant of the Confederacy’s ‘Stars and Bars’ are three of the roughly 30 on exhibit now at the Cowgirl.

From Big D to the L-word to the Star-T, allow your fine arts columnist to do the kvetching, will ya?

Ever walk past Bass Performance Hall when nothing’s going on there? The experience is pretty much like walking past any other empty structure — uneventful.

So get ready for some uneventful-ness, Dallas, once your city’s ambitious Center for the Performing Arts gets up and running three years from now. For $275 million — of which an unprecedented amount, more than 90 percent, will be generated by the private sector — Dallas will get five performing arts buildings on one site. Two of them will be built by winners of the architecture profession’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize, making Big D the only city in the world with four buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winners on a single contiguous block. The other two are I.M. Pei’s Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center. All of them are beautiful, and the two new ones, based on a couple of preliminary designs, are stunning. The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre by Rem Koolhas is an elegant 11-story tower, and the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House by Norman Foster is a concrete oval encased in glass, and, incidentally, the first glass building in Dallas’ Arts District, an area awash in limestone.

Now, about all that uneventful-ness: You can look at cool buildings for only so long. Unlike, a-hem, a collection of world-class museums (or a strip of rock clubs), a bunch of fancy performing arts venues can go dangerously silent without a moment’s notice and, like Bass Hall at 4 in the morning, recede quietly into the shadows. Museums’ doors — and their gift shops — are just about always open, which is why our Cultural District and others like it remain moderately healthy. (As long as rock clubs keep the booze a-flowin’, they, too, can stay healthy.)

But performing arts venues — gift shop-less and profiting off the sale of booze only during intermissions — are only as healthy as their calendar of events.

The Center has a few anchor tenants lined up. In addition to pilfering Texas Ballet Theater from us, it will also house The Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Anita M. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, and “many other performing arts organizations.”

The Center also has a lot — I mean, a lot — of seats. The Winspear has 2,200 and the Wyly 600, while a local theater space, the City Performance Hall, and an outdoor venue, the Annette Strauss Artist Square, will push the overall seating into the 3,500-plus territory.

The big question is how the Center’s tenants and its “many other performing arts organizations” will — as they say — put the asses in the seats night after night. Nothing else will keep the Center from becoming just another block of pretty buildings. Sorry, Big D.

Dallas big shots are discussing the possible addition of retail stores and restaurants, which is appropriately Faustian: The thought of a young couple going to dinner at Chili’s and then catching a performance of Movin’ Out at the Wyly may make admitted populist Koolhas happy, but I guarantee that members of Dallas’ elitist old guard will be steamed. Like Bass Hall in the wee hours, they may recede quietly into the darkness in defiance — and take their wads of private-sector cash with them.

Arty-Farty Notes

When will the inanity that is the Star-Telegram ever end? (That’s a rhetorical question — no one knows, and the inanity will likely continue indefinitely.) Last week in The Dallas Voice, North Texas’ most widely circulated gay publication, there was a story about a Star-T writer who occasionally moonlights under a pseudonym as a crime novelist — no big deal. What’s weird is that, even though the story is accompanied by two photos of the author, her real name isn’t used. WTF? The logical explanation is that the Voice writer merely forgot to mention the author’s real name, and if so, no sweat. The illogical — and purely Star-Telegram-y — explanation is that either the author or her bosses have some problem with a Star-T employee’s being gay and out. Not a big problem, but just enough of one to result in yet another momentary lapse of reason brought to you by our only daily paper of record. When will the inanity that is the Star-Telegram ever end. (Note the absence of a question mark.) ... As a loner in my youth, Kultur harbored a weird fascination with flags — military, parochial, state-related, whatever. If it was colorful, rectangle-shaped, and made of cloth, I was all about it. Yes, like most childhood obsessions, my love of flags dissipated as my lust for superhero comic books grew, and, while I don’t remember what eventually supplanted comics in my pea brain (sports? sex? being a vigilante?), I do know that the Texas flag exhibit at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame has re-ignited some of my early, waving-in-the-wind affections. Many of the flags on display are amazing for their historic import, several for their beauty as works of graphic design, and a lot for all kinds of reasons. Covering the years between 1836 and 1945, Texas Flags is naturally loaded with ones that were hand-made. Of the roughly 30 on exhibit, a majority pre-date the assembly line. Expectedly, some are in bad shape, the likely byproduct of years and years of restoration attempts. Unlike a painting, a piece of fabric is nigh impossible to restore without damaging it irrevocably. Mexican tricolor battle flags like those for the Matamoros, Toluca, and Guerrero battalions, all from 1836, splinter into thousands of minute jigsaw-puzzle pieces of colored fabric, held in place seemingly by air — the flags retain their visual integrity only when viewed from a few feet away. The exhibit offers a dozen other down-but-not-out beauties. “Wigfall Presentation Flag,” made by the family of Louis T. Wigfall, was “designed to solve a problem,” according to the museum. Apparently, Confederate soldiers were confusing their “Stars and Bars” with the Union’s “Stars and Stripes” — on the battlefield. In 1861, the Wigfall family came up with the iconic (and, unfortunately, everlasting) “St. Andrew’s Cross” design, known most famously as “that there flag on the top o’ the Duke boys’ General Lee — yee-haw!” Variants of the design that eventually became the battle flag of Lee’s army are all over Texas Flags, including one of the prettiest items on display and probably in the entirety of flagdom, “Taylor Battle Flag.” The “St. Andrew’s” design is the same, but the colors are reversed. The X-crossed bars are an eerie light-red, and the stars within the cross and the background are the coolest, oddest, most unique hue of shiny gray tinged with blue and, from a certain angle, a hint of aquamarine I’ve ever seen. Like many other Confeddie flags produced after New Orleans fell to the Union in 1862, this “Taylor” was made by exiles in Cuba. Obviously, the exhibit takes a turn toward the inclusionary present toward the end, when a series of “Stars and Stripes” variants and U.S. military infantry battle flags from the late-19th/early-20th century come on strong. My patriotic friends, do not miss the 48-starred “USS Texas, Battle Ensign, World War II, 1944” that flew from the ship’s masthead during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. (The Texas, FYI, eventually went on to become the nation’s first battleship memorial.) The infantry flags, while not the coolest-looking, are the most heart-wrenching. Every one has the same design: On a blue background is bald eagle whose left talon clutches several arrows and whose right grips a handful of olive branches. In every instance, the eagle’s head is turned away from the arrows — and war — and toward peace. Texas Flags runs through Feb. 12 at 1720 Gendy St., in Fort Worth (817-336-4475). ... For Kultur, one of the best reasons to go to the theater is to eavesdrop on the amateur critics, mouths a-motoring either during intermission or post-performance. Unlike at the movies, where the lowest common denominator and passivity rule, the theater is normally lousy with — how you say? — less-Neanderthal-ish, more opinionated ticket-holders. I guess you could call them sarcastic, self-deprecating smart-asses, and they’re always good for some glib commentary. To wit: Last week at Bass Hall, Kultur caught a performance by young cellist Zuill Bailey, accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony. Studly in a Euro-trashy way, Bailey has long dark hair and plays with great sensitivity and nimble fingers. After Sunday’s dazzling musical work-out, as I was trying to make my way through the throng and to the exit, I got the laugh I was looking for: An elderly gentleman with a cane shuffling through the lobby unwittingly pulled up next to me and stated rather matter-of-factly to no one in particular, “Well, I guess I’ll go home and burn my cello.” Zing! Anyone who’s aware of the current, dismal state of Hollywood cinema knows that the best you’re gonna get on your way out of the local AMC is “I want my friggin money back!” Thank goodness for high “kultur” — and smart-asses. ... Call for artists: Warehouse Gallery, a public space for pros, beginners, and all persons in between, is accepting submissions for its inaugural group show, 100 Ways to Love. The plan is to hang 100 works of various sizes and media by 100 different artists on the theme of love and “all its synonyms.” Every piece will be on sale for $20. Located at 1324 E. Lancaster Ave. in Fort Worth, Warehouse will be accepting submissions on Fri., from 6-9 p.m., and Sun., from 11 a.m. ’til 5 p.m. The show will run from Jan. 27 to Feb. 18. For more info, contact Iris Wilson at 817-534-3620 or e-mail warehousegallery@hotmail.com. ... I gotta give it to the Kimbell: Their new billboards are awesome. One of several for the museum’s current exhibit, Gauguin and Impressionism, features a detail from an impressionist painting near the words, “Know the artist? Are you sure?” The effect is simultaneously empowering and deflating — the response most of us likely have is, “Well, dear billboard, I have absolutely no idea who in the hell could have painted the image you’re showing me, but I’m flattered that you think I know!” The expansive exhibit claims to represent another, under-appreciated yet significant side of the titular painter. Co-curators Richard R. Brettell, from the University of Texas-Dallas, and Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark, director of Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen, argue that, while Gauguin may be well-known and -loved for his primativist depictions of quotidian life on the South Seas, he was actually integral to the development of Impressionism. You hear that? Yep, that’s the sound of a quarter-million Fort Worthians rolling their eyes. Oh, well — their loss. While the scholarship may border on groundbreaking, the art does a lot of talking, and when it’s done, Gauguin comes off looking like the peer of Degas, Cézanne, and Monet (not quite Pissarro, Gauguin’s mentor). See for yourself. Gauguin and Impressionism runs through March 26, at 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., in Fort Worth (817-332-8451).

Contact Kultur at kultur@fwweekly.com.

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