December 31, 2013
Our final true vacation day in Texas was spent visiting art museums and attending a New Year’s Eve concert in in downtown Fort Worth. (Originally we’d hoped to visit some of Wendy’s friends and relatives in the Arlington area on New Year’s Day, but weather intervened again with a winter storm headed for Bartlesville. So we had to pack up early on New Year’s Day to make it home before the storm hit.)
Gloria’s at Montgomery Plaza
We left San Antonio early on the day of New Year’s Eve as well, successfully beating the traffic from the Alamo Bowl, driving 270 miles north that morning to Fort Worth. We had lunch at Gloria’s Latin restaurant at Montgomery Plaza. I enjoyed my fajitas and Wendy enjoyed sampling a chicken tamale, pupusa, Yuca, fried plantain and gallo pinto on the Super Special plate. The restaurant is in a huge multi-story building (here’s a photo by Dave Hensley) which was built in 1928 and was the largest building in Texas at the time, a Montgomery Ward store and catalog center. It is a Mission Revival building with 12-inch solid concrete walls and is now condominiums, restaurants, and retail.
Kimbell Art Museum
After lunch we drove over to the Kimbell Art Museum, which was having a large exhibition of 100 works from the Art Institute of Chicago. We didn’t realize the scope of the exhibit and were frankly shocked to walk in and be standing a few feet from Picasso’s Old Guitarist, one of the most significant works of modern art. We’ve seen reproductions of it over the years, including slides in the art appreciation course I took in college, but I never thought I’d see it in person without visiting Chicago. Wendy was excited to see original works by Matisse, and she discovered Mondrian at this show. We overlap in our appreciation of the latter’s works, with me having a few old Mondrian prints I purchased back in college now tucked away in a bedroom closet. After the many fine “modern art” paintings from the early twentieth century which we saw at the McNay and the Kimbell on this trip, we are both spoiled.
Neither of us wanted to plod through the exhibit with the audioguides, opting to just dash through, weaving around the viewers transfixed for long periods in front of each work by the narration they held up to their ears.
We couldn’t snap photos of the visiting show, but the permanent collection was fair game. I liked Jacques-Louis David’s Anger of Achilles, although Achilles’ expression doesn’t register as anger for me. The Kimbell has a fairly extensive webpage on the work. I snapped Piet Mondrian’s Composition as well; here’s the Kimbell’s take on it.
Wendy liked the Mixtec Rain God Vessel, which was created more than 600 years ago, along with the much older Standing Dignitary figurine from Peru with its inlays of mother-of-pearl, purple and orange spondylus shell, mussel shell, turquoise, pyrite, greenstone, lapis lazuli, and silver. Kudos to the Kimbell for their great website descriptions of their collection.
Part of the permanent collection is in the recently opened pavilion designed by Renzo Piano. The main building is a famous design by Louis Kahn and the addition also uses concrete walls and innovative use of natural overhead light. I’m not a fan of Kahn’s monolithic style and am put off by so much bare concrete, although his skylights at the Kimbell are quite nice. For me, the best part of the new pavilion is the use of wood in the beams and flooring, warming the space, and the soft, natural, overhead lighting in some of the galleries.
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
I’ve enjoyed past visits to the neighboring modern art museum, but this visit was a disappointment. None of the visiting works impressed me, with most of them striking me as shrill, angry, obvious, and reflecting little technical skill. I was sad to see that the nifty Ladder for Booker T. Washington was no longer on display, but in its place was an interesting three-dimensional piece of stones and bits of glass suspended mid-air on uniformly arranged strings. Outside I could still enjoy Roxy Paine’s Conjoined.
The most memorable part of our visit at this museum was when a patron ahead of us at the admission booth balked at the lack of an audioguide. The ensuing conflict between him and his wife about this was an amusing interlude for us, but not for them.
Our next stop was the Water Gardens designed by Philip Johnson in the 1970s. I hadn’t visited this spot in years and it was Wendy’s first time to see the area. We were annoyed by the dearth of adjacent parking; we finally found a meter south on Lancaster, but had to scale the large walls to enter from that way. Clearly the design was intended more for the adjacent convention center than other visitors, unlike the more accessible and child-friendly Keller Fountain Park I’ve visited in Portland, Oregon.
We saw the dramatic Active Pool first, which was featured in the old Logan’s Run movie. I enjoyed taking the open steps down 38 feet to the bottom with the dramatic cascades about me, pouring 10,500 gallons per minute into the central pool. Wendy, who is always more safety-conscious than this testoterone-addled guy, found it a treacherous spot, especially for children. There’s a reason this sort of architecture is called brutalist!
The Aerating Pool was less interesting with its array of sprinklers; it would be much more popular, especially in summer, if it were designed for kids to roam about in.
Wendy’s favorite spot was the Quiet Pool with its tranquil rows of cypress trees and serene stillness. The “knees” growing about the cypress trees and the pool wall were fascinating.
When planning this trip I wanted our first New Year’s Eve together to be something special, and I found a suitable event in downtown Fort Worth. I never want to drive on the night of New Year’s Eve, so I booked us a pricey room at the Courtyard by Marriott Blackstone. This 1929 skyrise hotel eventually fell on hard times, sitting vacant for decades, but was gutted and rebuilt for a reopening in 1999. It is less than a block from Bass Hall where the evening’s festivities would occur, so it was perfect for our needs.
Due to its location, the hotel depends on valet parking in area garages. Being used to carrying a pack on long day hikes, I despise paying for valet parking; I’d rather just haul my luggage in myself and spare the expense and delays. Thankfully Wendy is just as willing to lug it with our rolling suitcases, so we scouted around and finally found an available public garage a few blocks away. We rolled into the lobby, which has few traces of the original design, and found our 15th floor room to be quite modern and comfortable.
New Year’s Eve with Steve Lippia
We had dinner at the Flying Saucer bar off Sundance Square, grabbing a table before the 6 p.m. reservations kicked in. I enjoyed my French Dip and Wendy had Honey Dipped Chicken. Then we went to the beautiful Bass Hall, with those impressive 48-foot-tall angels sculpted by Marton Varo adorning the front.
I’ve been to Bass Hall twice before to see Pink Martini perform, but tonight it would be Steve Lippia doing Sinatra songs. From our seats in the hall we spotted festive balloons up against the 80-foot-diameter dome, which was beautifully painted by Scott and Stuart Gentling.
Steve Lippia gave a terrific professional performance, with many fun anecdotes and comments on the songs and their arrangements, and we were delighted when he performed our song, I’ve Got You Under My Skin. The Chairman of the Board came back to life to serenade us!
We were too road-weary to participate in the later festivities at Sundance Square, but enjoyed them from on high when the fireworks rose into view from our hotel room, appearing from behind the beautifully lit Sinclair Building with its eagle finials. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful winter break in Texas.