It’s a Sunday afternoon, and visitors to the Dallas Museum of Art are jockeying politely for position like golf spectators around the eighteenth hole. They’ve come to see the blockbuster “J. M. W. Turner,” a retrospective of the 55-year career of the nineteenth-century British landscape artist known as “the painter of light” and one of art history’s all-time greats (and not just by his own admission). With audio guides pressed to their ears, they move in a haphazard choreography, crowding in to spot the tiny elephant silhouetted on the horizon in Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps and stepping back to take in the enormity of The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 (at twelve feet wide, Turner’s largest canvas). If God is in the details, these congregants don’t want to miss any of them.
Singled out by Time magazine as one of the top ten exhibits of 2007 (it debuted at the National Gallery of Art in October), “J. M. W. Turner” is a greatest-hits compendium, with 140 oils and watercolors by the first father of Impressionism. The show’s presence in Texas, and at the DMA in particular, is a stroke not just of curating genius but also of fortune: Given the fragility and worth of the pieces, many on loan from the Tate Britain and several other museums and private collections, stateside organizers had to lobby Congress to double the indemnity for international loan exhibits before British lenders would ship anything across the Atlantic. Small wonder that on this busy Sunday the DMA’s hawkeyed security guards are on high alert, lest any noses brush canvas.
Wandering the warren of galleries, visitors scrutinize masterpieces never before seen in the U.S. or even together. In one of the more intimate rooms hang Turner’s depictions of the dramatic burning of the House of Lords and Commons, in London, in 1834, which he witnessed. The eleven watercolors and two oil paintings, evocative studies in the contrast of fire and sky, have not shared space since their days in his studio. Elsewhere, the inherent drama of Turner’s subjects—violent storms at sea, the aftermath of battle, natural catastrophes—inspires approving murmurs, then visceral reactions, as one well-heeled patron, then another, notices his shrewd observations (women rifling the pockets of the dead in The Field of Waterloo, children drowning as the slaveship Amphitrite sinks in Disaster at Sea). The crowd seems to sense that this is a once-in-a-lifetime viewing, and not merely because these masterpieces will likely never travel to America again. As DMA senior curator Dorothy Kosinski sums up, “Turner’s works are not just depictions of place but vehicles for the fears and emotions of humanity.” At the Dallas Museum of Art through May 18; 214-922-1200, dallasmuseumofart.org
An Urban Oasis
If there was ever a city in need of an eco-intervention, it’s Houston. Buffalo Bayou aside, the concrete morass of downtown—with its vitamin D-starved office drones and Tunnel travelers—has long spoken for itself. So now that Discovery Green, a $122-million twelve-acre park, is opening in all its oxygenating glory across from the George R. Brown Convention Center, it’s no wonder it is being heralded as a modern-day Eden. Here, at last, are the grassy knolls and one-hundred-year-old oak trees that will promote civic wellness (Houston ranks consistently as one of the fattest cities in the U.S.), advance community spirit, and stimulate economic development (if you build it, high-rise condos will come?).
That’s what city planners would have you hope, of course, but this is, in fact, one heckuva playground. Consider the expansive lawn for pickup football and picnics, the sizable pond with native wetland plants and an area for model boats, the jogging trail (hint, hint), the putting green, the boccie ball courts, the amphitheater, and the two restaurants, including the Grove, which recently opened to rave reviews for both its view and its menu. There’s even a programming director (Susanne Theis, who leaves her 25-year career as head of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art), who’ll oversee a nearly year-round schedule of concerts, film screenings, and farmers’ markets—and offer all these at once on the park’s opening free Family Day. It’s no Central Park, but Discovery Green is proof that Texas can actually unpave parking lots to put up a paradise. With Wi-Fi, naturally. Opening in Houston on April 13; 713-400-7336, discoverygreen.com
When Rose Garcia watches the floats go by at the Battle of Flowers parade—the founding event of Fiesta, San Antonio’s 117-year-old homage to the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto—she sees the breathtaking number of handmade crepe blossoms and thinks of the three generations of women whose fingers have crafted them. By the time the riot of color explodes onto Broadway Street each April, she and her family will have spent eight weeks, every day from eight to four-thirty, assembling nearly eight thousand blooms for a host of twenty floats.
The tradition began in 1928, when Rose’s mother made her first paper decorations for what is now the second-largest parade in the nation (behind Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses) and the only one produced entirely by women volunteers. Rose and her sister, Irene Almendarez—as well as two of their cousins and Irene’s daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter—have continued the family business, and on the first Wednesday of February, the women of Fiesta Floral meet at an old school building and set up their assembly line. One prepares the materials, another draws petal outlines, another cuts, another folds foil into the petal (so it will gleam in the sunlight), another wire-wraps the stems, another hangs the finished flowers from clotheslines, and so on ad infinitum.
“When we first start up, we walk out with achy fingers,” said Rose recently after a typical day of folding and cutting and wrapping. But the time away from houses, husbands, and kids is energizing. “This is like a vacation to me,” added Irene, who works full-time despite thrice-weekly dialysis. She’s been making the flowers since 1952, when she was in junior high. “It’s exciting to start teaching the next generation of girls,” she said. “It hasn’t been hard to keep the tradition going, because these girls are like me: They’re taking over their mama’s job.” In San Antonio from April 18 to 27 (Battle of Flowers on April 25) at various locations; 877-723-4378, fiesta-sa.org
Go to Arts and Culture for more than 170 other March events, including …
NCAA Men’s Final Four March Madness takes over the Alamodome as college hoops fans convene for the Big Dance. 4/5 & 4/7, ncaamarchmadness2008.com
Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival Foodies will be wined and dined by some of the state’s top culinary geniuses. 4/10–4/13, texaswineandfood.org
“John Alexander: A Retrospective” The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston showcases the Beaumont-born painter’s landscapes and still lifes. 4/13–6/22, mfah.org
Buccaneer Days Corpus Christi pays tribute to its swashbuckling history with an illuminated night parade, a rodeo, a carnival, and the dunking of the mayor. 4/23–5/4, bucdays.com