Artist vs. Developer

This is a story about a dispute between an artist, and a developer. Guess who won?

Whenever I'm in Houston or Dallas, I always try to work in a little fine art. And Nasher Sculpture Center is one of my favorite art spaces close to home, right up there with Houston's Rothko Chapel. I've always loved sculpture, and sculpture gardens even more for providing a quiet, serene place to contemplate and to breathe. My not-so-warm-and-fuzzy feelings about the Dallas/Ft. Worth area aside, the city's museum districts are refreshing cultural oases within a large, growing, conglomeration of big highways, ridiculously big buildings, and even bigger cars. 

Heatherwick Studio was the subject of the exhibition on that day. The London-based design team works with unexpected materials, constructing organic shapes, playing with form, shape, color, and luminosity. While a few of the studio's architectural projects jump out of their surroundings like cute alien-like creatures - like the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo, most of their work centers around building modern structures that both honor the environment and the surrounding landscape, and provide a forward-thinking bridge to the future of architecture.

This was ironic considering the hubbub surrounding artist James Turrell's skyspace at the far end of the Nasher garden. I was really looking forward to experiencing Turrell's work and was surprised to find that the installation had been closed by the artist because he deemed it ruined. What ruined it? An overwrought 50-story condo tower with super-reflective windows taking up shop across the street. Initially, I was suspicious as to how a neighboring building could cause the light to change so drastically that the artist felt compelled to close his work. But as I strolled through the garden, I was intermittently hit with what felt like rays off of a high-powered sun lamp between the garden's tree cover. It was cloying, obnoxious, and by the end of my visit, I had a splitting headache. The Nasher is a space that offers an antidote to a city lacking in natural beauty. And, now it's being choked out of its surroundings. What a shame.

It got me thinking about Austin - about the development that shows no signs of slowing down. Austin's not just expanding out, it's expanding up. It is unrecognizable to the place I moved just four years ago seeking a space to think, to create, to live without feeling claustrophobic. Turrell's spaces are such great places to meditate, think, see the sky without all the visual stimulation of the surrounding world. We need more of these quiet, beautiful spaces, and we're quickly losing the ground to put them on. 

At a recent CreativeMornings/Austin event, Brenton Johnson of Johnson's Backyard Garden had this to say on a related subject, "development is good, but save some land for the plants and animals." I was reminded of this post I left languishing in my drafts for months. I'd add one more thing to Brenton's list. We need to save some land for the plants, animals, and for art.

Austin, are you listening?