Art scores a touchdown at Cowboys Stadium

SMU Art Professor Michael Corris writes about the art at Cowboys Stadium.

Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

ARLINGTON – The painter Ad Reinhardt once quipped that if you began to pray in front of an altarpiece on display in a museum, the guards would most likely show you the exit. The point he was making is that for art, context trumps content.

How we engage with art, how we respond to objects and images as art, and what art eventually means to us has a great deal to do with where we encounter it. This is especially true for much contemporary output that doesn't necessarily adhere to those values traditionally associated with art: beauty, craftsmanship and narrative.

With a capacity for 100,000 people and an area of 3 million square feet, Cowboys Stadium is no ordinary venue. Not for sports, not for entertainment and certainly not for art.

Imagine the conundrum faced by Jerry Jones and family when they took the bold step to commission art for the Dallas Cowboys' new home. These works would have to stand up to the scale of this awesome coliseum. They would have to be striking. But they would also have to be meaningful in their own right while presenting an appropriate prelude to the spectacle of the games to come.

Jones neatly summarized the challenge when he said, "There has got to be meat on the bone." The triumph of the stadium collection is that it won't let visitors remain indifferent to the art. Here, context doesn't trump content. On the contrary, the stadium's architecture and purpose make the art sing.

The art that has been commissioned – officials won't reveal a dollar amount for the collection – responds both to the site and theme of competition in sport. The challenge for artists is to communicate their interpretation of that theme while remaining sensitive to the environment of the stadium.

Among the offerings:

  • Annette Lawrence's Coin Toss is a lyrical interpretation of the moment of drama at the start of every game. Located above an entry to the main concourse, Lawrence's steel cables are a delicate counterpoint to the sheer expanse of vertical space.
  • Ricci Albenda's Interior Landscape, Full Spectrum is a 131-foot-long perceptual puzzle, composed of a series of brightly colored panels that break up the linear expanse and tickle the functionality of the monochrome-tiled concourse wall. Again, artwork stands in dialogue to the site, provoking us to consider it afresh.
  • Terry Haggerty's Two Minds is of similarly gigantic scale and even more powerful in transforming the rectilinear wall into a pulsing flow of red and white stripes.
  • Matthew Ritchie's Line of Play takes another tack, making a conceptual connection between the game of football and art. Ritchie's composition is a free-form elaboration of graphic notations used by coaches to diagram plays. Its serpentine forms travel up the walls and ceiling of an entryway to the main concourse, creating a glorious theater of memory, a composite image that might appear in the mind's eye of every quarterback.
  • Lawrence Weiner's Brought Up to Speed is an arrangement of texts that transform the physical and material aspects of the game into a kind of poetry. Weiner's phrases are as crisp and evocative as those of a sportscaster's. Like the best of the artwork the stadium has to offer, it forces the viewer to fill in the gaps and in a sense, complete it for themselves.

This sense of engagement between the public and the art recalls art historian Ernst Gombrich's powerful idea of "the beholder's share." This is the work the spectator is asked to do in the presence of art.

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