Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth TX, designed by Tadao Ando (photo by Sheila Scarborough)I like nothing better than finding excellence in places that are dismissed by those who think they know excellence.

One of the largest contemporary and modern art museums in the US is not in New York; it’s the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The 2002 building that houses the collections was designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando; the glass boxes floating on a shallow reflecting pond are quite stunning. I wish we could have seen them at night (which you can on First Fridays, with live music and cocktails, or the free Tuesday Evening lectures and presentations.)

One of the best views of the complex is from the award-winning Cafe Modern inside the Museum.

The Modern is located in Fort Worth’s Cultural District; I visited recently with my daughter to see the first full-scale American museum survey of the work of contemporary artist Kara Walker.

Her cut-paper silhouettes on black paper look like pretty Victorian fripperies, until one carefully examines her quite explicit depictions of racial and sexual tension woven into powerful narratives of the antebellum South.  It’s almost too unnerving to look at closely, but I learned a lot by reading Walker’s typed thoughts on note cards, which are part of the exhibition. They appear to be how she “thinks out loud” about the history that she wants to portray.

My teenage daughter didn’t see the point of such emphasis on American slavery in an artist’s work (“OK, it was 200 years ago, she ought to get over it….”) but as Walker says, “As long as there’s a Darfur, as long as there are people saying, ‘Hey, you don’t belong here’ to others, it only seems realistic to continue investigating the terrain of racism.”

Modern art is edgy, unusual, controversial, often uncomfortable but always thought-provoking — that tradition continues proudly today in Fort Worth.

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