The administrators and curators at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth are a quiet bunch.
They don't make huge pronouncements of multimillion-dollar acquisitions, announce comings and goings of personnel, or hog the cultural limelight. The institution does not have the deep pockets of the Kimbell, staff rarely leaves, and there is no need to shout the museum's praises, as its constant stream of visitors does that for them.
On the 10th anniversary of the Modern's new location, though, they are breaking form and doing a bit of self-congratulatory crowing, and rolling out significant purchases made over the past few years in anticipation of the anniversary celebration.
The Modern at 10 has become so embedded in the fabric of the city that it has become the cultural clubhouse. It hosts more than just art exhibitions; it has become the place to attend alternative film festivals and contemporary dance performances, hear lectures, and listen to music of all stripes. The Modern's schedule, and its hallways and galleries, are full.
This week, the Modern is celebrating all it has become with a huge gala Thursday evening. Even with tickets costing $1,000-$5,000, there was no shortage of takers. The museum is deeply appreciated. The love is reciprocated. Throughout the remainder of the year and well into 2013, the Modern will be showing off its recent acquisitions.
The new artworks have been bought over the past several years through careful allocation of the acquisition budget, says chief curator Michael Auping, who wanted a combination of pieces from artists who are now dead and whose works are appreciating rapidly, and from mid-career artists whose work he admires.
From the expensive and getting-more-so group, he purchased a Sol LeWitt wall drawing that is applied in red, yellow and blue colored pencils directly to the gallery wall according to LeWitt's signed specifications. It took the installation crew more than three weeks to create Wall Drawing #50A (1970) , which is more than 16 feet long. It has been installed in a "private little area," says Auping, "as it will be up for a number of years."
A second piece by Dan Flavin has entered the permanent collection, which is a good thing, as his sculpture of woven-looking yellow and blue florescent light tubes, which hangs across a corner and emanates yellow, blue and green glows, will help explain the first Flavin owned by the Modern, The Diagonal of May 25 (1963) . That single white florescent tube hanging on the wall at a diagonal elicits grunts of displeasure from some gallery viewers. Maybe another Flavin will expand the understanding of light consciousness.
From Column B, Auping's most significant purchase is a piece from 62-year-old conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. She is known for her text-based works using messages or aphorisms spelled out in lights in a continual loop. Auping acquired her series of "truisms" and has installed Kind of Blue in the middle pavilion (next to the home gallery for Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear), which will be its semipermanent home.
This destination gallery needed an engaging piece, and Holzer's hundreds of text messages in an ever-changing visual display should work well here. Her "truisms," such as MONEY CREATES TASTE, YOUR OLDEST FEARS ARE THE WORST ONES and SLIPPING INTO MADNESS IS GOOD FOR THE SAKE OF COMPARISON, will be in English and Spanish.
The entire cycle takes 10 hours to scroll by. The lighted text seems to roll right into the pond, changing the whole dynamic of the views from the cafe and within the gallery. Holzer will be at the Modern at the Tuesday Evenings lecture series this week to talk about her art practice.
Monumental pieces from two West Coast artists have been added to the permanent collection: Mark Bradford's Kingdom Day (2010), which looks like an aerial map of Southern California with a virulent haze of riot flames emanating from charred neighborhoods, and Robyn O'Neil's 14-foot-wide charcoal drawing of an ocean with a tiny figure suspended over it, These Final Hours Embrace At Last; This Is Our Ending, This Is Our Past (2007).
A new video and sound installation by Bruce Nauman, Studio Mix, will join the artist's Setting a Good Corner (Allegory and Metaphor) for a total of two Nauman videos in the permanent collection, while Howard Hodgkin's total is now up to three. His recent painting Ice (2008-10) has been acquired.
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts, a 2011 portrait, has been added to the ongoing photographic series by Nicholas Nixon of his wife and her three sisters. The 2012 portrait has been taken and will soon join the chronological lineup of aging and the family dynamic that began in 1975, says Auping.
Fort Worth artist Vernon Fisher gave the Modern an anniversary gift, The Coriolis Effect, his large text and neon piece from the Modern's 2010 retrospective "Vernon Fisher: K-Mart Conceptualism."
It is not difficult to lure works into the museum. Artists like the way their art looks inside the Modern. Tadao Ando, the building's architect, was extremely generous when he designed the galleries, making his contribution recede so that the art becomes the star. He commented on this when he came to Fort Worth in late October as part of the anniversary festivities.
"In museum and art galleries, the art space should be the core so that audiences and visitors appreciate whatever art pieces are inside. I wanted the galleries to make any art look better. I designed those spaces for artists," he said. "Of course, the lobby is my space."
At 10 years old, Ando's building is still considered new.
But the Kimbell, across the street, is hardly old at 40, and already has to expand. To do so, a new building was added to the site. What if the Modern runs out of space? What if 30 years from now it, too, has to expand?
"Buildings change," Ando says pragmatically. "It's acceptable to expand."
Gaile Robinson is the Star-Telegram art and design critic, 817-390-7113