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Texas: From pop art to Picasso

Cadillac Ranch, courtesy Amarillo CVC

With the sharp fins of half-buried Cadillacs slicing the horizon, a cattle stampede realistically rumbling your theater seat and movie sets unexpectedly displayed in an art museum, Texas museums are as varied as the landscape itself.

Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch is an unusual and creative tribute to America’s obsession for cars and the West. Buried nose first to about midhood, a row of 10 Cadillacs, from a 1949 Club Sedan to a 1964 Sedan de Ville, face west on the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo.

Better yet, visitors can leave their own creative marks with a can of spray paint — which they are encouraged to do. The Caddies are regularly repainted.

“I’ve been out there many times, and the art constantly changes,” said Eric Miller, director of communications at the Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council. “After they’re repainted, the cars quickly turn different colors again as people decorate them.”

Dreamed up in 1970s by Stanley Marsh III, a successful Amarillo businessman; his wife; and a San Francisco hippie design firm, the Ant Farm, the upturned Cadillacs remind onlookers of a modern Stonehenge. The idea evolved over time.

“One of the Ant Farmers had been talking about Cadillac fins and how they looked entirely different if you weren’t looking at them horizontally,” said Marsh. “Instead, we lined them up so that the tail fins would cut the horizon line, since that is, by far, the dominant feature in the Texas Panhandle.

“When I was a kid, everybody I knew wanted to get a Cadillac and hit the road to Las Vegas or California and be a movie star. Cadillac Ranch is about the American dream and going west.”
Signs aren’t necessary at the Arnot Road exit on Interstate 40, the former Route 66. “It’s always there and always open,” said Miller.

The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, five blocks from the state Capitol, recounts Texas’ compelling story using multimedia, more than 700 artifacts and hands-on exhibits.

“The Star of Destiny” film boasts seven movie screens and 4-D special effects that allow theatergoers to feel the rumble of a cattle stampede, experience a Texas-size hurricane and witness the buzz of crop-eating locusts.

Across the street on the University of Texas campus, the Blanton Museum’s stark white walls and expansive, white limestone flooring accented by walnut-stained beech wood, give the museum an ethereal quality. The museum’s extensive collection of nearly 16,000 prints span the 15th century to the present and include work by every major printmaker from Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt to Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns. It also has nearly 1,500 drawings.

B Scene events, held the first Friday of each month, include live music, refreshments and short tours.

Another noteworthy stop on the University of Texas campus is the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which traces the personal and public lives of President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, whose 11-week courtship began over coffee at the iconic Driskill Hotel.

McNay Art Museum
San Antonio
Visitors expect Texas history in San Antonio. What they might not be looking for is world-class art. The McNay Art Museum, founded in 1954 as Texas’ first modern art museum, owns 20,000 works in what once was the home of Marion McNay.

Upon her death in 1950, McNay left her collection of more than 700 works of art, along with her house, her 23-acre estate and an endowment to establish this institution.

Today, the museum has a significant contemporary art collection as well as modern art, outdoor sculpture and one of the largest print and drawing collections in the Southwest.

The McNay collection of theater arts, sets and costume design as it relates to theater production remains the largest of its kind housed in a U.S. museum.

Visitors can wander through the 24-room Spanish colonial-revival mansion and view 19th- through 21st-century European and American paintings, sculptures and photographs.

McNay also collected Southwest art. One of the first paintings she acquired was by Mexican painter Diego Rivera. It sparked her interest in collecting and remains significant, because it was one of the earliest works by the important 20th-century artist.

“Part of the McNay experience is to see the art but also to be in her home and to appreciate the love she had for creativity,” said Daniela Oliver-Portillo, public relations and marketing manager for the McNay Art Museum. “People are fascinated and surprised, because they don’t expect such a rich and varied collection.”

In 2008, the 45,000-square-foot Stieren Center, built by internationally renowned French architect Jean-Paul Viguier, allowed for more traveling exhibitions.

Among the many exhibits scheduled in 2011, spring’s “New Image Sculpture” will feature re-created objects from everyday hardware store items such as a chandelier created out of Styrofoam.

In summer, “George Nelson: Architect, Designer, Writer, Teacher” highlights the work of this 1950s to 1960s designer. Fall brings “The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854-1918.” It will showcase the Mississippi Museum of Art’s collection of more than 130 objects, exploring Japan’s artistic stamp on American culture.

An American icon
Amarillo’s newly renovated American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to the American quarter horse.

The museum tells about the multiple uses of the quarter horse as a working horse on ranches, as a racehorse, for pleasure riding and in show competitions.

The museum features include an outdoor life-size sculpture collection, examples of tack and grooming supplies set in a gallery that resembles horse stables, the hall of fame and a timeline weaving world history with that of the quarter horse.

“They basically went in and gutted the entire facility,” said Eric Miller, director of communications for the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Counci.

For more about Texas:

Even the outdoors is bigger

From pop art to Picasso
It’s high time for a Lone Star wine tasting

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.