The Nasher and Museum Tower Should Just Take This Fight to Court Where it Belongs

Sometime, just as a study of American photo journalism in print media today, go to the web site of the Dallas Morning News and take a good gander at the pictures they have published recently of anybody having anything at all to do with the Nasher Sculpture Center, and compare them to photos of anybody having anything at all to do with the the Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund.

Just saying. Of course you know that the sculpture museum and the pension fund are locked in battle over accusations that Museum Tower, the fancy new condo tower built by the fund, is reflecting damaging light rays onto the museum. The museum is a huge favorite of the News and the Dallas mink-stole art crowd. The fund is sometimes a piggy bank for the same folks when they need its money for their own projects, but in social terms it lacks panache. Look it up.

The News sort of pretends on the surface to be covering the dispute evenhandedly, but if you know nothing more of the principals than what you see in Morning News photos, you must come to a startling conclusion: the sculpture museum is run by really cool guys like director Jeremy Strick, pictured standing jaunty and hands-in-pockets next to a Claes Oldenburg joke sculpture looking like Ben Affleck with a butch. The pension fund, on the other hand, appears to be run entirely by ogres.

Look, I feel sorry for some of these dudes, so I'm not going to name the pension fund officials and board members who look the worst in the paper's depictions of them, but let me share a bit of newspaper know-how with you, based on a way-too-long career of it. You can make almost anybody look awful if you get on the floor between their legs and shoot straight up over the belly with a perspective traveling deep into the nasal passages and a sharp focal point directly on individual nose hairs.

For the most part, very few of us are Ben Affleck. There's a reason he's in the movies and we are not. Any of us can be made to look like we were created by Maurice Sendak, especially when they focus on the insides of our noses.

The latest story is that the museum has been forced to drape its roof with some kind of shroud to prevent the pension fund building's reflected glare from spoiling an installation of the works of Kenneth Price. (See correction below.)

A story about it in the News over the weekend included another threat by museum officials to take their sculptures and blow town, moving to some other city if Dallas won't do what they want. The museum wants the pension fund to cover its building with a new skin. The pension fund wants the museum to cover itself with a new roof. And there you have it.

In the same story, reference also was made to the likelihood of litigation. I can't think of a nicer crowd for that to happen to. In fact, isn't this exactly why we have courts and lawsuits? Is court not a far better place to hammer this out than doing it through this process of invidious social pressure via the Morning News? Did the powers-that-be in this town just stop growing up after they left their fraternities and sororities?

Take it to court. Punch it out. I'd love to know what the real issues are, not merely in terms of the properties involved but also the question of how this happened. The pension fund always insists its building was fully permitted by the city to look exactly the way it does and to set off as big a glare as it does. Is that really true? Let's get some city officials in the dock and work it out down to the brass tacks.

The Nasher paints itself as a billion dollar gift to the city, now suffering a massive diminution in value because of the pension fund's condo tower. If that is even somewhat true, let's get it into court and force the pension fund to fork over every penny.

But here's the other side of the penny. The News and other proponents of the museum's cause have been quick to suggest that any mink-stole types who know what's good for them will think twice about buying one of the seven-figure condos currently being flogged in the condo tower. There has even been a bit of gloating over what may be slow sales at the tower.

If the Nasher has been hyping its case, using the News as a bludgeon for a little tortious interference with the condo sales, then the pension fund has a fiduciary duty to its subscribers to sue the socks off the Nasher. Even if the fund sells the tower sometime soon, it should still pursue compensation for whatever kind of a haircut it believes the Nasher has inflicted on it. Judging by the photos, it might be a butch.

Can we just get take this thing to court and get the whole mess out of the realm of SMU pledge night? Give Larry Friedman a chunk of it. Get Reed Prospere in there somewhere. How about Tom Mills? Somehow Royce West needs to make an appearance. Let's suit up the gladiators and put some splatter on the walls.

Last thing: what should you do if you ever do find yourself on the short end of the stick with the Morning News photo staff? This is why you see those people in the paper with their shirts pulled up over their heads. As bad as that may look, it's better than what the News will do to you. And by the way: if you think they may be shooting video with sound, repeat the F-word as fast as you can without stopping.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly asserted that the Nasher had previously only accused the tower of affecting its outdoors space, and that this latest accusation marked an "escalation." In fact, the first story about the dispute in The Dallas Morning News last March included charges by the Nasher that its indoor galleries were seriously impaired by reflected light from Museum Tower.

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