Super-Shiny Condos Force Nasher Sculpture Center to Close James Turrell Skyspace, Evacuate Picasso Painting

Dallas's controversial Museum Tower
(Courtesy the Nasher Sculpture Center)

DALLAS — With its light-filled open spaces, massive windows, and wood-lined floors, the Nasher Sculpture Center feels like the kind of place where visitors should whisper, or maybe meditate. Its director, Jeremy Strick, speaks quite softly indeed while walking through the airy corridors. It is difficult to imagine anything disturbing this serene, Renzo Piano-designed building or its eminently even-tempered director. But then, you look up.

Strick is currently embroiled in a bitter dispute with the park’s next-door neighbor, Dallas’s Museum Tower, a shiny luxury condominium rising high above the skylit Nasher. Reflections cast by the tower’s deliberately reflective surface — which are 200 percent more reflective than was permitted in a now-expired agreement between the original landowner and developer — are so intense that they are threatening the art on view at the Nasher. 

The effects are dramatic: Moving forward, the museum will not be able to install “anything polychrome, or anything with pigment that may be damaged by excessive light,” according to Strick. Almost a third of the Nasher’s permanent collection is comprised of paintings or drawings, which are now too delicate to go on view. “It will change our program and our business,” Strick told ARTINFO on a recent trip to Dallas. “At this point there are shows we can’t schedule, and works of art that won’t go on view.”

Already, the building has forced the museum to make major changes. Perhaps the most substantial occurred last year, but has been scarcely reported until now: James Turrell’s skyspace “Tending (Blue),” one of the institution’s signature sculptures, had to be closed permanently at the request of the artist after the rising Museum Tower impeded its uninterrupted view of the sky. “The whole idea of a skyspace is that you look up and see the sky, and see the colors and textures as the sky changes,” said Strick. “In effect, that work of art no longer exists.”

In response to the new atmospheric conditions generated by the shining Museum Tower, Turrell has designed a new skyspace on paper with a radically different shape, but the museum estimates that it will need more than $1.5 million to realize the work. In early negotiations, the Museum Tower expressed interest in contributing to the bill, but even those discussions have since taken a backseat to more pressing concerns about the building’s reflective surface, people familiar with the negotiations said.

The Nasher was also forced to draw a shade over the roof of the gallery that houses its current exhibition, “Elliott Hundley: The Bacchae” to protect the Los Angeles artist’s delicate assemblages, which incorporate photos and print clippings, from the beaming rays now flooding the Nasher’s galleries. “The gallery is dark now,” said Strick. Earlier this year, Picasso’s painting “Nude Man and Nude Woman” (1971) had to be removed from display at the Nasher to protect it from direct sunlight.

How does a museum go from being protected from direct sunlight to being fried by it? Piano’s patented honeycomb-patterned sunscreen, which runs along the Nasher’s roof, is designed at a precise angle to absorb the maximum amount of soft, full-spectrum sunlight. In the afternoons, when the hot Dallas sun beams down at the shiny Museum Tower, it ricochets off the surface and straight into the building and its neighboring sculpture garden. 

The architect of the Museum Tower is currently assessing possibilities to tweak the building. Renzo Piano, for his part, told D Magazine that the current situation "absolutely insane."

"It would have been difficult to create a design that would have been more harmful to the Nasher," said Strick. “To not have thought about the context goes against everything that architecture is supposed to do."

To see more photos capturing the light conditions at the Nasher, click here on the slide show