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Architecture360: Driving Thru the Nasher to Pay Homage to Our Downtown History

What does car culture mean to Dallas? A new exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center sparks a conversation.

This blog post originally appeared on the D Home Blog on Friday, April 18.

Ross Avenue has long been a thoroughfare important to Dallas and its downtown. Beginning in the 1890’s, it was our “Silk Stocking District,” THE place for merchants, doctors, lawyers, and a certain newspaper publisher named Belo to live.  With the advent of the automobile, it became “Automobile Row,” lined with car dealerships and service stations. Today, it remains a busy boulevard through the heart of downtown.

German-born artist Bettina Pousttchi makes her American museum debut at the Nasher Sculpture Center with a tribute to this neighborhood history. The Nasher occupies what was once a parking lot and Pousttchi has transformed one of its upstairs galleries into a “Drive Thru,” reminiscent of a pull-through garage or even beer barn. The gallery floor is “blacktopped” in black rubber with lane markings providing direction for the viewer as they walk/“drive” past masterpieces of the Nasher collection by Rodin, Giacometti, Lipchitz and others. (Including a John Chamberlain piece made of discarded automobile parts.) Pousttchi, too, is represented, appropriately enough by a sculpture made of contorted road barricades.

The transparent ends of the gallery are partially covered with a cross-hatch pattern which reminds one of scissor gates at the entrance to parking garages or service stations, or even the sunscreen on a mid-century modern carport.  The installation extends into the garden with additional Pousttchi sculptures made of barricades and bollards.  One need only look up past the roof of the Center to see the skyscrapers beyond which now define Ross Avenue.

We often bemoan Dallas “car culture” and a lack of walkability in our urban fabric.  Pousttchi doesn’t make that judgment in this work.  In interviews, she has said that she was fascinated by the difference between Dallas and her native Berlin and how the flat topography allows buildings to be more spread out. The result is more homage to downtown history than dismissal of our urban reality.

That said, the show provides a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss car culture and the automobile in Dallas.  What has it brought us—both good and bad?  Is the trend of having to drive to get somewhere growing stronger or fading out?  What do you see as the future of the automobile in our city? Certainly, debates about freeways and toll roads are currently at the forefront of the urban conversation.

On Friday, the Nasher was our Architecture360 "Place-A-Day'" and we beagn an online conversation about car culture in our area. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram at @DallasCFA and provide your input.  Hashtag is #DriveThruNasher. Look forward to your continued input to hear what YOU think.