Maybe everyone else already knew this and I’m coming late to the party, but the Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium houses a major contemporary art collection. Way to go Dallas! More accurately, way to go Jerry Jones (team owner) and Gene Jones. Cool concept to begin with, bringing art and football together — highly unlikely bedfellows. I am sure it reflects completely unsubstantiated bias on my part that I think it’s particularly cool that this is at the Cowboys’ stadium, so we won’t go there, but Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders + Jenny Holzer…
When the stadium first opened in 2009 there were 14 site specific commissioned works. The collection now boasts 21 works. It even has its own app.
In Ryan Sachetta’s article on the collection, “Contemporary Art and Fake Populism at Cowboys Stadium”, he conveys skepticism about the merit of the project given that most visitors to the stadium do not actually look at the art. He has some good points, but I don’t think art in an art museum vs. art at Cowboys stadium has to be an either or situation. To expect that people have to be looking at the art for the collection to be a valid enterprise presumes a somewhat narrow view of the value of public art. Public art serves, among other things, three primary functions. First, it suggests that it is worth investing your environment with visual culture, that what a space looks like matters. Second, it reflects a literal investment by major benefactors of a perhaps unexpected community in the production of art. When Jerry Jones spent over a billion dollars building the Cowboys a new stadium, a portion of that went to support the livelihood of artists. Sachetta suggests that the art collection may be nothing more than an excuse to justify raising ticket prices. Okay, so? No one is making you buy that ticket. If you buy it, presumably you think it’s worth that much to attend a game. The amount of money Americans spend on professional sports is, in my opinion, wildly out of proportion to spending on most other fronts. Athletes are paid astronomical sums of money. Whatever else you say about Jones, I’m glad he decided to direct some portion of that to support of the arts. And third, it brings art to an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to it. It brings art directly into people’s lives without a separate trip to a museum. You can’t force the audience to look at or engage with it, nor should you. That’s not the kind of country we live in. It is enough just to present the opportunity. The rest is up to the individual. At one point Sachetta recounts that he asked a staff member if fans ever stopped to look at one of the works. The answer was “not at all” but also that the staff member himself “loved” the work. To me, that’s enough.
It looks like if you are both an art lover and a football fan, you get a good deal for the price of your football ticket. If you want to have a tour of the collection during off-times, the cost is $22 for a guided tour or $14 for a self-directed audio tour. I am perfectly happy to watch a football game — as painful as this year’s Super Bowl was — but Jenny Holzer’s installation may be the most awesome use of a jumbotron I have ever seen. Holtzer’s project for the stadium also challenges the football goer to look at the role of contemporary art in an entirely unexpected way. Holzer has selected a series of her Truisms to appear on the jumbotron’s 70 yard screen at specific moments during games. Can you imagine? One moment you are seeing highlights of the plays on the field and then you are looking at a black screen on which, in bold white letters, all caps, the words “Don’t Place Too Much Trust in Experts” come zooming toward you. Yet that is precisely what happened during a test run of the piece at the Cowboys’ game on December 24.
My personal favorites (besides the Jenny Holzer) include Trenton Doyle Hancock’s From a Legend to a Choir, Mel Bochner’s Win!, Gary Simmons’ Blue Field Explosions, Doug Aitken’s Star, Wayne Gonzales’ “Cheering Crowd”, and Matthew Ritchie’s Line of Play. The complete collection can be seen at the stadium website.