The Art of Ornament: The Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall
To celebrate the opening of the new Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, the Kimbell Art Museum exhibited 40 proposed designs for the decorative program of the Hall by Fort Worth artists Stuart and Scott Gentling and Hungarian-born sculptor Marton Varo.
The Art of Ornament: The Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall was on view from April 11 through May 31, 1998, in the Museum’s east gallery on the lower level.
Thirty-six preparatory sketches, drawings, watercolors, and paintings by the twin Gentling brothers revealed the evolution of various artistic motifs for the murals on the Great Dome in the Founders Concert Theater and the Corner Domes crowning the East and West Grand Foyers of the entrance hall, as well as the proposed ideas for the decoration of the proscenium arch and the sidewalls of the theater and mosaics for the façade of the building. Also on display were Varo’s two life-size working models and two smaller competition studies for the monumental heralding angels that adorn the Grand Façade of the Hall, sculpted in Texas Cordova Creme limestone.
Edward P. Bass, Chairman of Performing Arts Fort Worth, and the driving force behind Bass Performance Hall, said that when the time came to decide on artwork for the Hall, the 55-year-old Gentlings were the first artists considered.
“We had to look no further for the level of sophistication, expertise, creativity, and skill needed to provide integral artistic elements to an extraordinary architectural design.”
In describing the artworks in this installation by his brother and himself, Stuart Gentling said:
“Bass Performance Hall was designed as a multipurpose theater to serve as a venue for symphonic music, opera, dance, drama, and musical theater. After many discussions with Ed Bass and design architect David Schwarz, we decided on a decorative program that would deal symbolically with the artistic process itself and thus pay homage to all the arts. Ed Bass, a great admirer of our folio Of Birds and Texas (1986), requested that we also include Texas natural history imagery where possible—Texas birds, mammals, and vegetation. In our decorations, by making liberal use of laurel and grapevine motifs—in this case the Texas red bay laurel and our local mustang grape—we have introduced associations with the realms of the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysos.”
For the two-tiered, 82-foot-high Great Dome—more than three-quarters the size of the dome at the State Capitol in Austin—Scott Gentling designed a mural depicting a wreath of white feathered wings embracing a central occulus of vivid Texas sky, signifying at the highest focal point in the theater the transcendent spirit of the performing arts.
The East Corner Dome, conceived by the Gentlings as an orderly vine of laurel leaves beneath a vivid sunrise of early morning light, pays homage to the god Apollo, who in ancient Greek mythology represents logic, harmony, and reason.
Across the Grand Lobby, the West Corner Dome depicts grapes and grape leaves dramatically intertwined beneath a stormy and passionate evening sky in homage to Apollo’s alter ego, Dionysos, who represents intuition, emotion, and passion.
Together, for Scott and Stuart Gentling, the Corner Domes represent the bicameral worlds of art—when the intellectual and the visceral come together in proper balance to create the best possible art. Other murals and sculptural elements are under study for future integration as schedules and budget permit.
According to Marton Varo, winner of the competition to design and carve the 48-foot angel reliefs on the Hall’s façade: “To me, angels represent the rediscovery of beauty and the triumph of the human spirit.”
He sculpted individual pieces of the angels—each with 13-foot brass trumpets and wings rising 30 feet in height—from 104 blocks of limestone over a two-year period in his outdoor studio in Irvine, California. Other examples of the 54-year-old sculptor’s work can be seen in Budapest, Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, and Dallas (Plaza of the Americas).
The Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall was built entirely with privately contributed funds. The 2,056-seat hall is home to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, the Fort Worth Opera, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and some presentations of Casa Mañana Theatre. The formal public dedication of Bass Performance Hall was held on May 1, 1998.
Caption: Scott Gentling, Great Dome of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, 1998