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Converting Abandoned Buildings Into Art Spaces: City-Changing Phenomenon to be Examined in Dallas

BY // 10.27.17

Traditional museums often aren’t able to display massive sculptures or to provide the kind of breathing room required for experiential art, such as the light and space works of James Turrell. Even finding enough room to mount extensive shows by a single artist can be a challenge.

That’s where some contemporary art organizations are getting creative. Around the country, cavernous, abandoned warehouses are being repurposed into extraordinary venues with the kind of scale and scope necessary to present big art in a big way.

The Dallas Architecture Forum plunges into the phenomenon this month with Redefining Space for Art | Chinati and MASS MoCA, as a part of its annual Dallas Design Symposium. Jenny Moore, director of the Chinati Foundation, and Joseph Thompson, founding director of MASS MoCA, will speak.

Artist Donald Judd established the Chinati Foundation in 1979, converting metal artillery sheds on the site of a former military fort into minimalist spaces for his own sculptures. Permanent displays by Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg, and others followed. In 2016, artist Robert Irwin turned a long-abandoned army hospital on the property into a freestanding work of art, which also houses his large sculptures.

During the past 30 years, a vast complex of 19th-century mill buildings in North Adams, Massachusetts, has been converted into permanent exhibition spaces for outsized contemporary art. The town is home to MASS MoCA, or the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which holds one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world. Nearly an acre of interior walls in three stories of an historic mill building are devoted to Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, and there are other massive displays by Julianne Swartz, Stephen Vitiello, Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and others.

If you’re a James Turrell fan, Mass MoCA is the place to be — the legendary artist has nine immersive light and space installations here.

Elizabeth Anthony

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Sunday, November 5, 1:30 to 3:30 pm, at The Power Station. Patron cocktail reception Saturday evening, November 4, 6 to 8 pm, at the Nasher. Tickets to symposium and reception, $40 to $110. Information and tickets, dallasarchitectureforum.org.

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