Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 16, 2017
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Lone Star ART

Dallas' multicultural museums are not what you'd expect in a city of oil barons and cattle kings

Dallas to most people means the Cowboys and J.R Ewing. And considering its major draws are shopping (Nieman Marcus' flagship store is here), dining (more restaurants per capita than New York) and a bigger theme park than Disneyland (Six Flags Over Texas), it's not surprising that the city isn't much more than a barely discernible series of strip malls, steakhouses and skyscrapers. So what's an MD to do during the off hours of a medical conference here? Well, the Big D (as locals call it) has more than primetime soap operas and a notorious NFL team to offer, thank you very much. The city's been touting its artistic offerings lately and although it's not exactly the cultural mecca other American cities are, there are a few museums that are more than just diversions. Of course, there are several to choose from, so we've narrowed it down to four must-sees.

Let (Artistic) Freedom Ring
The African American Museum (3536 Grand Avenue at Fair Park; tel: 214-565-9026). This rather small gallery may not seem like much, but sadly enough it is the only African American museum in the entire southwestern United States. Still, the building is filled with a wonderful collection of both fine and folk art, African objects and historical documents and photographs. The folk art section -- one of the largest in the country -- is particularly good, with works by David Butler and Bessie Harvey, among others. Contemporary paintings include pieces by well-known artists like Jacob Lawrence and Edward M. Bannister (who was actually born in Nova Scotia). African objects include a number of furniture pieces, including several works by Thomas Day, as well as baskets, pottery, sculpture and masks.

Photographs, posters, advertisements, manuscripts and other memorabilia -- derived from sources like the Texas Black Women's History Archives Collection, the Dallas County Black Political Archives, the Bishop College Archives and the Sepia Magazine Photographic Archives -- are also on display.

Open Tuesday to Friday, noon to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm. Admission is free.

Ladies First
The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future (3800 Parry Avenue at Fair Park; tel: 214-915-0861; www.thewomensmuseum.org). Try not to be put off by the hilarious statue of Venus rising from a cactus at the entrance. It probably wouldn't be as strikingly odd if it weren't in front of this Smithsonian-affiliated project -- it's more Lady Godiva than Gloria Steinem. The inside is markedly different: soaring ceilings, a cantilevered staircase and steel trusses. At the end of the Art Deco lobby is a 10.5-metre electronic quilt, a patchwork of photos, quotes, colours and videos that uses still and moving images drawn from the permanent exhibits. The first display I visited was the "Time Capsule," and my heart sank. The glass case contains items that were supposed to be important in women's lives in both 1900 and 2000, although I failed to see how a silver hand-held mirror and a DVD copy of Erin Brockovich played important roles in the lives of anyone. Luckily, the other 11 exhibits aren't as trite. "Milestones in Women's History," from the 1500s up to the present, is a timeline that marks significant breakthroughs or events made or spurred on by women. "Unforgettable Women" is a selection of 38 women in 12 categories like Visionaries, Mavericks and Trailblazers, Innovators and Artists and Pioneering Women. Each category has its own case, which features memorabilia and biographical information for a few women, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Sanger and Susan B. Anthony.

Other more interactive exhibits include the "Poetry and Music Listening Room," which features the voices of Dorothy Parker, Lauryn Hill, Janis Joplin and Maya Angelou. I suspect the reason country trio the Dixie Chicks were tossed into this mix has more to do with the fact that they're Texans than their creative influence.

"Words That Changed Our Lives" pays homage to Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Betty Friedan and Rita Mae Brown, among others. "Funny Women" is a mock screening room that features acts by female comedians. The other exhibits salute women in business, healthcare, sports and religion. "It's Amazing" is perhaps one of the most fun exhibits; a glass labyrinth of images that explores past and present racial and gender stereotypes and norms juxtaposed with images of women that defied these biases.

The museum is meant as a celebration of women's achievements, which of course means issues like rape, abortion and domestic violence are neatly sidestepped. Only a nod appears in "It's Amazing," which displays a copy of Barbara Kruger's famous Your Body Is a Battleground and in a mention of the opening of the first battered women's shelter in "Milestones in Women's History." It's not exactly groundbreaking, but when all's said and done, it's certainly worth a visit and it's no small feat that a project like this even got off the ground in the Bible Belt.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm and from 10am to 9pm on Tuesday. Admission: $US5 for adults, $US4 for students aged 13 to 18, $US3 for kids under 12 and free for kids under five years old. Free after 5pm on Tuesday.

East Meets West
The Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art (2010 Flora Street; tel: 214-979-6440; www.crowcollection.com). This widely respected collection is the loving labour of a real-estate tycoon and his wife. Of the 4000 pieces the couple amassed, 500 or so belong to the gallery, which displays 300 on a rotating basis, including paintings, metal and stone objects and large architectural items from Japan, China, Southeast Asia and India. The Crows' jade collection -- from early Ming dynasty to the late Qing dynasty -- is one of the largest in the US at 1200 pieces. About 120 are on display at the museum, many of them intricately carved decorative pieces, including a gorgeous white and green elephant on a gilt and enamel stand from the Qing dynasty.

 

You'll want to set aside at least half a day to inspect everything, but among the things you shouldn't miss are a tri-colour glazed earthenware caparisoned horse from eighth-century Tang dynasty China, the 16th-century gilded bronze head of a Buddha from Thailand, the flawless rock crystal sphere on a silver and gilt stand from 19th-century Meiji Japan and an intricately carved 8.5-by-3.6-metre sandstone facade of an 18th-century Mughal home from northern India.

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm and until 9pm on Thursday. Admission is free.

Conspiracy Theories
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm Street; tel: 214-747-6660; www.jfk.org).

Dallas holds the dubious distinction of being the city in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Whether or not it's in poor taste to turn the death of a president into a cash cow, it's still worth visiting the old Texas School Book Depository that is now The Sixth Floor Museum (a reference to the floor from which the gunshots came). This isn't art -- although locals might like to downplay the city's role in American history, it's nevertheless a fascinating and thorough examination of the event that shaped a nation.

The contents of the museum are divided into a kind of timeline, beginning with an introduction to the major social movements, political events and climate of the '60s. There's a brief section explaining the reasons for JFK's trip to Texas that includes footage of the reception when the president and his family arrived. Then it moves into the actual course of events. The recreation of the southeast window area, as it looked the day of the shooting, is surrounded by photographs and radio teletype documents of the first news of the assassination. The southern windows offer views of the plaza and the now-famous grassy knoll.

"The Crisis Hours" delves into the events of the days immediately following the assassination -- noon Friday to midnight on Monday -- through a film comprised of news footage and audio broadcasts and a chronology along one wall that explains the sequence of events in both Dallas and Washington, DC.

"The Investigations" includes the FBI's model of Dealey Plaza -- the one created for the Warren Commission. Model cars are stuck in limbo in front of the book depository, and the bits of white string that lie about were used to demonstrate bullet trajectory from the window on the sixth floor. The section details the four major official investigations, beginning with that of the local authorities in November, 1963. Each is placed in sequence, detailing the players, procedures and findings. Acoustic evidence, photographs, forensic and ballistic tests are provided for each investigation.

So whodunit? According to the museum, almost 80 percent of Americans believe JFK's assassination was the result of a conspiracy. The "Who Did It?" exhibit focuses on the alleged conspirators and their motives. Criticisms of the actual investigations are also included.

Open daily, 9am to 6pm. Admission: $US7 adults, $US6 for kids aged six to 18, free for kids under six years old. Admission with audio tour is $US10 for adults and $US9 for kids, $US3 for children under six years old.

 

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