The installation is loosely chronological. The first floor starts with American art of the 1950s, then moves through Pop, Minimal and Post-Minimal art -- the last three being collection strengths. Work from the 1980s to the present is mostly installed upstairs.
Of 154 objects, fully one-third are new acquisitions. Chief curator Michael Auping has chosen well, although to my taste the collection is rather too closely attuned to the Manhattan establishment -- New York artists, followed by Germans. Call it Chelsea-centric. The emergence in the last 20 years of critical mass in art produced in Los Angeles and London is barely acknowledged, while neighboring Mexico and the Southern Hemisphere are omitted.
Texas artists turn up here and there, including such provocative emerging artists as Julie Bozzi (a tiny landscape painting that evokes huge, spooky spaces) and Eric Swenson (a sculpture of an imaginary breed of dog, impossibly balanced on point as a flaming red and black cape flies up behind him). Happily, space has also been found for regional work from the 1940s and 1950s by the Fort Worth Circle -- Bill Bomar, Cynthia Brants, Dickson Reeder and others -- since the museum was chartered as an art association in 1892, long before its current focus was established.
The Fort Worth Circle was typical of small groups of progressive artists who salved their sense of isolation in America's grim provinces by banding together. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has come a very long way since then. But it's important to keep that historical memory alive, especially as some sense of anxiety still lingers: Concentrating on recent New York taste with an occasional Texas twang betrays a subtle ache for acceptance in established corridors of power.
It also makes the collection feel more conservative than it actually is. And speaking of anxiety: Almost half the inaugural show is tellingly composed of work that is gray, brooding or dusky -- from the monumental lead sculpture and clay-encrusted painting by Anselm Kiefer to the mound of poured acrylic foam by Lynda Benglis; from the brute typological photographs of water towers by Bernd and Hilla Becher to the acidic self-portrait death mask by Andy Warhol that greets you at the top of the grand staircase.
Ashen tones are encountered in room after room, suggesting a past half-century of gritty experience. Coupled with the gray concrete walls, dark granite floors and silvery aluminum panels on the exterior of Ando's long, low building, the collection offers a museum of bleak beauty -- austere, refined yet tough as nails.
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Where: 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth, Texas
When: Closed Mondays
Contact: (817) 738-9215; (866) 824-5566 (toll-free)