On the rise: Dallas celebrates contemporary art with inaugural music and arts festival

Visual work of pieces from a shredded image glued back together in the wrong order.
Dallas hosted the inaugural Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, a three-week event that concluded on Sunday. Pictured here is one of the many visual works created for the festival, Francisco Moreno's 'WCD' Project, Washington Crossing the Delaware
(Image credit: TBC)

Kevin Beasley’s recent performance at the Dallas Museum of Art (opens in new tab) began with the artist taking his seat in a microphone-infused rocking chair in the museum’s soaring atrium, his dark throne linked to 24 seat cushions, similarly wired with microphones, scattered on the floor around him. A melody formed by the creaking chair, the choir of cushions and musical tracks chosen by Beasley. A smattering of spectators swelled into a massive crowd of participants that stayed until midnight, talking and dancing, eating and drinking, looking and listening.

This Friday ‘late night’ at the museum was the latest collaborative crescendo for a city that has long been on the up, channeling its booming economy into the largest urban arts district in the United States. This 68-acre swath of downtown Dallas is, in the words of DMA director Maxwell Anderson, ‘a very tidy street, with all of these different monuments by starchitects.’ Buildings by I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, and Rem Koolhaas line the road. With its impressive infrastructure complete, the district’s cultural organisations are now focused on defining their individual identities and their shared goals and desired audiences. The ambition and intensity of that cooperation was revealed in the inaugural Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, a three-week event that concluded on Sunday.

Led by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (opens in new tab) and its music director, Jaap van Zweden, the festival was conceived as a collection of collaborations - among disciplines, Dallas cultural organisations, and visual artists such as Beasley, Pipilotti Rist (opens in new tab), Alex Prager, Yael Bartana (opens in new tab), and Monte Laster (opens in new tab) - around the theme of 'Destination (America)'. ‘The city has spent a billion and a half dollars on this Arts District and until this festival there really hasn’t been a recurring sandbox to play together in,’ says Jonathan Martin, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. ‘We’re all here geographically but we had all been politely doing our own thing.’

A key force in expanding the festival beyond the orchestral was van Zweden’s daughter, Anna-Sophia, who is passionate about contemporary art. ‘There is a great opportunity for performance art and projects that push the boundaries,’ she says of Dallas. ‘What we want to create with Soluna a platform where artists can meet each other, collaborate, and come with crazy, outside-the-box ideas, and it’s our dream to make those ideas happen for them and with them.’

The festival’s opening night featured Los Angeles-based Prager, whose three films - Face in the Crowd (2013), La Petite Mort (2012), and Despair (2010) - were screened along with original scores performed live by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Another evening was dedicated to Rist’s new film, commissioned to accompany a performance of Miklos Rozsa’s Andante for Strings, Op. 22a. Beasley’s work, also commissioned for the festival, was concerned with the physicality of sound itself.

Another festival highlight came in the form of a video commission from Laster, a Texas native who has worked in Paris since 1994. His Destination, in Five Movements unfolded on screen as van Zweden conducted a program of patriotic favourites on the eve of America’s Memorial Day. The five-part video, created in collaboration with students from a local performing arts high school, dealt with migration and identity issues. ‘What I found interesting about the theme of destinations was the individual journey and physical displacement; "Movement" takes on many meanings and prompts new questions.’

Visual work of pieces from a shredded image glued back together in the wrong order on a big rectangular board and a car

The piece consists of a performance and installation based on the famous 1851 painting combined with a Japanese export car refurbished by Mexican-American brothers

(Image credit: TBC)

A screening of artist Yael Bartana's Inferno on a large screen. On the screen is the face of a black individual with blue eyes

The festival was conceived as a collection of collaborations - among disciplines, Dallas cultural organisations, and visual artists. Pictured here a screening of artist Yael Bartana's Inferno (2013), a film about the inauguration of a replica of Solomon's Temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil

(Image credit: TBC)

On stage performance featuring the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Jaap van Zweden

The festival was led by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Jaap van Zweden

(Image credit: TBC)

Exterior view of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center constructed in travertine marble, Indiana limestone, and concrete, with tall trees around the building. Photographed during the day

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, home to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and constructed of Italian travertine marble, Indiana limestone, and concrete

(Image credit: TBC)

Lobby area in a bilding with chairs and tables and stair case leading to upper floors

The lobby of the center is designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1989. The stairs lead to the McDermott Concert Hall, a 'shoebox'-style music chamber

(Image credit: TBC)

An outdoor image of an open space with ponds, trees and manicured lawn surrounded by buildings

A view of the Dallas Arts District, a 68-acre, 19-block neighborhood in the heart of the city. Cultural buildings by I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, and Rem Koolhaas line the road

(Image credit: TBC)

An individual wearing a white shirt sitting outdoor on a bench with a wall with mismatched paint colours

Another festival highlight was a video commision from Paris-based artist Monte Laster, 'Destination in Five Movements.' A participatory artwork made with Dallas schools and other organizations over a period of six months

(Image credit: TBC)

An open field captured during the day behind bushes with a view of the mountains

The video was shown in conjunction with the Memorial Day salute to the Armed Forces by Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony

(Image credit: TBC)

The entrance of the dallas museum of arts captured from the bottom up and photographed at night

'Late Night' at the Dallas Museum of Art that welcomed thousands of visitors until midnight. A collaborative crescendo for the city, channeling its booming economy into the largest urban arts district in the United States

(Image credit: TBC)

A grey ceramic monumental sculpture in the form of a vase laying on its side with grey slates around it an trees in the background

New York artist Jean Shin created Celadon Landscape for the Crow Collection of Asian Art Sculpture Garden in Dallas. The ceramic monumental sculpture is on view through the end of 2015

(Image credit: TBC)

Grey multi-storey building photographed from a distance at night

Designed by Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre is part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the district. The 575-seat theater can fit all kinds of configurations

(Image credit: TBC)

Grey multi-storey building with trees on the right and infront and a downward slope that leads to the entrance

The compact, vertical orientation of the 12-story building allows support spaces to be stacked above and beneath the auditorium rather than wrapped around it

(Image credit: TBC)