Saturday, March 30, 2013
Saturday is Dallas day. We got ourselves out, went to the 6th Floor Museum, then moved to the Nasher Sculpture Park and then spent some time in the Dallas Museum of Art.
The Sixth Floor Museum is in what was the Texas School Book Depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald made himself famous by shooting President Kennedy in 1963. The museum is situated on the 6th and 7th floors, with the rest of the building not open to the public (owned by a governmental agency with their offices). The exhibits first take you back (in our case) or to (in the case of those who were not alive at the time) the Jack Kennedy era, starting with some biographical information on him. The main exhibit starts really, however, with JFK’s running for the Presidency in 1960. It recreates the times – books that were out then (e.g., To Kill a Mockingbird, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), movies extant (e.g., La Dolci Vita, Spartacus, Psycho), and the music of the era (Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker (the Twist) and the Drifters top the singles charts for the year). It doesn’t go into the politics of the time (Quemoy and Matsu, for example), rather it talks about the youth of Kennedy as he wins and assumes office. The politicians that preceded him into the White House had been elder statesmen, while he is a young man with a beautiful wife and young children. His energy is especially emphasized, and his youth compared to his predecessors.
Events during his days in office included the Cuban missile crisis, which scared all of us around at the time terribly, but as it turned out, enabled him to earn the respect of Kruschev and the broader world. He sponsored legislative initiatives in civil rights and the establishment of Peace Corps. This started a whole new consciousness of what can be done for others in places beyond our borders. It enabled individuals to serve and through their service, the US to broaden its influence overseas on a people-to-people basis, rather than through political channels. It made specific what he meant by his statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Then there was the response to sputnik, with Kennedy’s challenge to the nation to have a man on the moon and back to earth by the end of the decade. And the wit and charm of Kennedy, with examples from his press conferences. This of course gets us back to the optimistic feeling of the early 1960’s, a time of challenge, but a time of incredible opportunity as well.
Then we are taken to the last trip to Dallas, where Kennedy is on a visit to shore up his candidacy for a second term. After a short flight from Houston, the president and Mrs. Kennedy land at Love field, and are taken on a 10 mile tour around central Dallas aimed at arriving at the Dallas Trade Mart at about 12:30 pm to have lunch with invited guests. We then are shown through pictures and sounds the events of the fatal seconds as Oswald fires his rifle three times from his 6th floor perch. Kennedy is rushed to Parkland Hospital, but is pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Governor Connelly, who with his wife were in the “jump” seats of the Lincoln Continental presidential car, was hit by one of the bullets, so he also had a stay at Parkland, was operated on there, and eventually recovered.
The next areas talk about the investigations into the assassination. There were many, starting with the Warren Commission, and lasting until Assassination Records Review Board finished releasing what it could release of the documentation and evidence in 1998. All further documentation (there are only tax records and other private materials left unreleased) will be released in 2017. The investigations did not come to identical conclusions. Some agreed with the Warren Commission that either Oswald worked alone. Later ones suggested Oswald worked as part of a conspiracy with conspirators unknown, but not the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Russian government, KGB, Cuban government, mafia. The conspiracy theories seem hard for people to let go of, and of course with Oswald shot by Jack Ruby, it is impossible that a final resolution will ever happen. Exhibits included the cameras that took pictures useful to the investigations (the Zapruder film, the most definitive of the pictures as it was taken continuously through the time of the first shot until Kennedy and group were driven away to the hospital, was taken on a camera very much like the one on exhibit, but the actual one was preserved in the National Archives), a discussion of all the forensic evidence, (there is a “single bullet theory” which accounts for Gov. Connelly’s wounds as being caused by the first bullet fired, after it had gone through Kennedy’s throat and out the front of his upper torso by his tie, and then proceeding to go through Connelly’s chest shattering a rib, through his wrist (shattering one of his forearm bones), and lodging in his left thigh. The angles bear this out, and the only argument against is that the bullet remained in its initial shape rather then being misshapen as a result of its various interactions with Kennedy and Connelly.
After this, the reaction of the world is considered, with a surprising collection of film from around the world showing reactions in countries and cultures too numerous to mention, all of it expressing shock, surprise and sadness at the death of Kennedy. Lastly, a discussion of the legacy of Kennedy’s 1000 days in office recaps the things he initiated, and discusses briefly the impacts some have had to date on the history of the US and countries around the world. It is very well done. The ability to see in a fairly short period of time the results of the investigations into the assassination and the various commissions helps put in perspective the likelihood that it was the work of one man only, rather than a conspiracy.
The ability to see the vantage point of Oswald also helps corroborate the notion that he was a lone shooter (they even have white X’s painted on Elm St where the car was with each of the two main shots. But the conspiracy notion lingers, and so the question is asked, and of course not really answered as to why so much interest in the notion of a conspiracy? As my father was wont to say about conspiracy theories, they require much more cooperation and ability to keep a secret than mankind is usually capable of. But there seems to be no end to the need to investigate them. In the later investigations, the open microphone of one of the police motorcycles recorded in the precinct station was analyzed to try to determine how many shots were fired. At first, it appeared to document more than the minimum three shots, thus leading credence to the notion of a second shooter, perhaps on the grassy knoll. Eventually, however, it was decided (and verified through experiment) that the multiple report sounds were in part echoes off the buildings surrounding Dealey Plaza.
The exhibits allowed Gwen and me to think back to what we were doing when we found out about the assassination. I was in a high school classroom (English, I think, but it could have been French class). The intercom just came on, something that never before happened, broadcasting radio reports directly through to the whole school. Strange, and then the words started to make sense, horrible sense, and eventually, we were instructed to go home. Gwen’s school was not up to intercoms yet, so there were messages passed to each class, read by the teachers to the students. The classes were not sent home early but kept at the school with teachers roaming from group to group crying and talking until the normal end of day.
A very good opportunity to think about those times again.
The next step was to go to the Nasher Sculpture Center. This was in the same complex as the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Asian Art, and I suspect there is also a Museum of Modern Art there as well, but that may just be my poor memory. The Nasher was hosting an exhibition of works by Ken Price, a contemporary artist that specializes (at this point) in three-dimensional objects with color on the surfaces. The central piece looks like a multi-toed foot where the toes surround the central core, each the same size, each appearing to have been a large drop coming down from the top of the figure and ending up where it is. The object is colored in a primary color (blue, red, etc) with splotchy speckles of one or more different colors to give a common array surface effect. In the exhibition were a number of such objects of various sizes, built on a similar theme. He also had a number of glazed, multisided boxes. These “boxes” were small (my memory says nothing more than a foot in any one dimension). The depth of color was created by a large number of glaze coats applied to the figure, and then meticulously sanded down to smoothness and clarity. This is supposed to be a very time-consuming process, but the result is beautiful in color, even if the boxes themselves lack the “beauty” of a recognizable functional purpose. There were some more examples of his work on the floor below. Included are a series of landscape paintings at sunset, which I enjoyed. The colors are exaggerated, and the forms are recognizable. The effect for me was one of emphasis, and I was taken by the way it brought to life the impression of a colorful sunset; the way the colors are seen in my mind’s eye after the sunset disappears – each color is bright and identifiable, the colors enhance the outlines of the things that reflect that color.
We went outside and walked around the garden area. This area is large enough to house a number of sculptures among the grass and trees. I am not a fan of the I-beam sculptures, but every such garden must have one, it seems, and this one is no exception. A grouping of six or so life-size people entitled something like “the Crowd” was intriguing. A pair of rusted steel panels, inches thick, curved in an arc from side to side, set in such a way as to create a narrowing gap from bottom to top created the illusion of walking into a cave as one passed through the gap between them. A water fountain is set on the wall near the café. The water comes out of a dozen same-size holes drilled in marble set at the same height above the pond. A set of human shapes in rows, with no heads but dressed for rain provided an interesting grouping. The shallow pond along the back side of the garden was soothing, and the regularly spaced foot-high fountains added energy, but in a soothing way.
We bought a lunch in the cafeteria (very good sandwich and chips) and sat out on the back patio overlooking the garden to eat it. Definitely worth the visit.
Afterwards, we walked to the Dallas Museum of Art, and attempted to take it in in a couple of hours. It is an eclectic, but interesting collection, housed in a fascinating structure that more or less forced the viewer to see (or more accurately scan) the whole of the exhibits before getting to any particular place or time. I was enchanted by the furniture (mixed with other paraphernalia) exhibits, with some marvelous pieces dating back to the 1700s and made in the US. Some great craftsmen existed here, and plied their trades successfully. There is quite a collection of International art, including South American, Asian, as well as various European and Middle Eastern art. They have whole rooms set up as one would have seen them in the 1800’s; an interesting peek into how people (with money, of course) would have lived in those times.
We saw a lot, enjoyed it, but left to get ready to see Dave and Linda Letts. Linda had invited Charlotte and Barbara, two good friends to come along, and we met at an Arlington Middle Eastern food place, where Dave thought we could enjoy the food, and sit and talk. We did, the food was very good, and the company was better. Gwen had a great time with the women, while Dave and I got to catch up. Dave was kind enough to give me a very nicely done picture of The Audley pub in London; a place we enjoyed on many occasions after our meetings in the Park Ave office.