Changing Spaces: Ruscha's "Real Estate Opportunities" and the Modern
Posted by Andrea D. on February 18, 2011 - 10:18am

In the fall of 2009, I began working at the Modern as an intern where I did my blogging from a cozy little nook next to the PR offices. Now I work at the Museum as the online media coordinator and over the past few weeks I have been organizing the “intern nook” into an office.

The space is a fascinating little corner of the Museum to work in because it is also where the Modern’s PR archives are housed. The walls are lined with bookshelves containing notebooks that are stuffed with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and exhibition reviews. It is literally a historical record of the Museum as documented through periodical write-ups and art critiques.

I was particularly interested to rediscover articles from local magazines that were written in the early 2000s, speculating about the Cultural District/West 7th area of Fort Worth and predicting its burgeoning “cool” factor. Now, 11 years later, the Cultural District is witnessing the manifestation of these articles on a daily basis as new restaurants and other businesses seem to be opening in the vicinity every other day.

This brings me to my favorite find in the intern nook: a series of Kodak photographs of the 10.96-acre plot of land across the street from the Kimbell Art Museum and adjacent to a much-less-crowded University Drive. The photos were taken circa 1997 and depict the land upon which the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s current building would be constructed.

Looking northeast, towards University Drive

Looking southeast, towards University Drive 

Looking southwest, towards the Kimbell and Will Rogers Memorial Center
Looking west, towards the Kimbell

Upon examining these images, I was vividly reminded of Ed Ruscha’s 1970 book Real Estate Opportunities, which is on view in the Ed Ruscha: Road Tested exhibition, organized by the Modern’s chief curator, Michael Auping. The book presents photographs of empty lots around the city of Los Angeles. These photos are not merely images of empty spaces, however. They are a documentation of the potential for prospective real-estate development. These barren sections of L. A.’s urban landscape would become houses, apartments, corporation headquarters, and even sites for future highways. One day, these vacant lots would be given purpose and meaning by what would eventually be built there.

When looking at Ruscha’s photographs, I can’t help but think of the images of the space that would become the Modern in a similar way. Between 1997 and 2002, the new museum building was built on that vacant lot in the photographs. Since then, the Museum has hosted 27 exhibitions, expanded its collection, and become one of the architectural icons of Fort Worth. For my part, I was in the sixth grade the year that these photos were taken. Between 1997 and 2011, I would grow up, fall in love with art, discover Fort Worth, and become a part of the staff at the Modern.

Now, as I look at these photographs, I can almost see all that potential waiting to happen.