HKS’ bold design for AT&T Stadium rocketed the storied Dallas Cowboys brand to new heights in 2009, making the team the envy of the sports world.
But for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife, Gene, it gave them something else still: a canvas to showcase a facet of themselves that was little known.
“That building was designed from the very beginning to be able to have these phenomenal monumental spaces for art,” said Bryan Trubey, HKS executive vice president and the project’s lead architect.
A decade after its debut, the growing art collection at AT&T Stadium continues to command attention as other football franchises follow suit with their own art programs. The stadium houses world-class contemporary artworks curated by Gene Jones and her daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, with the help of an advisory art council. Murals and sculptures from acclaimed artists adorn the expansive spaces above gates and concession stands and the colossal walls next to ramps and escalators — a grand assortment of colors, shapes and textures that burst through the smooth gray concrete.
The Joneses had long been art collectors, amassing pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Norman Rockwell in their Highland Park mansion. Gene Jones, a trustee for the Dallas Museum of Art, is well connected to the local arts scene. But the Joneses were novices to contemporary art when they decided to fill their palatial stadium with high-end artwork commissioned to match its massive spaces — then an unprecedented move for a professional sports franchise.
“Knowing the Joneses for quite some time was an advantage here,” Trubey said. “Jerry and Gene had been significant members of the arts community for many years, but their ownership of the Cowboys almost completely overshadowed this.”
In recent years, football teams such as the Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers have launched their own art collections. The Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium not only sparked a trend but set the standard. Like the venue’s architecture, the art program was designed to be daring, sophisticated and inescapable: from electronics artist Jim Campbell’s array of floating, flickering light bulbs choreographed to footage of Cowboys plays near the pro shop entrance, to German painter Franz Ackermann’s eye-popping abstract landscapes that engulf the southwest monumental staircase and give a nod to the team’s former home by depicting Texas Stadium.
“It’s the only building of its type that has that quality of art collection and the symmetry between monumental modern art, monumental modern architecture,” Trubey said.
Everyone moving through AT&T Stadium — sports fans, concertgoers, art connoisseurs — is exposed to art at almost every corner. With about 2.5 million people a year attending a variety of events, the stadium draws crowds that surpass those of some international art attractions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
People visiting AT&T Stadium can go on art tours or explore the collection with a phone app.
“For the art world, this is a destination,” said Mary Zlot, a prominent San Francisco art consultant hired by Gene Jones to help shape the Cowboys’ contemporary art program.
“It’s the only building of its type that has that quality of art collection and the symmetry between monumental modern art, monumental modern architecture.”
In the art council, the Jones family found expert voices to help them identify the right artists. And in Trubey — the global director of HKS’ sports and entertainment group — they found another visionary who saw the stadium not just as a sports venue but as a cultural destination.
Trubey, a native of Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, grew up cheering for the Cowboys in the 1960s and ‘70s, as the team mowed down rivals at Irving’s Texas Stadium and barged into the Super Bowl. But when he thinks back to his childhood, Trubey remembers regular visits to serene museum galleries and symphony and musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park in South Dallas.
His mother, a former couture buyer at a department store who had aspired to be fashion designer, imbued in the family an appreciation for the fine arts. The Trubeys spent part of their modest income on a membership to what was then the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and season tickets to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
So when it came to designing the Cowboys’ new home, Trubey and the Joneses discussed elevating the stadium with an art collection that would not only enrich the experience of football fans but draw a different crowd.
“Even though it sounds like a lofty aspirational goal, what if we could make this a credible destination globally for the most discriminating parts of the arts community?” Trubey said.
He and his team approached the stadium design like they would a museum, recognizing that great museums boast art and architecture of equal stature. Trubey said AT&T Stadium reflects on a sheer scale the principles that guide the designs of HKS’ architecture practice: strong, simple forms and a clear structure that is apparent from the inside and the outside of the building. These attributes, together with the stadium’s translucent skin, create a sense of transparency, an openness that allows visitors to see through the building.
“Those big spaces for the artists are an abstract version of the idea of transparency: they’re windows into the way that artist sees the world,” Trubey said.
The HKS team identified those enormous spaces for Gene Jones, who sent a trunk with building plans, virtual tours and other material to Zlot, the San Francisco art consultant, to persuade her to join the endeavor. Zlot was accustomed to curating art for the homes of private collectors and the offices of corporate clients — but not stadiums.
“I’m the mother of three boys. I’ve gone to a lot of stadiums in my day, and believe me, they aren’t receptacles for any kind of good art,” said Zlot, a partner of the influential Zlot Buell + Associates art firm. “But I could see from the virtual walk-through that this was going to be a beautiful space.”
With Zlot’s help, Gene Jones and Charlotte Jones Anderson convened an advisory art council that included notable Dallas-area museum curators and collectors. The council invited two HKS interior designers who were working on the stadium, Loretta Fulvio and Mark Timm, to participate in its meetings.
The process to identify artists who could work on a monumental scale was rigorous, with the council reviewing the portfolios and biographies of hundreds of contemporary artists. One of Timm’s tasks was to walk the stadium construction site with more than a dozen artists whom the council was considering for commissions. Timm gave the artists individual tours, helping them understand what the spaces would look like once construction was finished.
“Nobody could believe the scale, and nobody could believe the types of spaces [for art] that were going to be in that facility,” said Timm, a Wisconsin native who used to work in an art shop during college to help support himself. “It was just so unheard of.”
The council selected nationally and internationally recognized artists who have pieces on display in prestigious museums around the world. The artworks range from murals to installations, relying on different tricks to captivate viewers. For instance, University of North Texas professor Annette Lawrence created an hourglass-shaped sculpture of shiny cables suspended horizontally above an entryway that gives the illusion of a coin spiraling through space — reminiscent of a pre-kickoff coin toss — as people walk under it.
Another artist, Los Angeles-based Gary Simmons, defied his fear of heights and worked on a scaffold to reach a monumental wall, intentionally smudging white pigment against a blue background to draw clouds of smoke that evoke comic book explosions.
Zlot recalled that Simmons phoned her after he saw his piece being discussed on national TV during a televised Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium.
“He said, ‘Mary, more people saw what my work is in that little discussion than…all my museum shows, all my exhibitions,’” she said.
The AT&T Stadium contemporary art collection, which launched with 19 pieces, has tripled in size since its debut in 2009. It includes 16 commissioned site-specific artworks along with 43 acquisitions. Additions include “White Form,” a glossy C-shaped sculpture by eminent abstract artist Ellsworth Kelly and “Sky Mirror,” a concave dish of polished stainless steel by Anish Kapoor, the sculptor who made Chicago’s iconic “Cloud Gate,” also known as the Bean.
AT&T Stadium has become a cultural icon on its own. Last year, it hosted tours for about 350,000 people.
“In the pantheon of the finest patrons of art and architecture, if you go back to the Medicis and come all the way forward to the Guggenheims, the Joneses belong in that group,” Trubey said.
When AT&T Stadium was in planning stages more than 10 years ago, Jerry Jones worried it would not be seen from I-30, the high-volume highway that ties Dallas and Fort Worth. What the stadium did was put a spotlight on the city of Arlington in Texas. The venue draws events like the SuperBowl, NCAA FinalFour and mega concerts.