News and Features

Cowboys Stadium Collection Connects People Through Art

Coin Toss, by Annette Lawrence. Photo: Dallas Cowboys

First-timers at Cowboy Stadium for next month’s Super Bowl will get quite an art show as well. KERA’s Stephen Becker tells how the collection already winning over fans – starting with stadium workers:

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Phil Whitfield began working for the Cowboys as a security guard at Texas Stadium. Now he’s known as the unofficial mayor of Cowboys Stadium. Since he reports directly to ownership, if something important needs to be done, Whitfield’s normally involved.

But his 17 years working in football didn’t prepare him to supervise the installation of the stadium’s art collection.

WHITFIELD: “I always thought of art as being something in a picture frame.”

Good luck finding a picture frame in this collection. The Cowboys Stadium collection includes 19 pieces of contemporary art – everything from multi-story installations to murals that stretch for more than 100 feet.

The team commissioned Annette Lawrence to create one of the art works. The University of North Texas professor obviously knows art. But football was a different story.

LAWRENCE: “It was kind of an introduction to the world of football at this very high level. Just walking right into the Cowboys Stadium and having that be really the most interaction I’ve had with football ever.”

The team gave Lawrence a 40-foot long by 16-foot wide entryway to work with. That’s an ocean of space for an artist whose work is normally seen in galleries and museums. Lawrence filled the space with an airy and geometrical piece – 41 stranded-wire cables stretched from one wall to another that give the illusion of two spinning cones.

LAWRENCE: “I always like to make things that have a sense of motion even though they’re still. And so this motion of two circles turning was the initial idea. And then trying to relate it to football and thinking about football, the idea of a coin flipping through the air is a similar motion to circles spinning in space”

Lawrence named the piece Coin Toss. It represents not only the beginning of a football game, but in a way, the beginning of her football education.

Phil Whitfield worked with engineers to make sure the art was structurally sound. So when Lawrence needed someone to run football-related questions by, Whitfield became her sounding board.

Soon Whitfield was trading lessons in football for a crash course in art.

WHITFIELD: “I ran into a person who didn’t know about football. I was just the opposite – I knew nothing about art until a year ago. … We talked about what we had in common, and I said, well, we’re pretty much the opposite of each other. … I told her what I needed to tell her about football, she told me what her love for art was about.”

Now, Whitfield is the resident stadium art expert. And he can tell you anything you want to know about the work on display by art-world giants Olafur Eliasson and Franz Ackermann, just to name a few. When Lawrence’s mother came to town last week to see her daughter’s piece, Annette asked Phil to lead the stadium art tour.

LAWRENCE: “He’s just kind of embraced the whole collection. It really belongs to him in a way, because he did interact with each artist as they were building the work.”

Whitfield says he now sees visitors to the stadium undergoing the same conversion that he did. As he walks the stadium concourse, he enjoys watching people come face to face with the unexpected.

WHITFIELD: “I notice them noticing it. And whether people admit to saying they like art or not, we’ve all got a little art in us. … Some people when they find out that it’s art – and if you didn’t say it was art – they just like it.”

Next month’s Super Bowl will introduce Cowboys Stadium to millions of viewers during the broadcast of the game. And it’s safe to say that with all those cameras rolling, the stadium art will find its way onto television screens.

So who knows? While artsy types at Super Bowl-watching parties are learning a little more about football, their friends in the same room might be discovering that not all art goes in a picture frame.

KERA’s Jeff Whittington will interview Annette Lawrence and others associated with the Cowboys Stadium art project during State of the Arts on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art.