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Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth honors its greatest patron with a show of groundbreaking artists

Mark Rothkon, "White Band No. 27," 1954
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Mark Rothko, "White Band No. 27," 1954

Anne Windfohr Marion was a billionaire, a rancher, a philanthropist and an oil executive — with a zest for art.

Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer: It's a roster of breakthrough modern artists, and they represent a tumult of different styles and formats: minimalism, abstract expressionism, photography, painting, collage.

Yet they're all in the same exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, some 80 works by 47 artists. It's evidence that Anne Windfohr Marion — with the help of former senior curator Michael Auping — had a sweeping interest in modern art of all kinds, the money to buy it and an eye for the exceptional.

Auping has been in retirement in California, but he returned to Fort Worth to put together the new show, "Modern Masters: A Tribute to Anne Windfohr Marion." Standing in the first gallery, he pointed to three major paintings on the walls: Francis Bacon's first self-portrait (from 1956), Mark Rothko's "White Band, No. 27" (1954) and Willem de Kooning's "Two Women" (1954-55).

Collectively, he said, in today's market, just those three would go at auction for somewhere near half-a-billion dollars.

Highest price for a Mark Rothko: $87 million.
Highest price for a Francis Bacon: $142 million.
Highest price for a Willem de Kooning: $300 million.

Michael Auping, former senior curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, discussing Willem deKooning's "Two Women"
Jerome Weeks
Michael Auping, former senior curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, discussing Willem deKooning's "Two Women"

It's a testament to how cash-crazy the art market has been the past decade. But it's also evidence of shrewd judgment and taste. Auping recalled the museum purchasing the Bacon for $5 million twenty years ago — from a $10 million fund Marion had arranged so the museum could build up its collection before it moved into its new home, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winner, Tadao Ando.

Windfohr, who died in 2020 at 81, inherited four West Texas ranches from her grandfather — the Burnett ranches, including the fabled 6666 Ranch in King County. Her stepfather was Charles Tandy, founder of the Tandy Corporation. And she formed her own oil company, Burnett Oil — eventually becoming a billionaire.

Auping said Marion may well have gotten her fascination with art from her mother ("Big Anne"), who collected native Indian blankets and notable ceramics. Marion also studied art history at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

"A lot of collectors today," said Auping, "they may talk about quality, but what they really care is, like, 'Give me something big, give me something punchy, something that people will talk about right now.' "

In sharp contrast, Marion's tastes may have been wide-ranging, Auping said, but "her main goal was quality" and she didn't care about identifying with a particular school or movement. Or what the immediate impact might be.

Modern Art Museum architect Tadao Ando with Ann Marion and John Marion
David Woo
Modern Art Museum architect Tadao Ando with Ann Marion and John Marion

"That sounds like a cliché," Auping said, "but she also liked art she could live with. I always think of [her taste] as eclectic elegance."

Marion was involved in the creation process of the museum's new building — she approved the selection of architect Tadao Ando, who was designing his first major project in America. In addition, several artworks in the Modern's collection are officially from the Burnett Foundation. Marion was president and trustee of the foundation, so those gifts were also, in effect, from her.

When asked how often does a patron like Marion come along, Auping said he thought, once in ten years? No. Once in twenty? In his career, he's been at four museums. She was, he said, a once-in-an-entire career arts patron.

"Modern Masters: A Tribute to Ann Windfohr Marion" runs at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through Jan.8.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.