Connections Across Collections: Latin American Influence

As Hispanic Heritage Month continues, we’re spotlighting artworks and objects in our collection that were created with influence from Latin American culture and artists. We asked curators from across departments for their picks, and here’s what they had to say:

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art

The year before settling in Taos, Emil Bisttram studied with Diego Rivera in Mexico. This painting’s volumetric forms and linear qualities evidence Rivera’s influence. It bears the hallmarks of Bisttram’s work from the early 1930s that often depicted Native Americans and the artist’s all-consuming interest in New Mexico’s architecture and landscape.

Emil J. Bisttram, Pueblo Woman, 1932, tempera and oil glaze on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Royal C. Miller, 1960.165

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas, and Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art

Keros (ceremonial wooden cups from the Andes) in the DMA’s collection range in date from the 15th century through the Spanish viceregal period. As on the elegant kero with palm trees and flowers, their decoration can recall the geometric designs favored in the indigenous art of the pre-contact Inka Empire (for comparison, see this ceramic kero and checkerboard tunic). The cups, however, could also feature complex narratives. The kero with plowing scene depicts a man driving a plow ox, followed by two women: the first woman is planting seeds, and the second is ceremonially raising a pair of keros in the air (for more detail, see the rollout photograph of the upper portion).

Upper left: Quero (qerokero) with palm trees and flowers, Peru, Inca, mid-17th–late 18th century, wood and pigmented resin inlay, Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.1849; Upper right and bottom: Quero (qerokero): plowing with oxen, Peru, Inca, 17th–18th century, wood, metal, cane, and pigmented resin inlay, Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.1851

Latinx Literature: An Arts & Letters Live Reading List

Looking for some inspiration, a deeper dive into current issues, or your next favorite recipe? Here’s a list of books recommended by the Arts & Letters Live team honoring Hispanic Heritage month. 

Fiction: 
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

Nonfiction:
Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú

Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana

Children’s Picture Books:
Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Both authors and illustrators previously featured at Arts & Letters Live!

Yuyi Morales presenting Dreamers at Arts & Letters Live in 2019

Young Adult Fiction:
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Poetry:
Tertulia by Vincent Toro

Tertulia by Vincent Toro

Memoirs:
Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef by Aarón Sánchez
Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga

Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef by Aarón Sánchez

Cookbooks:
Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith and Evangelina Soza
My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats by Fany Gerson

My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats by Fany Gerson

Unrestrained Luxury & Unlocking Secrets: The 17th-Century Torre Tagle Cabinet

The Spanish Colonial Gallery on Level 4 at the DMA

This opulent cabinet is among the Dallas Museum of Art’s most glittering masterpieces—and one of my favorites. The marquetry and inlay that cover its exterior and interior is composed of thousands of intricately fitted pieces of mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, further accentuated with ivory and gilt wood elements, as well as brass wire and nails. This extravagant use of precious materials over the cabinet’s surfaces creates a sense of unrestrained luxury, signaling the wealth and status of its owners.

Scholars once believed that the cabinet was made in Goa, India, or perhaps in Manila, Philippines, but recent studies have revised that thinking. We now place its production in Lima, the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru during the Spanish viceregal period. This is in part because of the abundance of furniture with this style of decoration—writing desks, sewing boxes, chests, etc.—that can be found there today, in churches and in private collections.

Cabinet, about 1680–1700, mahogany, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and tortoiseshell, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation, in honor of Carol and Richard Brettell, 1993.36

Lima was a regional and global trade hub at the end of the 17th century. This gave furniture makers access to a wealth of precious materials, such as Spanish cedar and Central American hardwoods, which were often used for the interior structures of cabinets like this one. The precisely cut pieces of mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell may have also been imported, perhaps shipped in pre-cut standardized shapes.

Existing literature says the cabinet once belonged to Melchor Portocarrero, the third count of Monclova; I have found no concrete proof of this but am intrigued by the legend. It was thought that he commissioned the piece from Goa or Manila while living in Mexico City and acting as the viceroy of New Spain (1686–88), later taking the cabinet with him to Lima when he became viceroy of Peru (1689–1715). If the cabinet did belong to the count of Monclova, it now seems more likely that he commissioned the work directly from a workshop in Lima. Almost nothing is known about the furniture makers in Lima during this period, although there were almost certainly specialized makers dedicated to this style of decoration.

Cabinet (detail)

One important clue in the cabinet’s history can be found on its crest, which contains a painting of the coat of arms of the marquises of Torre Tagle, set in a double-headed eagle decorated with mother-of-pearl. Granted their title by King Philip V of Spain in 1730, the Torre Tagle family were prominent members of Lima’s aristocracy. The third marquis of Torre Tagle married a descendent of the count of Monclova, which was long thought to explain how the cabinet came into the family’s possession. It is possible, however, that the work’s original commissioners were the marquises themselves.

So, while there is much that isn’t known about the cabinet, the DMA is working to unlock its secrets. In the meantime, it remains the grandest example of this style of furniture in a public collection anywhere in the world, and one of the highlights of the Museum’s Level 4 galleries.

Take an inside look at the cabinet here:

Dr. Mark A. Castro is The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art at the DMA.

You Asked, They Answered! #AskaCurator Highlights

The DMA participated in #AskaCurator Day on Twitter last week—a day that harnessed the power of social media to connect our curators to just about anyone with a Twitter account and a burning question. Users tweeted their questions using the #AskaCurator hashtag for our seven participating curators to respond to. This resulted in a wide-ranging (and fun!) array of answers, from absurd museum gifs to personal anecdotes. Here are a few of the highlights:

Q: What is your favorite museum gif?

Q: How important is social media to seeing and finding new artists?

Q: What’s one of the weirdest paintings in your collection?

Q: What is your biggest “OMG I can’t believe I get to work/handle these object(s), pieces of history, etc.”?

Q: How have you done your job during the pandemic?

Follow us on Twitter to read through all of our #AskaCurator threads!

Lola Cueto and the Modern Tapestry

Lola Cueto’s tapestry Tehuana (Fruit Seller), on view in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art

Dolores Velásquez Cueto, better known as Lola, began taking drawing and painting classes at the National School of Fine Arts in 1909, when she was just 12 years old. Two years later, against the backdrop of the Mexican Civil War, she became a student at the school full time, taking classes alongside such notable artists as David Alfaro Siqueiros, who himself was only one year older than her. Cueto was a voracious student, studying printmaking and other mediums at the National School, while also studying painting at the Open-Air Painting School in Santa Anita under the acclaimed painter Alfredo Ramos Martínez. She also began to teach drawing at a night school for workers, and her interest in education would continue throughout her life.

Cueto’s early work was praised by critics, raising her profile in the flourishing art scene in Mexico City. In 1919 she married fellow art student Germán Cueto Vidal, who would become one of the most well known experimental sculptors of the period. Their home was one of the city’s cultural hubs, where prominent artists and other cultural figures came to socialize.

Although Cueto continued to work in other mediums, she was increasingly drawn to tapestries, no doubt influenced by a childhood passion for embroidery. At the same time, she was part of a contemporary international trend—inspired in part by the Bauhaus—that sought to modernize historic artistic traditions using new techniques and technology. In her early tapestries, for example, Cueto used a sewing machine to create dense, precise embroidery with mercerized and silk threads.

Lola Cueto, Oaxacan Indian Woman, 1928, tapestry, Colección Andrés Blaisten, México
Lola Cueto, Tehuana (Fruit Seller), 1926, embroidery, Colección Andrés Blaisten, México

Dr. Mark A. Castro is The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art at the DMA.

Conserving Canvas: María Luisa Pacheco’s “Stoic Figure”

In the fall of 2019, the DMA was awarded a Conserving Canvas grant from the Getty Foundation. The aim of the grant was to broaden the knowledge base around specialized conservation techniques and train participants in these techniques. Specifically, the project focused on a technique known as “Heiber thread-by-thread tear mending.” With this technique, torn paintings can be mended locally by, as the name suggests, re-weaving the torn area one thread at a time. The project was led by the DMA, which specializes in this tear-mending technique. Grant participant Luciana Feld, a colleague from Buenos Aires, Argentina, joined me in the Conservation Studio to collaborate and develop her skill in this technique for the duration of the project.

The grant began with a gathering of experts and the participant at the DMA. These experts included Petra Demuth (Cologne, Germany), Carolyn Tomkiewicz (New York City), and Robert Proctor (Houston, Texas). This melding of minds proved productive, allowing experts to discuss recent projects and enhancements in Heiber tear mending, and creating space to discuss future research.

Colleagues discussing materials and techniques during experts meeting

A year prior to this project, a survey of modern Latin American paintings for a gallery rotation revealed that an extraordinary work by María Luisa Pacheco had been damaged before it could be exhibited at the Museum in 1959. The damage resulted in a large tear, which incidentally was an ideal candidate for Heiber thread-by-thread tear-mending techniques. Underlying the treatment was the desire to finally be able to exhibit this extraordinary work. The damaged painting also presented an opportunity to develop mending techniques specifically relating to modern and contemporary paintings, which often pose new challenges for conservators relating to structural treatment.

Before (left) and after (right) mending.
Before (left) and after (right) treatment.
María Luisa Pacheco, Stoic Figure, 1959, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1959.48

Stoic Figure was painted in 1959 by Bolivian artist María Luisa Pacheco (1919–1982) and measures 66 1/8 x 48 1⁄4 inches. Pacheco was an influential painter and mixed media artist born in La Paz, immigrating to New York City in 1956. Her early work is indicative of the Indigenism style of contemporary Bolivian painters, with an edge in more abstract experimentation. Her later career is marked by a shift toward texture in her paintings, likely influenced by Cubist painters such as Georges Braque and Juan Gris. Her paintings, however, continued consistently to show an underlying Indigenist inspiration, reminiscent of her Andean culture, which is exemplified by the painting at hand.

Luciana working on the tear mend
Detail showing tear-mending technique

The large tear, which measured over six inches, was beautifully mended using the Hieber technique. This technique works locally to bring back the woven tension to the torn area and invisibly repair the damage. These photomicrograph images, taken with a microscope camera, show some of the re-weaving process.

Photomicrograph showing an area before treatment (left) and during the mending process (right)
Photomicrograph showing an area before treatment (left) and the same area after mending (right)

Throughout the project, Luciana also explored some of the research needs identified in the experts meeting. Specifically, she made mock-ups of tears to experiment with new tools and materials for the tear-mending process.

Tear-mending experimentation trials on mock-up

The Getty grant allowed us to successfully mend the large tear on a powerful work of art that can now be appreciated in the galleries, while also training colleagues in this useful technique. Additionally, we were able to take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in Latin America to advance knowledge on materials and techniques used in tear-mending practices.

Laura Hartman (middle) and colleagues in front of Stoic Figure

Laura Hartman is the Paintings Conservator at the DMA.

The Figures Behind “Hands of the Heroes”

The brooches in Kiff Slemmons Hands of the Heroes series, part of the exhibition Contemporary Art + Design: New Acquisitions, are each inspired by historical figures. Browse our round-up of interactive materials below to help you become familiar with the heroes represented and their historical significance.

Kiff Slemmons, Hands of the Heroes, 1987–1991, silver, ebony and mastodon ivory, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Deedie Potter Rose; TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund for Wearable Art, 2020.12.1-12

Harry Houdini

Jacques Cousteau

Marie Curie

Marco Polo III

Don Quixote

Glenn Gould

Roald Amundsen

Louis Leakey II

Fred Astaire

Emily Dickinson

Stephen Jay Gould

Joseph Cornell

Tracy Hicks’s “Freedman’s Field”

Tracy Hicks was a beloved figure in the Dallas arts community when he passed away in 2014 at the age of 68. Having myself moved to the city only in January 2017, I never got a chance to meet him, but his reputation soon reached me as I attempted to immerse myself in the local arts scene. Hicks was a foundational figure in Dallas, where he had lived since he was a toddler, before ultimately moving with his wife, journalist Victoria Loe Hicks, to North Carolina.

In fall 2018, Greg Metz invited me to see a brilliant retrospective of Hicks’s work at UTD’s SP/N Gallery. After walking through several rooms that showcased Hicks’s investigations around the intersection of scientific and archival processes with art, we encountered a light-locked space. Upon turning the corner, Freedman’s Field, a collection of excavated artifacts artfully arranged on a table, lay in resplendent glory. I had known of the work because it was first exhibited at the DMA in 1994 as part of the Encounters series, which keenly paired his work with the YBA artist Damian Hirst.

Tracy Hicks, Freedman’s Field, 1990–94, wood table, pottery shards, broken bottles, old watch parts, fragments of porcelain dolls, coins, buttons, oxidized silverware, and rusted metal, Dallas Museum of Art, Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund, 2020.14

Seeing it for the first time in person, after being steeped in the artist’s world and regaled with stories of his life and practice through Professor Metz’s fabulous tour, was a revelatory experience. The intense love and care Hicks had shown for these objects, which were repositories of such an important and lesser-known history of my new hometown, was palpable. I instantly fell for it, and knew it belonged back at the DMA, where it could communicate these local histories to visitors in perpetuity.

Close-up of Freedman’s Field

After that visit, we sought to learn more about the history of Freedman’s Town and its eventual demolition, beautifully explored in scholarship collected in SP/N’s exhibition catalogue, and in a semi-permanent exhibit at Fair Park’s African American Museum. Meanwhile, our collections team got to work learning how to care for such an installation, meeting with those who had cared for it before—including friends Ron Siebler and Nancy Rebal, who had shown the work in a memorial exhibition Rebal organized for Hicks in Corsicana in 2015—and learning firsthand about the myriad of decisions Hicks made in creating the work. As you’ll see, Freedman’s Field is unlike most works you’ll find in an art collection. The typical rules of cataloging just don’t apply here. It is better conceived as an archaeological dig. And Erick Backer, Preparator; Katie Province, Registrar; and Fran Baas, Objects Conservator, bravely undertook the challenge to apply their best professional standards to its care.

Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas carefully treating the artwork.

The word curator comes from the Latin curare, “to care,” and this work is all about care: the care Hicks showed for the city of Dallas, the care the many local artists we met with showed to Hicks, and our care in honoring those relationships that predated us. My hope is that this work’s testament to that loving care might encourage us to pay closer attention to the world around us so that we can hear the stories it yearns to tell us.

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck is the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Click here to dive deeper into this piece by watching an excerpt from Ron Siebler’s film Remembering Tracy Hicks.

Artist Interview: Do Ho Suh

Earlier this year, Dr. Vivian Li, the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art, had the opportunity to interview artist Do Ho Suh, whose work is featured in the exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses. Read excerpts from the interview below about his inspiration and how the pandemic has changed his practice, and click here to read the full interview.

Do Ho Suh, Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea, 2016, Polyester fabric and stainless steel, 117 × 102 × 65 in. (2 m 97.18 cm × 2 m 59.08 cm × 1 m 65.1 cm), Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.15. Photo by John Smith.

VL: Many of your fabric pieces are replicas of a specific place you once called home and are often described as such with the precise address as the title. Can you describe the place that inspired Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea (2016), and why you selected to make a fabric replica of this particular structure?

DHS: Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea is an area of my parents’ home in Seoul, where I grew up. It’s a traditional han ok (Korean house)—a 70s copy of the one King Sunjo (1790–1834) built in the early-nineteenth century because he wanted to experience the life of ordinary people. I’ve continued to stay there whenever I’m back in Seoul so it’s the site of decades of memories for me. I think of the fabric architecture works as, in a sense, an act of shedding skin, slipping out of my clothes and packing them quietly away to unfold elsewhere.

The Hub sculptures are transitional or in-between spaces—corridors, passages, entryways. This one is an area between the bathroom and the living room/bedroom. Traditional Korean architecture is much more porous than in the West—there is less rigidity to the separation of the rooms, and the outside world is much more integrated: sounds travel; doors or windows become walls; you feel the temperature of your external surroundings keenly; the spaces themselves are reconfigured throughout the day and night. That porous quality all feeds into this sculpture and it’s partly why the translucence of the fabric is key. I began using fabric partly because of its affinities with those qualities in Korean architecture and Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong is probably the closest one of my Hubs comes to the original structure, because three of the walls are doors and windows covered in rice paper. The transition feels very natural.

Do Ho Suh, Seoul Home/Seoul Home/Kanazawa Home/Beijing Home/Pohang Home/Gwangju Home, 2012-present, Silk and stainless steel tubes, 575 x 285 x 156.5 inches / 1460.5 x 723.9 x 397.5 cm, Installation view, Do Ho Suh: Perfect Home, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, 2012–2013. © Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

VL: How has the pandemic changed your studio practice, or is there anything you have become more focused on lately?

DHS: I keep thinking about what it means if you don’t have somewhere to call home. I first started to consider what home meant when I left Korea and I’ve never stopped, so for me it was something that came into focus when it was challenged. So many people must be struggling with that now. Also how borders—physical, political, social—impact our behaviors. I’m a transnational artist and I’ve benefited from notions of a borderless world, the fluid and constantly moving nature of the cultural sector. What happens to that now? They’re such complex areas though. I’m also thinking a lot about what’s happened in the wake of globalization, and to an extent neoliberalism—all the lost optimism, all the ambitions to build new walls and borders.

In terms of my studio practice, I’m inevitably doing less work on larger-scale physical projects and a lot of thinking around philosophical concerns. Even the fact that I’m spending a lot of time cleaning my apartment – I’m touching and seeing it in different ways and that’s really interesting to me. Looking anew at the objects you unthinkingly interact with on a daily basis. I’m also working a lot with my two young daughters on an ongoing project, but it’s really taken shape during the lockdown. We’ve been building a lot with Legos and whole fantastical worlds of modelling clay. I’m interested in what happens to our psychic space as we age, how the child’s mind works and what imaginative play communicates about how we frame our worlds, how we try and impose order on the chaos and how much better children are at navigating that chaos.


See this work in For a Dreamer of Houses, now open to the public at the Dallas Museum of Art through July 4, 2021. Plan your visit to the DMA and reserve your tickets here.

Reopening Excitement!

Our recent reopening has stirred up great excitement, especially among DMA staff, who are thrilled to be able to welcome you back to your city’s museum! We asked a group of DMA curators to tell us what they are most excited about as the Dallas Museum of Art opens its doors. Read what they had to say.

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art
One of the joys of working with the Keir Collection is making new discoveries—sitting down with a manuscript or picking up a work in ceramic always feels like an adventure. A scribal note or a design can speak quite directly across geography and time.

Tile, unknown artist, 15th century, red clay with painting in blue and turquoise on a white slip under a transparent glaze, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.893.1

Julien Domercq, The Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of European Art
I am thrilled to be able to see real works of art again, and for visitors to be able to enjoy them firsthand in the galleries. There’s just nothing like being able to lose yourself in looking closely at brushstrokes of paint.

Frans Hals, Portrait of Pieter Jacobsz. Olycan, 1629–30, oil on panel, Private Collection, Courtesy of David Koetser Gallery, Zurich

Dr. Vivian Li, The Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
I love seeing once again Miguel Covarrubias’s Genesis, The Gift of Life, an iconic Museum landmark that has become woven into the fabric of Dallas. Countless families, friends, and young ladies in their spectacular quinceañera dresses have captured beautiful memories in front of it.

Miguel Covarrubias, Genesis, The Gift of Life, about 1954, tempera on cardboard laid on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Jorge Baldor, 2019.60

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art
I am excited to return to For a Dreamer of Houses, an exhibition that was installed but never opened to the public before August 14. The Rubber Pencil Devil installation has a three-hour video, so that’s where I hang out during breaks.

Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, folding chairs, monitors, high-res digital video, color, and sound, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.59. Photo by John Smith.

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
Among the things I’ve missed most are seeing and hearing visitors’ excitement as they explore the galleries and linger in front of objects that speak to them. It’s great to see the Museum come back to life.

Plan your visit to enjoy all of these wonderful art experiences and more! Reserve your timed tickets here. We can’t wait to see you back at the Museum!


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