A Change of Scenery for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Sam F”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam F, 1985, oil on door, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Samuel N. and Helga A. Feldman, 2019.31, © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

In 2017 we began conversations with Helga Feldman about a landmark gift to the institution of a work by the incomparably important US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The portrait, Sam F, painted right here in Dallas, is of Feldman’s late husband, who wanted the work to be given to his city’s museum to be enjoyed by the public. As was the wish of the Feldmans, the work entered the collection at the time of Mrs. Feldman’s death in spring 2021. Basquiat’s significance to the recent history of art is almost unparalleled, and when we received the painting, we got to work making immediate plans to get it on view. With this in mind, we adapted to certain considerations of time and space in order to share the work with our audiences without delay. Therefore, we decided to show it in our Concourse, which is the most public of the Museum spaces, and is traversed by all visitors to the DMA. We have often shown works in that space that we want to honor—the Basquiat hangs where the honored artist of our major annual fundraiser, TWO X TWO for AIDS and Art, is typically found. However, because of the very public nature of this space, our duties to care for the collection mandate that the work must be hung above visitor touch distance—an average viewer’s arm span—to keep the work safe. When Sam F went on view, we received the feedback that seeing the painting from this height was far from ideal. This work clearly struck a chord with viewers—for Basquiat was one of the most innovative figures in 20th-century art history. Moreover, as an artist of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, his presence in the Museum’s collection signals the crucial contributions of Black and Latinx artists to the art historical canon, and the work contains a wealth of references to Afro-diasporic culture that are illuminated in the accompanying interpretive panel.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sam F on view across from Pablo Picasso’s The Guitarist on Level 2

We heard this feedback, and we agree—it’s time to move the Basquiat so that the conditions of display can better facilitate the close looking the work merits. As of today, the work will be on view on Level 2, at the threshold between the European and contemporary galleries. The work’s neighbors include paintings by Pablo Picasso and sculptures by Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, and Aristide Maillol. It also abuts our collection of classical art, providing a compelling survey of how artists have treated the human form over thousands of years. Basquiat’s portrait of Sam, who used a wheelchair, rejects the idealism first introduced in the classical period and depicts subjects that are typically excluded as subjects of the fine arts. His signature formal style combines expressive mark making taken from both his past as a graffiti artist and the Neo-Expressionism movement that dominated art in New York in the 1980s, while also pointing to a groundbreaking synthesis and reconfiguration of the art historical language that now surrounds it. We invite you to come and see the work, and to let us know what you think.

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

The Road to Van Gogh

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, Interim Chief Curator and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art, spent almost a decade working tirelessly on bringing Van Gogh and the Olive Groves to life. Read about her perspective on making the magic of the exhibition happen in this Q&A excerpt from our DMA member magazine, Artifacts.

How does it feel to approach the exhibition opening after so many years in development? 

I began developing the concept for this exhibition in 2012, while I was researching the incredible olive tree painting by Van Gogh in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Although I had worked a great deal on the artist, I was shocked to find that the painting belonged to a significant series about which I knew nothing. I set out to learn more, only to find that there had been no exhibition or book dedicated to the subject to date. Moreover, there were many unknowns about the series, such as the dates of some of the paintings, the sequence in which they were made over a six-month production period, and which paintings Van Gogh was describing in his letters—something unexpected given the incredibly saturated research field dedicated to this beloved world-famous artist. With that, I launched the exhibition and the unprecedented comparative study that involved an international team of curators, researchers, conservators, and scientists.  

The exhibition planning took many twists and turns along the way. It’s never easy to borrow important artwork by heavily sought-after artists such as Van Gogh, and some of our loan negotiations took five years to secure. Just as the checklist was nearly finalized, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about new challenges and uncertainties. Rather poignantly, the exhibition catalogue, which takes as its subject the artistic production of a painter confined within an asylum—an experience Van Gogh described as a “necessary and salutary quarantine”—was written and produced in its entirety during the self-isolation and confinement imposed by the pandemic. It was with a mixture of trepidation and sadness that after all these years of working tirelessly to bring this project to fruition, I didn’t have access to a library or other resources when it finally came time to start the book. But the work forged ahead and I’m deeply grateful for what we accomplished under these exceptional circumstances.  

As I worked at my dining room table turned remote office, I thought often of Van Gogh and his experience at the asylum. Never before had his enduring belief in the healing and consolatory power of art and of nature felt more relevant, his experience more relatable, his achievement more astounding. I hope that visitors to the show will take as much joy and comfort from the olive trees as I have over the last decade, and especially this last year. 

Artist Spotlight: Emilio Amero

Modern Mexican art is dominated by artists with colossal reputations—Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo, and many others. In my experience though, it is sometimes the artists who have garnered less attention that produced the most gripping works, charting unique artistic trajectories. One such figure, whose work I adore and have long wanted to write about, is Emilio Amero (1901–1976). Among the most versatile artists of his generation, Amero painted in fresco and on canvas, but was also a graphic designer, caricaturist, photographer, filmmaker, printmaker, gallery owner, and professor.

Born in Ixtlauaca, in the State of Mexico, Amero moved to the capital as a boy, eventually studying at the National School of Fine Arts. Although he was initially drawn to fresco painting and assisted on several important mural projects, Amero left Mexico in 1925 and settled in New York, where he worked as an illustrator for various publications, including the New Yorker and Life, and designed advertising campaigns for Saks Fifth Avenue. In New York, he explored new mediums, producing a short experimental film, 777, and trying his hand at photography. In his early photographs, he played with double exposures and other techniques for manipulating photographic negatives, but he eventually began working in a more documentary style.

Although Amero’s love for film and photography would continue when he returned to Mexico in 1930, he began working in the medium for which he appears to have had the greatest creative passion—printmaking. While teaching lithography at the National School of Fine Arts, Amero also opened a gallery, Galería Posada, where he exhibited the work of young artists, gave lectures, and held film screenings. In the mid-1930s, he returned to the United States, moving between the two countries for many years while completing various projects and teaching in New York, Mexico City, and Seattle. In 1946 Amero accepted a position at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he taught graphic arts until his retirement in 1967.

Emilio Amero, There is Fear, 1947, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Neiman-Marcus Prize, First Southwestern Print Exhibition, 1948, 1948.12
Emilio Amero, Where?, 1948, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum Zonne Memorial Prize, 2nd Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1949, 1949.5

The DMA is fortunate to have four lithographs from Amero’s time in Norman, all of which speak to larger themes in the artist’s work. There is Fear and Where? show the artist’s propensity for contorting and compressing figures, their rigid bodies giving the impression of flesh that has turned to stone. This disquiet is enhanced by the dreamlike landscape in which the figures exist, filled with oddly shaped objects whose purpose seems unclear. In contrast, Dressing and Fiesta show more relatable scenes, their figures alive with movement, recalling some of Amero’s photographs of everyday life in rural Mexico.

Emilio Amero, Dressing, 1949, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum Zonne Memorial Prize, 2nd Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1949, 1949.4
Emilio Amero, Fiesta, 1950, color lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1954.27

Three of these prints entered the collection after winning prizes at DMA exhibitions celebrating printmaking in the Southwest during the mid-20th century. Together they are a testament to Amero’s impact on the arts of this region.

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

Expressing Hope, Dreams, and Gratitude with Ex-votos

Ex-votos are works of art that express gratitude for miraculous events or answered prayers. To go along with the works displayed in the Devoted exhibition, we asked visitors to create their own ex-votos that express something they are thankful for or that is meaningful to them. Check out this round-up of community artwork submissions! Click each artwork to expand the image.

Themes of family:

Themes of nature and animals:

Themes of health:

Themes of art:

And everything in between:

Connections Across Collections: “Slip Zone”

Opening September 14, Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia highlights the innovations in painting, sculpture, and performance that shaped artistic production in the Americas and East Asia during the mid-20th century. Find out about the transnational connections between pairs of artworks featured in the show from the exhibition’s curators.

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art

While the narrative of US art history has focused on the singular achievements of Abstract Expressionism, it did not emerge on the world scene ex nihilo. Rather, US artists drew from multiple precedents, including the Mexican mural movement, which has special resonance for us at the DMA given our longstanding strengths in art from the region. In Slip Zone, Jackson Pollock’s Figure Kneeling Before Arch with Skulls is paired with Crepúsculo by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Siqueiros taught Pollock to use industrial paints at the Experimental Workshop in New York in 1936, which would later inform his use of nontraditional art media in his classic era drip paintings. The expressionistic pathos of this earlier Pollock painting also mirrors the influence of José Clemente Orozco, whose murals he had seen at Dartmouth College the same year.

Images: Jackson Pollock, Figure Kneeling Before Arch with Skulls, about 1934–38, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2017.7, © Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Alfaro Siqueiros, Crepúsculo, 1965, pyroxylin and acrylic on panel, private collection, © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Dr. Vivian Li, The Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art

Using a hair dryer and polyvinyl acetate adhesive—commercially available since 1947 as Elmer’s Glue-All—Takesada Matsutani discovered that he could create corporeal, bulbous forms by blowing air into the material from behind until each “bubble” burst. Affixing them to the surface of his paintings, Matsutani constructed uncanny compositions. Similar to Matsutani and other members of the pioneering Gutai collective in Osaka, Robert Rauschenberg sought to blur the distinction between art and life through the use of everyday materials. For his Hoarfrost series, he transferred newspaper images to pieces of diaphanous fabric. After meeting the Gutai collective in 1964, Rauschenberg later collaborated with them, including onstage.

Images: Takesada Matsutani, Work-63-A.L. (The night), 1963, polyvinyl acetate adhesive, oil, and acrylic on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2012.1.5. Courtesy the artist. © Takesada Matsutani; Robert Rauschenberg, Night Hutch (Hoarfrost), 1976, ink on unstretched fabric, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the artist, 1977.21, © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Vivian Crockett, Former Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art

Around 1968 Lynda Benglis began pigmenting large vats of rubber latex with day-glo paint and pouring the dyed materials directly onto the floor. Created after Benglis visited a 1969 Helen Frankenthaler retrospective, this work is a nod to Frankenthaler’s method of pouring paint onto unprimed canvas. A founding member of the Gutai Art Association, Shozo Shimamoto was also deeply invested in experiments with materiality and technique. The artist often incorporated elements of performance in the creation of his paintings, such as throwing glass bottles of paint at the canvas. To produce Untitled – Whirlpool, Shimamoto poured layers of paint onto the canvas, removing the paintbrush as a mediating tool and leaving the final composition to chance and the physical, viscous qualities of the material itself.

Images: Lynda Benglis, Odalisque (Hey, Hey Frankenthaler), 1969, poured pigmented latex, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2003.2, © 2021 Lynda Benglis / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY; Shozo Shimamoto, Untitled – Whirlpool, 1965, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2012.1.3, © Shozo Shimamoto Association. Naples

Behind the Scenes: Bosco Sodi

Opening September 14, 2021, Bosco Sodi: La fuerza del destino will feature approximately 30 outdoor sculptures by the artist in the DMA’s Sculpture Garden. Created from clay sourced at Sodi’s studio in Oaxaca, dried in the sun, and fired in a traditional brick kiln, the resulting surfaces bear the beautiful scars of their process. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the artist creating his work.

Preparing the clay to sculpt:

Creating the clay spheres:

Drying the clay spheres:

Courtesy: Studio Bosco Sodi, Photographer Sergio Lopez.

Mirror Mirror

Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck has given visitors the opportunity to step between the past and the present and see themselves caught in the middle. The free exhibition features two ornate dressing tables facing each other—one an extravagant example of Gilded Age silversmithing and the other a contemporary interpretation by artist Chris Schanck. The vanities are presented together in a conversation from the 19th century to today about craftsmanship, material, and how humans see and perceive themselves.

The exhibition is the perfect spot to stop, reflect, and snap a selfie—something many of you have done over the past five months that these works have been on view. As the show nears its closing date on August 29, we’re looking back on some highlighted “silver selfies” that have been shared on Instagram:

Hayley Caldwell is the Social Media and Content Manager at the DMA.

Behind the Scenes: Treatment of an Early Work by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s paintings in the conservation studio

The Dallas Museum of Art and Art Bridges Foundation partnered in early January of this year to undertake the conservation treatment and technical study of Art Bridge’s newly acquired masterpiece The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Additionally, the project will allow for the first public presentation of the work, curated by Sue Canterbury at the DMA.

Before conservation treatment: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Thankful Poor, 1894, oil on canvas, Owned by Art Bridges Foundation

When The Thankful Poor arrived at the DMA’s conservation studio, it was already strikingly beautiful. The composition holds space and immediately draws the viewer in. The painting is double-sided, presenting an unfinished version of The Young Sabot Maker on the reverse, a composition Tanner would complete the following year and which now resides in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s collection.

The Young Sabot Maker on the back of The Thankful Poor

Prior to any conservation treatment, a thorough examination is always undertaken, including archival documentation research relating to any previous interventions. It became apparent that the work had undergone at least one relatively minor restoration campaign in the 1970s. It was also evident that the painting was cleaned and re-varnished in a second treatment, though no verifiable documentation was found. UV illumination was used to better understand which varnishes and treatment materials might have been used, as surface materials such as varnishes and areas of retouching can be differentiated based on their observed fluorescence. In this painting, the varnish is seen glowing green, and older areas of restoration present as black spots.

Here, the front of the work is illuminated with UV light. The streaky green appearance is the fluorescence exhibited by the surface varnish, and the black spots are areas of older restoration.

As both of these treatments took place many years earlier, the varnish layers had become discolored, both yellowed and cloudy. An old tear that had been repaired using wax and paper had also begun to open and needed to be addressed. Finally, a thick layer of discolored adhesive was scattered throughout the composition on the reverse of the canvas.

Left: A tear before treatment. Right: First image showing tear before treatment; detail showing adhesive residues on reverse of canvas.

Tanner was an innovative artist, known to experiment with layering techniques that require especially mindful cleaning approaches. Cleaning tests were conducted under microscopic magnification to determine a cleaning protocol to remove the layers of discolored varnish. To better understand the boundary between paint and varnish, a microscopic sample was used to gain a view of the various layers. The resulting cleaning process was executed almost entirely under the microscope to ensure the most delicate layers were preserved.

Layers seen in a photomicrograph of a cross-sectional sample at 20X magnification

The tear was then mended and areas of losses were filled and retouched using reversible conservation materials. Wide cracks, known as traction cracks, were carefully retouched to better integrate the surface visually.

Left: Detail of areas of traction cracking before treatment. Right: Same detail after treatment.

The cleaning was transformative. The layers of discolored varnish lifted to reveal a colorful palette previously unseen. The overall tone of the painting shifted to unveil a much cooler composition, balancing the contrast.

It was an honor to work on this beautiful painting. Results from the treatment allow the work to be appreciated as the artist intended. Tanner was a master of tone and light, both of which he captured so beautifully in this magnificent composition. Research and treatment work were done collaboratively with my fabulous curatorial colleagues, both at the DMA and at Art Bridges, and I want to give a heartfelt acknowledgment to Sue Canterbury, Martha MacLeod, and Margi Conrads for their collaboration.

Reverse of painting before (left) and after treatment (right)
Front of painting before (left) and after treatment (right).

Laura Eva Hartman is the Paintings Conservator at the DMA.

Hitting Close to Home

As the closing date for the exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses approaches, I can’t help but reflect on how timely, vibrant, and meaningful the show has been to those who have experienced it. The exhibition was originally set to open in March 2020, an opening that was never realized due to the pandemic. The timing was poignant and somewhat surreal—here we have a show about the significance of one’s home coming to fruition during a time of socially distanced shutdown, when all of us were becoming significantly more familiar with the spaces we inhabit. During that time, we launched a virtual tour of the exhibition, which allowed audiences from near and far to explore the contents of the show and think about how they relate to our present experiences, how our spaces reflect ourselves, and what our spaces and the everyday objects within them mean to us. The themes hit close to home, so to speak.

The exhibition finally opened in person along with the rest of the DMA in August 2020. We welcomed you home to your city’s museum—home to this special exhibition of contemporary art—after all of us spent months in our own homes. With fresh perspectives, you, our visitors, made magic happen as you ventured out and became part of the art. Here’s a look back at what you experienced.

The colorful energy of Alex Da Corte’s unmissable Rubber Pencil Devil:

The whimsy of the Drawers, Chests, and Wardrobes section, featuring works by Olivia Erlanger, Robert Pruitt, and Sarah Lucas:

The awe-inspiring immersion of Francisco Moreno’s Chapel:

The intimate materials of Janine Antoni’s Grope:

The delicate beauty of Do Ho Suh’s Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea:

. . . and much more.

There’s still a bit of time left for you to visit For a Dreamer of Houses before the exhibition closes on July 4, 2021. Be sure to book your visit soon and make yourself at home.

Hayley Caldwell is the Social Media and Content Manager at the DMA.

The White North

Julian Charrière, Towards No Earthly Pole, 2019. Film still. Courtesy of the artist; DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin; Galerie Tschudi, Zuoz; Sean Kelly, New York; and Sies+Höke, Düsseldorf. Copyright the artist; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 

Julian Charrière’s work Towards No Earthly Pole draws its title from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s epitaph in Westminster Abbey, London, for Sir John Franklin, the British explorer lost in an ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The epitaph reads in full: 

NOT HERE: THE WHITE NORTH HAS THY BONES; AND THOU, HEROIC SAILOR-SOUL, ART PASSING ON THINE HAPPIER VOYAGE NOW TOWARD NO EARTHLY POLE. 

Franklin’s doomed expedition was the source of public fascination in the late 19th century and continues to shape our perception of Arctic exploration to this day. Franklin embarked in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, on his third attempt to discover the Northwest Passage, a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic. The ships became icebound in 1847 in the Victoria Strait and were abandoned in April 1848 after nearly two dozen officers and men, including Franklin, perished in the cold. The rest made for the Canadian mainland but were never heard from again. Of the 129 men who began the expedition, none survived.  

The British Admiralty launched several search parties over the subsequent decades, recovering artifacts and remains from the doomed expedition. Their findings suggested that the crew succumbed to hypothermia, starvation, lead poisoning, exposure, and disease. In some of the most sensational findings, examinations of remains offered potential evidence of cannibalism. The search for Franklin over the course of nearly 30 rescue missions better mapped the Canadian coastline and led to the eventual discovery of a Northwest Passage, but it also left a lasting legacy in the cultural imagination of Victorian Britain. The endeavor and its failure offered a narrative of man’s struggle against nature, the tragic romance and heroism of exploration, and the overwhelming power of a landscape alien to the British public.  

Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt, 1979.28

This preoccupation with the Arctic and the looming specter of Franklin is evident in the American painter Frederic Edwin Church’s 1861 work The Icebergs. A jewel of the DMA’s collection, the painting is emblematic of the sweeping views and dramatic uses of light that characterized the Hudson River School, with which Church was associated. Church worked from studies produced during his own month-long expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1859, where he observed the material qualities of the icebergs and their Arctic surroundings. 

Initially exhibited in New York and Boston in 1861 with the title The North, the painting failed to attract buyers due to the ongoing Civil War, despite immense praise from American audiences. In 1863 Church sent the painting to London, where he hoped to attract interest from his British supporters. Before transporting the work across the Atlantic, he made two notable alterations: renaming the work with its present title, The Icebergs, to avoid conflation with the Union; and adding a broken mast to the foreground. Though the artist’s motivations for including the mast remain unknown, it may have served as a reference to the Franklin expedition, synonymous with the devastated promise of Arctic exploration.  

The same interest in the beguiling and terrible power of the icebergs that captivated Church is evident in Towards No Earthly Pole. The sublime glacial landscape appears fantastic and otherworldly, something beyond the comprehension of humanity. Though Indigenous communities have long staked out ways of living symbiotically with the Arctic environment, Franklin’s expedition and Church’s painting point to the hubris of imperial attempts to conquer and claim the polar landscape. Charrière’s film suggests that despite our advances in scientific knowledge and ability to map the world, we still have a fascination with and ignorance of a land that retains its power to resist us.

Hilde Nelson is the Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art at the DMA.


Archives

Flickr Photo Stream

Categories