Celebrating Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1907 by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

This month the DMA celebrates the acclaimed African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937). Tanner’s intimate painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures is one of the cornerstones of our American collection. He rendered the lush, densely painted surface using a restricted palette predominated by shades of cool, luminous blue. The color became so synonymous with him that it earned the nickname “Tanner-blue.”

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, 1908, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds, 1986.9

The artist’s wife, Jessie Olssen, an American opera singer living in Paris when they met, and their young son, Jesse, often served as his models. Two existing photographs (figs. 1 & 2) confirm they posed for him as he considered different arrangements for the DMA’s painting, and one (fig. 1) was the template. That they posed for this painting makes it simultaneously a meditative religious scene and a tender family portrait.

Fig. 1: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12359, public domain
Fig. 2: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12360, public domain

Tanner seems to have been so enamored with the composition that three years later he rendered a similar version, Christ Learning to Read. He made slight changes to the poses of Christ and Mary and experimented with an impressionistic application of a high-keyed pastel color palette to render light. Further, the painting’s structural frame and inner arcing spandrel reflect the influence of buildings he most likely saw during his many trips to Morocco.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ Learning to Read, about 1911, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts, 1941.16, photo credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

Tanner’s decision to be a religious painter was deeply rooted in his family background. His father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835–1923), was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the artist’s childhood home was a well-known salon of Black culture in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that his path to a successful career was filled with many obstacles. While he found studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins intellectually fulfilling, the extreme racism he experienced from classmates was intolerable. Acknowledging that he “could not fight prejudice and paint at the same time,” Tanner left Philadelphia, briefly set up a photography studio in Georgia, and eventually lived out his life in Paris as an American expatriate. The city was culturally, socially, and artistically welcoming, while also providing him with the freedom and camaraderie unavailable to him in his segregated homeland. In Paris, the shy, serious-minded artist flourished and prospered. After a trip to Palestine, Tanner turned his focus toward painting biblical scenes and rarely strayed from this theme for the rest of his life.

Both the Dallas and Des Moines paintings, along with the two photographs discussed here, are emblematic of Tanner’s devotion to his faith and career, and all of them serve as affectionate double portraits in tribute to his wife and son. The Dallas Museum of Art is proud to display Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, which is a masterpiece by this admired and accomplished American artist, in our galleries. We are always honored to celebrate Tanner’s life, legacy, and contribution to the canon of American art, and we are most especially pleased to do so during Black History Month.

Martha MacLeod is the Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design, Latin American Art, and American Art at the DMA.

From the Page to the Painting: Literary Connections

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2002, coal dust, printing ink, oil stick, glue, acrylic paint, and gesso on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2004.29, © 2002 Glenn Ligon

This work features the opening lines of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village.” The story traces Baldwin’s time in a Swiss village where the majority of residents had never encountered a person of African descent. 

As a fellow gay Black man, Glenn Ligon incorporated Baldwin’s words in hundreds of his works. (Learn more about the artist’s interpretation of this essay and his choice of materials here.)

Glittering coal dust glued to a black surface makes the words nearly impossible to decipher. Similarly, the author and artist share their experiences of being seen but not understood.

Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, 1952, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift via Charles Wylie to honor Catherine and Will Rose, 2007.62.2, © Estate of Gordon Parks

As a staff photographer for Life magazine, Gordon Parks created the photo-essay “A Man Becomes Invisible” in conjunction with the publication of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. Parks and Ellison were friends and shared an interest in raising the visibility of Black lives in postwar United States.

Ellison’s unnamed, Black protagonist lives in an underground room. He is protected from a racist society only by remaining invisible—hidden below ground.

Parks imagines Ellison’s protagonist warily emerging from his subterranean sanctuary, an event only hinted at in the book’s epilogue.

Lorna Simpson, Blue Turned Temporal, 2019, ink, watercolor, and screenprint on gessoed fiberglass, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.16, © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang

This work was first shown in “Darkening,” a 2019 exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York City. The exhibition opened with an excerpt from Robin Coste Lewis’s poem “Using Black to Paint Light: Walking Through a Matisse Exhibit, Thinking About the Arctic and Matthew Henson.”

The poem points to one of the many layers of meaning behind Lorna Simpson’s choice of subject. Matthew Henson was an African American explorer who made seven trips to the Arctic between 1891 and 1912.

The brilliant color of Blue Turned Temporal resonates with lines from Lewis’s poem that note the absence of white and whiteness in the frozen northern environment. “The unanticipated shock: so much believed to be white is actually—strikingly—blue.” (Read Lewis’s full poem.)

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

Thurmond Townsend: A Dallas Artist to Know

In early 1938, 26-year-old Thurmond Townsend was appraising his backyard and became intrigued by the now malleable mud, which had the consistency of clay. Though he had never tried modeling before, Townsend started working with the mud to create busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from pictures. The two sculptures were going well… except for the ears. On his way home from work as a bus boy, Townsend stopped into the Dallas Art Institute and asked instructor Harry Lee Gibson how to sculpt ears.

Taking Gibson’s advice that he try modeling from life, Townsend created a bust of his wife Marie. He entered this sculpture in the 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition (March 20-April 17, 1938). The Dallas Art Association, now DMA, started holding juried exhibitions for artists residing in Dallas and Dallas County in 1928 and did so annually through 1964.

Townsend’s mud Marie Townsend was not only accepted to the exhibition’s Sculpture and Crafts section, but was awarded a $25 prize sponsored by Karl Hoblitzelle, a DMFA Board member. Townsend’s sculpture was the first work by a Black artist accepted to the Dallas Allied Arts exhibition. This was notable enough at the time that TIME magazine reported on Townsend and his sculpture in the April 4, 1938 issue.

“Art: Marie in Mud,” TIME, April 4, 1938

It should be stated that the eligibility rules in the exhibition prospectus did not limit entries by race and identification of race was not part of the information on the entry card required with each submission.

Entry Form for 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition

An interesting side note, the other sculpture award at the 1938 Allied Arts Exhibition went to Harry Lee Gibson, the Dallas Art Institute instructor who helped Townsend with his “ears” problem.

As the mud sculpture would crumble as it dried, Gibson made a plaster cast of the bust for the Townsends. The plaster cast would go on to be displayed at the Paul Laurence Dunbar branch of the Dallas Public Library.

The Dallas Morning News featured an image of Marie Townsend in its March 6, 1938 issue.

1938 continued to be a successful year for Townsend’s sculptures. His Self Portrait, a second mud sculpture, was selected for the juried Texas Section of the Golden Jubilee Exhibition for the 1938 State Fair of Texas. In her review of the DMFA State Fair exhibition, the Dallas Morning News’ Elisabeth Crocker calls Self Portrait “…amazing…” and goes on to describe the sculpture as an “…even more sensitively executed, life-size bust of himself” discounting any who thought his Allied Arts prize-winning Marie Townsend was a “flash in the pan.”

The Texas Section of the 1939 State Fair Art Exhibition was an invitational exhibition and Townsend was invited to submit a piece due to his selection for the 1938 Allied Arts exhibition. He submitted a sculpture titled Dog, that Crocker described as a “cunning dog’s head,” in her review of the show.

“Head of Dog,” Dallas Morning News, October 8, 1939

Townsend was awarded his second Allied Arts sculpture section win, a $25 prize sponsored by the Rush Company, for Girl Friend at the 12th Annual Allied Arts Exhibition in 1941.

The artist does not appear in any of the DMFA’s juried exhibitions after the early 1940s. The current location of the works mentioned here, or any other of his artworks is unknown. If you have any information on Townsend or his body of work, please let us know.

Thanks to former McDermott Intern Melinda Narro whose extensive research brought Thurmond Townsend’s story to our attention. Thanks also to Communications staff Jill Bernstein and Lillian Michel for additional research.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Reflections with Chris Schanck

Ahead of Chris Schanck’s first major museum presentation, Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck, we asked the artist a few questions about his formative years in Dallas, his artistic practice, and what he hopes visitors will reflect on when experiencing the exhibition. Read what he had to say and see Curbed Vanity, on view February 7 through August 29, 2021.

How was your high school experience at Booker T. formative for you as an artist?

“Good morning and welcome to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the most unique school in Dallas”—that’s how our principal, Dr. Watkins, addressed the student body over the PA system every morning; I can still hear the optimism in his voice. For a student like me, who often managed to find trouble, I am thankful for the patience and persistence that Dr. Watkins gave me—each day was a new day, a new chance. He gave me enough room to be creative and make mistakes, but he also helped me stay on the path.

Booker T. was the most critical educational experience of my life. My teachers offered me a sanctuary of stability and mentorship. Nancy Miller, Patsy Eldridge, Polly Disky, George Mosely, Charlotte Chambliss, Lolly Thompkins, Josephine Jones, and Sylvia Lincoln together gave me a strong fine arts foundation. 

My painting teacher, George Moseley, changed my life forever. Mr. Moseley is a great artist, an inspiring educator, and a trusted mentor. I, along with many of my peers, idealized him for the leadership he showed us in our youth. I know without a doubt that my life and career are forever indebted to him and those handful of teachers who helped me find the confidence to believe in myself.

What does having this show at the Dallas Museum of Art mean to you?

My high school was just down the street from the DMA and I visited countless times in those impressionable years. The Museum always had the familiar feeling of visiting a friend’s home; I felt welcomed and I knew my way around. At the same time, the DMA was my temple. It didn’t matter who I was in the Museum—everyone is equal before art.

The Museum was my gateway to art history. In one afternoon, I could visit with Aztec gods, Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo—and I could start to see the connections and conversations between them all. I didn’t have a lot growing up, but the Museum and my high school gave me exactly what I needed. They showed me from a young age that art gives everything else meaning.

I’m grateful for the support of the Museum and the friends of the Museum. The DMA’s collection is the closest collection to my heart and to be a part of it is the greatest honor.

How does the transformation process of found objects into furniture inspire your artistic practice?

The found objects I work with have very disparate characteristics and I don’t have one specific method for grouping them. For each piece of work, I first build a simple structure and use that as an armature to explore the relationships between the objects and the material. The process of transforming the objects into form is driven by intuition and practical constraints. Many times, I’m following a hunch that two distinct things belong together, while other times I’m exploring rigid dimensional constraints between manufactured generic objects whose original intent is a mystery.

It feels like a collaborative effort between myself and the material—I have a notion of where to begin but the objects bring the project into focus.

William C. Codman, Martelé dressing table and stool, 1899, silver, glass, fabric, and ivory, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Dr. Charles L. Venable, 2000.356.a–b.McD

What was your first encounter with the DMA’s Martelé dressing table like?

Like encountering the sword Excalibur; its presence is magical in form and reflectivity—it’s a formidable piece of work to talk to.

What experience do you want visitors to take away from Curbed Vanity?

I’d like them to know that I find my corner of the world inspiring and beautiful in it’s everyday characteristics. I hope the work inspires viewers to enjoy the subtle and unconventional beauty in their own communities.

Connections Across Collections: Repurposed Materials

Making the old new by transforming discarded objects into works of art is an integral part of contemporary artist Chris Schanck’s practice, as seen in his dressing table featured in the upcoming Curbed Vanity exhibition and made of found materials from the neighborhood surrounding his Detroit studio. We asked DMA curators what other artworks and objects in our collection feature repurposed materials. From personal mementos to wild animal horns, find out about these objects and what they’re made of.

Perry Nichols, [The Desk Top of Jake Hamon], 1966, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Carlos Nichols, 2017.37, © Perry Nichols

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art 
“Dallas native Perry Nichols portrayed Jake Hamon by depicting objects and mementos that represented some of the sitter’s traits, hobbies, and interests. When the Hamons owned the painting, it hung over their mantle while the real-life items rested below.”

Ceremonial basket, California, Shasta basketweaver, 19th–20th century, Squaw grass and black mountain sedge, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Eugene M. Solow, 1954.130.1

Dr. Michelle Rich, Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas
“Foraging for grasses in nature is a form of producing art with found materials. The Shasta artist who wove this beautiful basket took the time to harvest the bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) and black alpine sedge (Carex nigricans) from the wilds of Northern California.”

Helmet mask (komo), Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo sculptor, mid-20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, mirrors, iron, and other materials, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley, 1997.24

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art 
“Sharp horns, tusks, and zigzag teeth of wild animals; mirrors; cowrie shells; wine glasses; and sacred texts contribute to the fierce appearance and spiritual power of this helmet mask, as well as project the prominence of the Komo society member.”

Found and Foiled

Chris Schanck is a Dallas-native artist whose first museum commission and solo museum presentation Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck debuts at the DMA this winter. Schanck creates artworks from industrial and discarded objects he collects from outside. The artist then coats the materials in aluminum foil and resin—a reference to the Dallas aluminum factory where, along with his father, Schanck worked when he was young. Take a behind-the-scenes look at his process of collecting materials, as well as progress shots of how he transforms these objects into new pieces of furniture.

Chris and his team in his Detroit neighborhood inspecting furniture left on the curbsides
Chris gathering materials from an old house near his home in Detroit
Chris and his team collecting discarded construction materials from an abandoned lot in his Detroit neighborhood
A collection of discarded objects and materials Chris found in his neighborhood
More discarded objects that Chris and his team found and cataloged back in the studio
Chris and his assistants in his Detroit studio building the maquette, or skeleton, for Curbed Vanity.

Curbed Vanity in progress:

Chris Schanck, American, born 1975
Curbed Vanity, 2020
Mixed media, aluminum foil, and resin.
T44152.1-2

Connections Across Collections: Gratitude

With more than 25,000 objects, the DMA’s encyclopedic collection is a treasured source of inspiration. Our curators selected works from across collections to express sentiments of gratitude—read their picks below!

Deborah Roberts, When you see me, 2019, mixed media and collage on canvas, Dallas Museum of art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.20, © Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I am thankful for the contributions of Texas artists to our collection. One of my favorite recent acquisitions is by Austin-based Deborah Roberts, whose When you see me is a work of heartbreaking beauty that elicits an honest reckoning from the viewer.” 

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1846-1847, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Art Museum League Fund, 1973.5

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art 
“Hicks’s allegory centered around themes of peace and unity resonates at this moment when we at the DMA yearn for companionship and understanding. Hicks’s painting is an ideal and historic model for the possibility of peaceful coexistence and of gratitude for the blessings of community.” 

Ex-voto Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, 1886, Mexico, oil on tin, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Foundation, 1961.84

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art 
“C. Nicolaz Moralez fell from a tree on October 7, 1886. Carried home in a blanket, he prayed to Saint Martin. After his recovery, he commissioned this small ex-voto to offer his thanks to the saint for healing him.” 

Lorna Simpson, Blue Turned Temporal, 2019, ink, watercolor, and screenprint on gessoed fiberglass, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.16, © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang 

Vivian Crockett, The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I’m grateful for recent acquisitions that not only highlight the strength of the artists in question, but also make possible meaning dialogues with existing works in the collection. Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal (2019) exemplifies her lifelong commitment to interrogating supposedly universalist frameworks and in turn, enriches our understanding of Frederic Edwin Church’s The Icebergs (1861), a beloved work in the DMA’s collection.” 

Qur’an, Damascus, Syria, 1340, ink, gold and colors on paper (modern binding), Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.578, fol.217v. 

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman & Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic & Medieval Art 
“A well-known verse in the Qur’an tells us that the expression of gratitude is for the benefit of one’s own soul (Q 31:12). It can be read in the third and fourth lines of this page from a manuscript on view in the Keir Collection gallery.” 

Kazuo Shiraga, Imayo Ranbu (Modern Dance), 2000, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2013.21, ©︎ The Estate of Kazuo Shiraga 

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art 
“The bright, explosive colors of Imayo Ranbu evokes the vigorous energy and movements of the artist in creating this foot painting. The title’s reference to the festive dance (ranbu) of the Heian period (794-1185) in Japan further conveys a mood of celebration and joy.” 

Louis Anquetin, Woman at Her Toilette, 1889, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2020.3.FA 

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
“I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of Dallas’s own Foundation for the Arts. Through its dedication and sustained support, we are able to add masterpieces to the DMA’s galleries, such as Louis Anquetin’s Woman at Her Toilette. This exquisite recent acquisition by an artist in Van Gogh’s circle debuts in the European galleries this month.” 

Artist once known, Chancay, doll, 1000–1460, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, the Nora and John Wise Collection, bequest of John Wise, 1983.W.2181 
Artist once known, Wari (Huari), tunic with profile heads and step frets, 850–950 CE, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Carol Robbins’ 40th anniversary with the Dallas Museum of Art, 2004.55.McD 
Artist once known, Maya, Tzutujil, spindle with white cotton, 1970, wood and cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams Collection of Guatemalan Textiles, 1982.274.A-B
Artist once known, Chimayo or Rio Grande, blanket, c. 1900–1920, cotton and wool, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of John Lunsford, 2003.51

Dr. Michelle Rich, Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas 
“Materials used to spin yarn and tools employed to produce cloth may vary across time and space, but weaving in the Americas is a rich tradition that is thousands of years old. Textiles are extremely fragile, and I am grateful the DMA has the opportunity to help preserve a wide range of works: from Andean dolls and tunics to Maya wooden weaving tools to Chimayo and Navajo blankets.” 

David Clarke, Family Matter, 2020, sterling silver, silverplate, pewter, common salt, paint, and sugar, Dallas Museum of Art, Silver Supper Fund, 2019.96 

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design 
“Comprised of heirloom silver contributed by DMA staff, patrons, and trustees, Family Matter embodies the meaning and memory instilled in treasured family objects. With this work, David Clarke created a unified vision of our extended communities reminding us that the past and present continue to be connected, often in new and unexpected ways.” 

Sword ornament in the form of a spider, Ghana, Asante peoples, late 19th century, gold-copper-silver alloy, Dallas Museum of Art, McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.26.1

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art 

“Thanks to the McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, the DMA was able to acquire a 19th century cast gold sword ornament in the form of a spider from Ghana. What I learned about it inspired an awesome exhibition, The Power of Gold, and brought Asante royalty to the Dallas.” 

Literary Gratitude: An Arts & Letters Live Reading List

Arts & Letters Live Director Carolyn Bess and Program Manager Carolee Klimchock compiled a list of book recommendations and musings focused on gratitude from acclaimed authors, many of whom have been featured in the DMA’s signature literary series. Arts & Letters Live will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2021; explore upcoming programs here.

Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential  
Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers 
Maria Shriver, I’ve Been Thinking . . . Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life  
Oliver Sacks, Gratitude  
Books for children: 
Oge Mora, Thank You, Omu!, a tale of generosity, sharing, community, and gratitude; a Caldecott Honor Book 
The Five Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids

What are you thankful for? 
Arts & Letters Live authors share their insights:

Gratitude for the Ancestors 
Alice Randall, in her recent Arts & Letters Live virtual talk, described how her novel Black Bottom Saints grew from the wisdom she gained about radical joy and resilience from the ancestors.  The African American musicians and artists profiled in her book, who she terms the “saints” of the historic Detroit neighborhood Black Bottom, movingly transform past traumas into transcendent art.  Among the multimedia elements created for the book, one is a quiz to determine which ancestor or saint you need at any given time.  Right now, could you use a boost of resilience, joy, or help through a difficult time?  Take the “Who’s Your Saint” quiz to see whose inspiration can guide you.  

Gratitude for Words 
Avid readers might all be deemed logophiles (lovers of words), but Louise Erdrich intones an impassioned appreciation for the written words saved in archives which made her latest research-driven novel possible.  From the National Archives and other libraries, she found letters her own grandfather had written and documents that helped her create the captivating fictional characters in The Night Watchman , who capture the true historical triumph of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and who saved their tribe from termination.   

Gratitude for Family Quirks  
Every family has them: unconventional traditions, eccentric relatives, and even family feuds.  Poet Richard Blanco shows gratitude for all the charming, quirky traits that make his family singularly endearing. Betting on who will win the Miss America pageant each year was a heated and time-honored tradition for his Cuban American family in Miami—even though no one quite knew where Ohio was—a tale he humorously recounts in his poem “Betting on America” from How to Love a Country. The DMA commissioned Blanco to write a new poem inspired by works of art and themes in the current My|gration exhibition. Listen to him read it. 

Staff Spotlight: “To Be Determined”

Organized through collaboration among the entire curatorial team over the DMA’s five-month closure, To Be Determined represents the power of art amidst uncertainty and invites viewers to uncover new and personal meanings in objects from the Museum’s vast collection.  

Staff from across the Museum share their inspiration and determination in bringing this exhibition to life:

Hayley Caldwell, Copy and Content Marketing Writer 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the many creative possibilities and meanings that each grouping of artworks can convey, and how the nature of the show is to embrace and give importance to the viewers’ own interpretations. I was and am determined to support this experience by fostering a digital space where viewers can make and discuss their own connections.” 

Jessie Carrillo, Manager of Adult Programs 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the passion DMA curators have for the collections they steward and the objects they selected. I was determined to capture this passion in a series of virtual curator spotlight talks with the goal of moving visitors to find something in the exhibition that speaks to them.” 

Lizz DeLera, Creative Director 
“The theme of this exhibition and the zeitgeist subject matter that the curatorial team put so much thought into spurred me on to be determined to showcase the works and the shared themes they represent. I did this by conceptualizing a resonating and experiential microsite to manifest with ‘chapters’ that speak to the common thread of what people are currently feeling and experiencing in these challenging times.” 

Tara Eaden, Operations Manager 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the Dallas Museum of Art’s strength and determination to preserve and continue to bring art alive despite the current times. I am still elated to witness the diversity and inclusion within the exhibition, as works from Dallas based artists Oshay Green and Jammie Holmes are on view. I was determined to ensure that the works of art were displayed in a space that is comfortable and pristine for a positive and memorable visitor experience.” 

Jaclyn Le, Senior Graphic Designer 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by my colleagues’ shared passion to create an exhibition that encourages dialogue surrounding the current state of the world. I was determined to design a graphic identity that was delicate yet strong, embodying the idea of resiliency, and to create a color palette that was in harmony the wide range of works shown. Both have been implemented across both web and print platforms, and is successfully weaved into the exhibition’s microsite.” 

Brian Peterman, Lighting Preparator 
“I was inspired by the curators’ selections and the thought-provoking juxtapositions these created. I was determined to develop the dramatic lighting effects that they were seeking, with areas of concentrated light surrounded by deep shadow, such as in the gallery where Frederick Church’s The Icebergs and Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal are quietly alone together. The show turned out beautifully, with a moody and introspective atmosphere that reflects the tone of the unusual times in which we’re living.” 

Claudia Sánchez, Associate Registrar for Exhibitions  
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by a personal need and yearning for the kind of kinship and camaraderie uniquely shared between colleagues and I was determined to be as accommodating and empathetic to fellow staff as a result of the collective challenges experienced due to new COVID rules and procedures. Despite the obstacles, our team safely and successfully installed the show and relished in the satisfaction of being onsite and feeling industrious again.” 

Under the Influence: What Inspired Picasso

Picasso’s first financial success came in spring 1906, when he sold the entire inventory of his studio to art dealer Ambroise Vollard for the then large sum of 2,000 francs. This allowed him and his partner, Fernande Olivier, to travel to Barcelona and from there to the Pyrenean village Gósol. In Spain, Picasso was a different person, Olivier remembered: “As soon as he returned to his native Spain, and especially to its countryside, he was perfused with its calm and serenity. This made his works lighter, airier, less agonized.” It is not surprising then that in the almost three months the couple spent in Gósol, Picasso produced more than 300 paintings, drawings, and sculptures with Olivier as his main model. A significant change in his style announced itself during these months, influenced in part by the spare landscape and the region’s unique colors, but also by two exhibitions he recently saw: the Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres retrospective at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, and a display of Iberian art at the Louvre from recent excavations in Andalusia.

Pablo Picasso, Nude with Folded Hands, 1906, gouache on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.19.McD

A diamond pattern and the contours of a figure bleed through the thin paint of the pale pink background in Nude with Folded Hands. Only Olivier’s own ocher outlines set her apart from the nondescript, empty environment in which she is standing, giving the painting the effect of a bas-relief. The voluptuous body seems awkwardly twisted at its waist and shoulders, the head is slightly bent down, and her almond-shaped eyes are closed. In its rigidity, the face evokes Iberian art as well as a sculpture bust of Olivier, Head of a Woman, that Picasso made in the same year. Standing in front of her beholder, she is timidly folding her hands; however, her modesty is a false one, her hands revealing more than they hide, guiding the viewers gaze. Olivier often posed in the nude for Picasso, and while the young artist frequently made small drawings and caricatures of his sexual escapades, the studies and paintings of Olivier from 1906 stand out through their intimate eroticism, absent in his earlier works and in the following years.

Pablo Picasso, Bust, 1907-08, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Joshua L. Logan, Loula D. Lasker, Ruth and Nathan Cummings Art Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Marcus, Sarah Dorsey Hudson, Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, Henry Jacobus and an anonymous donor, by exchange, 1987.399.FA,
© Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bust, probably painted in the winter of 1907-08, looks fundamentally different than Nude with Folded Hands⁠—and much had happened in the meantime. In spring or summer 1907, he visited the indigenous art and culture collection at the Musée du Trocadéro in Paris, which was dusty and deserted, but opened Picasso’s eyes to a new influence: art from outside the Western canon, originating from European colonies in Africa and Oceania; this led him to finish his monumental painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, MoMA). Finally, at the Salon d’Automne, he saw the retrospective dedicated to Paul Cézanne. These exhibitions had a great influence on Picasso’s artistic development and his quest for an escape from the confines of illusionistic art, established during the Renaissance. Picasso further explored the pictorial means of simplification; the muscular woman in Bust, lifting her arms above her head and pulling her hair into a bun, is reduced to outlines and shading that is achieved through isolated application of color and expressive brushstrokes, rather than the traditional method of gradients from white to black. Her face, devoid of emotion, echoes the masks he saw at the Trocadéro, which might have looked like the Je face mask from the Yaure peoples.

Je face mask, Yaure peoples, about 1930-52, wood and pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2018.7.McD

The fragmented body is reduced to basic geometric shapes, with their contours opening so that the background and the foreground merged, like Picasso had observed in Cézanne’s work.

Paul Cézanne, The Rooftops, about 1898, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.6.McD

Despite being celebrated as an inventor, Picasso never worked in an artistic vacuum. Trying to find a new language from 1906 onward, he was especially perceptible to influences from outside the traditional Western canon, which makes these works compelling, even for the present-day beholder.

Christine Burger is the Research Assistant for European Art at the DMA.


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