Window Gazing

Art collector and longtime DMA supporter Dorace Fichtenbaum left a generous bequest of 138 objects to the Museum. We installed a selection of these works of art, selected by curators Olivier Meslay and Gavin Delahunty, to celebrate the extraordinary personality of their collector, who died last summer.

As an exhibition designer, I was struck by Ms. Fichtenbaum’s singular vision in her collecting practice, one that was defined by personal preference and spread over multiple genres. Her worldliness comes across in the breadth of the collection, which ranged from Abstract Expressionist prints to carved African figures. This juxtaposed style, once installed all together in her home, reminded me of Alfred Barnes’ manner of collecting for what is now the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Like Dr. Barnes, Dorace Fichtenbaum included in her collection new works by the  contemporary artists of her time, including Yayoi Kusama and Nam June Paik, among others. In my efforts to design a space to do justice to this special gift, I was inspired by the collector’s manner of dense display in her home.

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My idea for the space was to create intriguing sightlines that invite visitors inside, and also distinguish this gallery within the larger Barrel Vault area of the Museum, which is installed with other works from the permanent collection. To accomplish this, we created a gray foyer-like space to temper the disconnect between the interior installation and the large exterior white gallery. The central sightline when looking into the gallery is a window that provides a key vantage point into the collection installed on the far wall. A framed door on either side of the window asks visitors to engage in the space and treat it as a more intimate interior space, much like you would find in someone’s home.

That space uses color and architectural trim to distinguish it, and to suggest a domestic interior. A classic salon-style hanging of the artworks allows for aesthetic relationships to form easily between the works that are hung on one surface and use the full height of the wall. This type of “hang,” as we call the installation of artworks on a wall, is special in that it includes three-dimensional works mounted on the wall or displayed in museum casework.

To maintain a consistency with these design concepts, no museum labels have been installed in the space; however, there is much contextual information on the collection and on each individual piece in the “label” booklets we provide. The booklets use a diagram of the installation with numbered elements so that visitors can refer to individual objects.

Our skilled team of preparators installed the works based on this detailed diagram.

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As Olivier Meslay wrote in his article for the DMA Member magazine, Artifacts, “The walls and shelves of Dorace’s home were full of remarkable works that will now grace ours. Dallas is fortunate to have had a collector like her: generous, modest, tasteful, and passionate.”

Skye Malish-Olson is the Exhibition Designer at the DMA.


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