Archive for April, 2020

Empathy in Museum Design and Interpretation

Wow, what a weird world we are living in!

I want to start by saying how much we miss our visitors. We can’t wait to be able to return to the Museum so that we can continue to create the exhibitions and experiences we’ve all been dreaming about. In the meantime, I want to tell you a little bit about how the Design and Interpretation team at the DMA uses empathy to center our processes and thinking around you, our visitors.

Historically, museum design teams were trained to use an object-centered aesthetic approach, which prioritized object safety and making exhibitions pretty. Over the past 10 to 15 years, however, the way we think about design in a museum has changed. DMA designers place visitors at the center of our thinking and apply an experience- and needs-based approach.

Design and Interpretation is a visitor-centered department that cultivates meaningful communication and compelling experiences. Photo taken from a recent departmental retreat.

The DMA put this idea into practice by creating the department of Design and Interpretation in 2018. The idea was to create a collaborative creative team that places content and the visitor at the center of our processes of creating exhibitions and museum experiences. Our goal is to create rich, dynamic, and engaging experiences that our visitors can explore in deep and meaningful ways. Throughout our planning process, we consider how visitors will use, navigate, and interact with our spaces. Through visitor studies and evaluation, we research and learn about human behavior. We study subjects like environmental psychology, multiple learning types, and how people perceive and process information. We discuss differences in mobility and sensory sensitivity as we strive to be welcoming and accessible for all. We plan for families and groups of various sizes and types. And we have worked very hard toward our goal of providing inclusive experiences for broad audiences, such as creating bilingual and more accessible exhibition content, and working with our education team to expand our offerings that address special needs audiences. A recent example of this is when we provided noise-canceling headphones, “doodle” instructional signage, and braille booklets developed for the exhibition speechless: different by design.

Noise-canceling headphones and braille booklets were offered at the entrance of speechless: different by design.

Now, more than ever, this visitor-centered approach to design and interpretation is extremely important in how we are thinking about upcoming museum experiences. We are researching, learning, and planning for the evolving needs and behaviors of our visitors in the post-pandemic world. We are thinking about how we can address fears and how we can hold a space for complex feelings; we want to ensure that our facilities are prepared and our content remains relevant, relatable, and meaningful.

We understand that humans need ways to express, connect, and process the myriad of emotions elicited by the world in which we find ourselves, and we at the DMA are uniquely equipped to provide our visitors with tools and experiences that can help. Whether it is giving visitors encouragement to express ideas, feelings, and fears through independent activities, or creating experiences that allow our visitors to connect deeply and meaningfully with artists and artwork, we hope to meet the wide range of needs exposed by this global health crisis.

Jessica Harden is the Director of Design and Content Strategy at the DMA.

Home Poem

As Manager of Off-Site School Programs at the DMA, my job is to develop programming that brings the Museum into the classroom. This includes our long-standing Go van Gogh programs and our Middle School Outreach Pilot, a multi-session partnership program with L.V. Stockard Middle School and W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy.

Drawing inspiration from the DMA’s exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses, earlier this year students in our Middle School Outreach Pilot were asked to explore the concept of home through poetry, which they would later interpret through sculpture. While recent circumstances prevented students from completing their sculptures, their writing—which describes the spaces, people, feelings, sounds, tastes, and dreams that constitute home—gives us a collection of stories that tell us all we need to know.

Below, I’ve compiled lines written by students into one collaborative poem that tells a complex, expansive, conflicting, beautiful, honest, and hopeful account of what home means to youth in Dallas. I’ve paired their writing with images of works of art completed by students who participated in our Go van Gogh program A City of My Own, which is rooted in similar themes. Here, students were prompted to create cityscapes representative of their definition of Dallas—the landmarks, buildings, and places that make it their own.

During this time, when home can feel like a place we have to be, these students’ writing and works of art remind me of the beauty in all that something like home is and can be.

A student participates in Go van Gogh’s program “A City of My Own”

Home is when I’m with the people I love
Home is a place I feel loved
Home is where I feel safe
Home is when I’m with my family
Home is somewhere filled with laughter
Home is where I can be accepted and be myself 
Home is the memory of friends, family, and vecinas jugando loteria los domingos 
Home is the feeling you get when you eat raspas on a hot summer day 
Home is the sound of the Spanish language everywhere 
Home is hearing the radio play norteñas 
Home is the color of happiness, calm like gray 

Home wouldn’t be the same without Saturday cleaning and loud music 
Home wouldn’t be the same without hearing dogs barking in the middle of the night 
Home wouldn’t feel the same without my grandma and my grandpa 
Home wouldn’t be the same without my mom 

Home feels like el canto de los pájaros 
Home feels like warmth 
Home feels like love 

Home sounds like thirty kids talking all at once 
Home sounds like my mom singing everyday 
Home sounds like a bunch of laughter when my tios, tias, and cousins come over 
Home sounds like musica mexicana every morning 
Home sounds like people always being up at two in the morning looking for something to eat
 
Home tastes like comida recien hecha 
Home tastes like frijoles, caldo, and maruchan, and sometimes my mom attempting to be a baker 
Home tastes like eggs and bacon and pan dulce 
Home tastes like sopes, flautas, tacos, macheteadas 
Home tastes like carne asada every saturday 
Home tastes like tamales, barbacoa, birria, menudo, and donuts on sundays 
Home tastes like enchiladas todos los sabados, y un restaurante los domingos 

On the outside, home is a house made out of peach bricks and two strong trees 
On the outside, home is amigas y vecinas jugando and chismeando 
On the outside, people say that it is just a building 
But on the inside, it feels very special to you 
On the inside of home, I feel protected from anything 

I dream of a home with my parents and sibling always by my side 
I dream of a home that is big and can fit my whole family 
I dream of a two-story home, brand new, and never broken 
I dream of a home that is loud, warm, and funny 
I dream of a home that is my own 
I dream of a home that will never change

Bernardo Velez Rico is the Manager of Off-Site School Programs at the DMA.

Art Runs in the Family

Creativity is all around us in Dallas, and we love highlighting and honoring our local creative community at the Museum. This year, we have the special opportunity to celebrate the work of two relatives: Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson, whose drawings are in For a Dreamer of Houses, and his nephew Stephen McGee, whose painting is featured in We Are ARTISTS: The Stewpot Art Program.   

Willard Watson, affectionately known as “The Texas Kid,” was raised in Dallas and wore many hats—literally and figuratively—over his lifetime. He served as a solider in the South Pacific  in World War II, and was also a tailor, a cook, a carpenter, an upholsterer, a shade-tree mechanic, a handyman, and an actor. Around town, he was best known for his creative homemade outfits, customized cars, and front yard sculpture garden.

Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson’s customized car
Photograph of Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson seated outside of his home and posing in front of the sculptures placed in his yard for his portrait. Creator: Unknown, 1993–01. This photograph is part of the collection entitled The Black Academy of Arts and Letters Records and was provided by UNT Libraries Special Collections.

His artworks often included found objects and everyday materials. Using colored markers, pencil, and paper, Watson created a series of Life Cycle drawings that showed scenes from his home and family life and were narrated with vivid captions. Thinking back on his childhood in Dallas, he wrote:

My middle sister, Mable, had taken sick and I to go down to Elm Street to Otis drug store to pick up some medicine, But first I had to get some money from Daddy, who worked at S&S grocery store. I had to walk a mile down Central tracks and a mile back. And when I got Back my mother was drinking Buttermilk, I will never forget it. Tears were in her eyes, and it made me feel very Bad. She was depressed. She Loved her children so much that when one got sick she’d show it By tears. She say she Be praying But she always had tears. I kind cheered her up. The other Children were out Playing.

Willard Watson, “The Texas Kid,” born 1921 in Caddo Parish, LA; died 1995 in Dallas, TX; Untitled, 1985. Colored marker and pencil. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Friends of Willard Watson, 1985.181.8

Watson shared his love of art with his nephew Stephen McGee. McGee relished working in acrylic paint, pastels, colored pencils, and charcoal mediums. He particularly enjoyed portraiture, and he completed art projects for the nonprofit organization CitySquare that involved creating drawings of former talk show host Jay Leno, Lyle Lovett, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Dallas Cowboy Tyron Smith. McGee had loved art since he was a small child, and next to his love for God, art was his life.

Stephen McGee working on a portrait of Robert Johnson
Retrieved April 10, 2020, from FPCDallas
Fast Cheetah by Stephen McGee

McGee became a member of the Stewpot Art Program community in 2010. The Stewpot offers a safe haven for people experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in Dallas, and the Art Program provides class time and art supplies for individuals looking to express themselves creatively, grow as artists, and support themselves through the sale of their work. You can learn more about The Stewpot and how to support their work here.

The Art Program helped McGee take his artistic practice to a higher level, form lasting friendships, and make his life more positive. McGee passed away on August 8, 2019, leaving a host of family and friends who love and remember Stephen “The Artist” McGee for his tremendous resilience, kindness, and creativity.

How are you spending time with loved ones right now? How are Willard’s scenes similar or different from your home life? Have you ever shared a special legacy with an important person in your life or passed down something you care about to a younger generation? These artworks make us think of home, family, and the ways that we can support one another during these uncertain times. 

We hope the artwork and life stories of Willard Watson and Stephen McGee inspire you to create, share joy with your loved ones, and continue to explore our city’s rich creative communities in For a Dreamer of Houses and We Are ARTISTS: The Stewpot Art Program.

Stephen McGee with his Stewpot Art Program class on a visit to the DMA. Stephen is third from the right in the white shirt.

Mary Ann Bonet is the Director of Community Engagement and Lindsay O’Connor is the Manager of School Programs at the DMA.

The House and the Dream of the Poetic Image

For a Dreamer of Houses takes Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 book The Poetics of Space as its conceptual framework. In this work, the French philosopher posits the house as the formative structure by which we develop a relationship with the exterior world through the emotive qualities of our daydreams and memories. These experiences then become the stuff from which writers and poets spin the threads of meaning, conjuring images forth from where we formed our first world: the house.

Clementine Hunter, Saturday Nite, 1971, oil on canvas board, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ryan, 1984.220

The Poetics of Space is, fundamentally, a love letter to poetry, to the ways in which poets shape language into an evocation of lived experiences, of half-forgotten memories. Yet there is a porous boundary between the literary and visual arts, with their shared interest in the conjuring of images. Visual art has a language all its own—one of light captured on silver-coated paper, pixels in digital space, etched impressions. As the resulting weaving of this visual language, art is a way of imagining—and imaging—potential ways of being in the world. In Bachelard’s telling, the questions of being human that art seeks to interrogate and crystallize are forged through the home, the nest from which we learn to become social beings.  

LaToya Ruby Frazier, Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, 2007, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family
Acquisition Fund, 2018.37

For Bachelard, this outward-looking view springs from our sense of the house as a universe in and of itself. In the 2007 photograph Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, LaToya Ruby Frazier portrays the home as the encapsulation of a/the world, with the ties of familial relationships proudly displayed in an orderly grid on her grandmother’s fridge. The kitchen—a space of gathering, of shared meals and the tenderness of cooking and providing for one another—becomes the site in which the matriarch orders her world. Here, the home is a place of comfort and love from which her family can fundamentally ground themselves as they venture outside of its sheltering embrace.

Literal depictions of the home are not the only forms of art to which Bachelard’s theories may be applied. Ian Cheng’s BOB (Bag of Beliefs) is an artificial lifeform composed of multiple driving personalities that react to each other and to external stimuli. While BOB lives in a cavernous simulated den in the space of the gallery, viewers contribute to BOB’s development through the BOB Shrine, a phone-based app in which viewers introduce patterns of stimuli to BOB and thereby shape its behavior in a parental fashion. As surprise and upheaval force BOB to update its beliefs, Cheng seeks to explore what constitutes the human experience of change and encounter through artificial life.

Ian Cheng, BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2018-19, artificial lifeform, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.81

BOB exists solely in digital space, an amorphous realm of data that seems almost immaterial in the context of human life. It is through the notion of inhabitation that we ground our relationship to BOB. BOB is not “real” per se, but we are able to conceive of it as a being with drives and needs and to visualize its experience through the framework of the home: its home in the gallery monitors is the place from which it nourishes itself, from which it develops a code of beliefs, from which it interacts with the world on a truly global scale. As Bachelard notes, “Whenever life seeks to shelter, protect, cover or hide itself, the imagination sympathizes with the being that inhabits the protected space.”

It is this ability of the house to foster imagination that Bachelard finds so compelling. He argues that intimate spaces, like those of the home, give rise to the daydreams in which our material, immediate world becomes infinite, and we achieve that grandeur that is only to be found in the depths of thought. The expanse of the cosmos becomes tangible and known, a cherished friend to our imaginings. Bachelard muses, “The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Vija Celmins, Strata, 1983, mezzotint, Dallas Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon Fund, 1984.24, © Vija Celmins

Perhaps no artist captures the longing and the tender intimacy of the immense better than Vija Celmins, whose lovingly hand-drawn seascapes, rock fields, and starscapes render these seemingly boundless landscapes as human and knowable. Strata, with its soft, luminous stars pulsing through the black field of space, imparts a sense of belonging in a vast universe. In Celmins’s work, we are stardust; “immensity is within ourselves.” Her creation, itself visual poetry, brings the cosmos within our reach, the stuff of daydreams drawn forth from the embrace of the known universe of our homes.

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

Behind the Scenes with the Dream Team

It takes a village to make an exhibition come together. The imaginative and immersive exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses wouldn’t be possible without a top-notch team of passionate DMA staff members, each of whom play a unique and vital role in making the art come to life. They all had a bit of fun in the process, too! Check out these behind-the-scenes photos submitted by our “Dream Team.”

The Dream Team! This team is made up of registrars, preparators, conservators, designers, security and operations staff, and curatorial staff.
Installation begins for Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil.
Raising the roof! The DMA preparator team begins installing the roof section of Rubber Pencil Devil.
Rubber Pencil Devil is wrapped in plastic as the floors around it are built.
Curator Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck and Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art Hilde Nelson watch the videos inside Rubber Pencil Devil.
Designer Jaclyn Le prepares the house-shaped scrim to go in place.
Going for a ride in the lift.
Even underwear chandeliers need steaming! Here, Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas prepares Pipilotti Rist’s Massachusetts Chandelier. #ArtConservation
Janine Antoni’s Grope with contract preparator Vince Jones’s feet. “It was necessary to get behind the piece, and it just made me laugh!” —Mary Nicolett, Senior Preparator
Gallery Attendant Tirfe Chafo spreading JOY!
Straightening up Betty Woodman’s The Red Table.
Artist Francisco Moreno lends a hand to Senior Preparator Russell Sublette with the installation of his work Chapel.
Francisco Moreno and contract preparator Kevin Jacobs perform a post-installation quality check on the interior of Chapel.

Making Ourselves at Home

Our homes have taken on new significance in these past few weeks. We are getting to know much more intimately our rooms, our furniture, and certainly our roommates. We might be noticing the dust more on the floors, or the cracks in the ceiling. We might be noting habits that perhaps were always there, but have come to the fore.

Is there a chair you prefer to sit in for comfort? A window you often find yourself daydreaming out of? Is there a favorite sweatshirt or blanket you reach for when you feel a draft?

Daniel Barsotti, Untitled (Window), 1977, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Polaroid Foundation grant, 1977.46, © Daniel Barsotti

There might be things we are lacking, things that had broken that we had been meaning to replace. We might be farther away from the homes in which we were raised, and the families inside, and it might feel harder to get to those places.

Romare Bearden, The Family, 1975, intaglio, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Michael L. Rosenberg, 1994.245.5, © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Maybe that family heirloom is being revisited more often now. Hands grazing over the nooks and crannies in the wood. Smells from recipes handed down from generations might be flooding our kitchens, if we are lucky.

Bill Owens, We’re really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home., 1971, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 2005.103.2, © Bill Owens

Our homes are microcosms of ourselves. They are our habits embodied. They are visualizations of our personalities. They can make us feel safe, but they can also scare us. The storms in the middle of the night might cause strange sounds and shadows to appear. The house can take on a life of its own. But it’s ultimately a shelter, and a home is a privilege not everyone has.

Francisco Moreno, Chapel, 2016-18, pencil, vine charcoal pencil, and acrylic on an all-encompassing structure, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, the Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund, Elisabeth Karpidas, Charles Dee Mitchell, Tammy Cotton Hartnett, Travis Vandergriff, Joyce Goss, Harper and Jim Kennington, and Karen and John Reoch, 2019.58. Photo by Wade Griffith, courtesy of the artist and Erin Cluley Gallery.

A house is also a boundary between ourselves and the world around us. We might see neighbors pass by our windows for the first time. We might peer into brand new rooms, far away, via technological devices, now that our schools and businesses are being conducted from home.

The exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses was organized before we as curators had any idea how much time we would all be spending in our own homes. Indeed, currently you can see the show via the comfort of your pajamas in 3-D on the web. But it was born from ideas circulated in philosophy, psychology, and sociology in the last hundred years. Hilde Nelson, Chloë Courtney, and I developed the concept for the show over the past year, inspired by recent acquisitions of immersive installations that brought to the fore just how wonderful the home is. Not just as a well-known and -loved domestic space, but as a place of fantasy.

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 Tom Little. Courtesy of the artist and Karma, New York.

We noticed that artists’ depictions of the home were reflecting our increasingly globalized world, re-creating a childhood house that could fit inside a suitcase. Or sociopolitical issues, like state-sponsored violence, imagining how furniture could reflect invented futures that were nurturing instead of traumatizing. Then, a global pandemic arose, and we were startled to realize how works in the show, chosen months ago, seemed to presage a strange new reality, with quarantining procedures, new emphasis on hygiene, and the fear of illness striking our loved ones.

Misty Keasler, Green Room (Quarenteen) Leagnul di Copii, Tigru Mures, Romania, 2004, C-print on Kodak Supra Endura, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Burt and Missy Finger, 2006.33. Courtesy Misty Keasler and The Public Trust Gallery.

But in spite of these fears, readers, we saw a resiliency in the worlds depicted by these artists. We still see a bright future, where we can take the lessons learned in the imaginative worlds of art, and apply them to a reality where we are all in this together, helping build a more equitable and safer future. And so we look to art, just like to the home, to visualize our shared humanity. And we have lots more time to look, and reflect on what we are seeing, at home.

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

How the Florals Bloomed in “Flores Mexicanas”

Jaclyn Le and graphic installers place environmental wall graphics in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art.

My name is Jaclyn Le and I am the Senior Graphic Designer at the Dallas Museum of Art. My primary role here is to design the identity, graphics, and environmental graphic design of each special exhibition and permanent collection gallery, in both English and Spanish. Working closely with the Design and Interpretation team, the Exhibitions team, and each of our curators, my goal is to make sure the identities, graphics, and environmental design of each exhibition are aligned to the curator’s vision, and that they showcase the works and information in the best way possible.

I was extremely excited to work on the design for the exhibition Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art, curated by Mark Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art. We wanted the design to feel approachable, elegant, and vibrant. The typography is a pairing of a bold style seen in Mexican prints from the early decades of the 20th century, paired with a fuller, more feminine typeface.

The hand-drawn floral pattern was inspired by Mexican lacquer ware from Olinalá. Our director, Agustín Arteaga, lent me a wonderful book full of different styles to look at, and I developed a monochromatic floral pattern illustrating common motifs I saw throughout the book. This floral pattern flanks both walls of the entrance to the exhibition, and weaves its way up and over the ceiling in the space right before the monumental painting Flores Mexicanas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

How to draw your own floral set as seen in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art.

You can watch this video tutorial to create your own floral set. Use any marker or drawing tool you have to create this. Here, I am using a Crayola Superfine tip marker.

1. Start by plotting three dots that will be the center of your flowers. You want to plot them with enough space in between—a triangle shape would be perfect for this.

2. Draw a ring around each of the three dots. These will be the bases of the flowers to draw petals around.

3. Start drawing the petals around each ring. I have 5-6 petals per flower here. It’s okay if they are not all equal in size—it will look better this way in the end!

4. Once all the petals of your three flowers are complete, draw 2-3 lines coming from the center ring to about halfway across each petal. This will give your flowers more depth and interest.

5. In the negative spaces between your three completed flowers, draw a few slightly curved lines. These will be the stems of your leaves. I have drawn 4 here.

6. Starting with the longest curved stem line, create a teardrop shape around the stem center. You can make these as wide or narrow as you’d like. Draw diagonal lines out from it to create the lines in the leaves. Do this for the other curved line stems from step 5, but save one of the stems for a fuller palm leaf drawing (in the next step).

7. For the palm leaf, create simple leaves by drawing small curved strokes of lines, starting from the top of the stem and working your way to the base. These curved leaf lines will gradually get bigger and bigger with each stroke, as you make your way to the base.

8. Complete your floral set by dropping in dots or circles in the spaces between the three flowers and leaves. Show us your creation by taking a picture and tagging #DMAatHome!

Jaclyn Le is the Senior Graphic Designer at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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