Archive for September, 2020

Connections Across Collections: Latin American Influence

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

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art

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

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

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

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

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

Latinx Literature: An Arts & Letters Live Reading List

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

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

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

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

Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana

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

Yuyi Morales presenting Dreamers at Arts & Letters Live in 2019

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

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Poetry:
Tertulia by Vincent Toro

Tertulia by Vincent Toro

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

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

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

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

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

The Spanish Colonial Gallery on Level 4 at the DMA

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

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

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

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

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

Cabinet (detail)

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

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

Take an inside look at the cabinet here:

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

You Asked, They Answered! #AskaCurator Highlights

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

Q: What is your favorite museum gif?

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

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

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

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

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

Lola Cueto and the Modern Tapestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleagues discussing materials and techniques during experts meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tear-mending experimentation trials on mock-up

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

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

Laura Hartman is the Paintings Conservator at the DMA.


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