Archive for April, 2021

“Concentrations” at Forty

The DMA’s Concentrations exhibition series has been a distinguished project-based platform primarily for emerging artists, exhibiting the artist’s first museum solo show or debut of a recent body of work. Renowned artists such as Kiki Smith (Concentrations 20, 1989), Mariko Mori (Concentrations 30, 1997), Charline von Heyl (Concentrations 48, 2005-2006), and Slavs and Tatars (Concentrations 57, 2014) had their first U.S. museum solo shows through Concentrations. Established in 1981 to replace the Texas Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture annual juried competition, Concentrations was an ambitious new contemporary art program started when the DMA moved from Fair Park to its downtown location. Originally planned to run for five years when it launched in 1981, Concentrations this year celebrates its 40th year anniversary and has presented 63 artists. Over its four decades, the series mirrors the development of the museum’s contemporary art program and its commitment to living artists.

Contemporary art at the DMA began to seriously develop in the 1970s under its first curator Robert Murdoch, and Concentrations functioned as the main exhibition program for it. In the series’ first decade more than twenty Concentrations exhibitions, about one-third of the total series’ history, were organized by then-curator Sue Graze. Texas artists, especially those in DFW, were prominently featured in about half of the first ten years of Concentrations shows, including Nic Nicosia (Concentrations 13, 1986), Bert Long (Concentrations 18, 1988), and Celia Álvarez Muñoz (Concentrations 26, 1991).

Encounters 5: Damien Hirst and Tracy Hicks, 1994

After its first ten years, Concentrations was temporarily replaced from 1992 to 1995 with Encounters. Structured as two one-person shows of a Texas-based artist and a national or international based one, it was designed as its press release read to solve the “closed circuit art world” in Texas. The dialogue between the accumulative practices of Damien Hirst and Tracy Hicks (Encounters 5, 1994) was one memorable juxtaposition. When Concentrations resumed in 1996, it shifted to presenting national and international artists due to the increased decentralization of the art world and a rapid expansion of contemporary art programming at the DMA in the late 1990s and 2000s. Since 2005, Concentrations has introduced international artists such as Scotland-based installation artist Jim Lambie (Concentrations 47, 2005), Puerto Rico-based multimedia artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Concentrations 50, 2007), and South Korea-based installation artist Chosil Kil (Concentrations 58, 2015).

Concentrations 58: Chosil Kil, 2015

Most importantly, Concentrations afforded artists recognition and visibility at a major museum during a pivotal moment in their career. For half of the artists in Concentrations’ history, their show at the DMA marked their first U.S. museum solo exhibition. An artist’s Concentrations show also often gave them exposure to a wider audience, such as for Maki Tamura (Concentrations 40, 2002). After seeing her show, a board member of the Seattle Art Museum recommended her to their museum’s curator, who then invited Tamura to create an installation in Seattle. Even exhibition elements, such as the brochure publication that accompanied each Concentrations show, was especially valuable to young artists since not much writing may yet exist about their work. Annette Lawrence (Concentrations 36, 2000), appreciated the beautiful essay then-DMA curator Charlie Wylie wrote for her show showcasing her new string installations, and included it for a fellowship application that she eventually won.

Concentrations 36: Annette Lawrence, 2000

With the opening of Concentrations 63: Julian Charrière, Towards No Earthly Pole this month, the series remains a strong cornerstone of the contemporary art program at the DMA. We look forward to continuing to present and support the work of the brightest artists of our times.

Vivian Li is the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA

Connections Across Collections: Art and Nature

We’re celebrating Earth Month with art from across our collections that connects to the natural world. Read below to find out about the artworks and objects our curators selected.

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art
In this landscape painted near Waxahachie, Florence McClung emphasizes the rounded forms of the earth, juxtaposing them against the vertical shocks of wheat. She investigates the geometry of the cultivated fields while also emphasizing the richness and bounty of nature.

Florence E. McClung, Squaw Creek Valley, 1937, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Florence E. McClung, 1985.12

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas
This Olmec tablet portrays the cosmos arranged in three dimensions. Three dots signify the place of creation and anchor a stepped mountain-pyramid to the earthly realm. Above this, a World Tree reaches to a scaffold structure marked by “crossed bands” associated with the sky.

Tablet with incised symbols, 900–500 BCE, Olmec peoples, greenstone and red pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association purchase, 1968.33
Drawings courtesy of Dr. F. Kent Reilly, Texas State University.

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design
Faye Toogood explores pure geometric form by using cobb, a material consisting of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth as her media. By focusing on design and material expressiveness rather than functionality, this work pushes into the realm of pure sculpture.

Faye Toogood, Cup/Earth, 2016, cobb composite (acrylic polymer and natural materials), Dallas Museum of Art, Discretionary Decorative Arts Fund, 2018.34.2

Novelist Finds Inspiration in Women’s History

In anticipation of an upcoming Arts & Letters Live event with author Kaitlyn Greenidge, I had the opportunity to chat with her recently about her new novel Libertie. Deemed one of the most-anticipated books of 2021 and the May pick for Roxane Gay’s Book Club, Libertie is a fictionalized account rooted in women’s history.

In the novel, Libertie Sampson, a young Black woman in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, feels confined by her mother’s stringent vision for her future. Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her mother. However, the independent-minded protagonist finds herself being drawn more to the arts than science and longs for adventure.

Greenidge told me how she got the idea for the character while running the oral history program at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, which preserves one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America. There, Greenidge interviewed Ellen Holly, a TV soap actress who shared stories of her family heritage which included Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847–1918), Brooklyn’s first Black woman physician, and the third Black physician in the U.S. Dr. Steward’s renown as a doctor and founder of medical clinics and her work for suffrage and civil rights were not the only thing that caught Greenidge’s attention. She learned from the oral history that Dr. Steward traveled to Haiti to rescue her daughter from a failed marriage. And thus the character of Libertie was born.

Like the historical figure on which she is based, Libertie follows her husband to Haiti. Greenidge found inspiration in Hattian art. “I loved the blending of history and current events into art, and how people use fine arts to document history,” she told me.

Renée Stout’s contemporary work is a visual idea and interpretation of self as a figure of empowerment. A mesh collar holds medicine bags while a stamp, dried flowers, and a picture of a young Black girl are placed in the glass-covered “medicine pouch” of the torso.

image: Renée Stout, Fetish #2, 1988, mixed media (plaster body cast), Dallas Museum of Art, Metropolitan Life Foundation Purchase Grant, 1989.27, ©Renée Stout, Washington, D.C

She also conducted meticulous research on a number of topics including homeopathy. In Greenidge’s novel several pivotal moments occur in Dr. Sampson’s (the fictional version of Dr. Steward) home garden, which flourishes with medicinal plants. John Gerad’s work (below) mirrors the bountiful uses of plants as medicine. Throughout the novel, Greenidge intertwines the lives of the characters and the purpose and magic of plants.

Artist unknown, Printed Page 1217 from “The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes” by John Gerard, 1633 (1st edition was 1597), woodcut with English text, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. A.E. Zonne, 1960.191

Dr. Steward’s passion for healing extended beyond the walls of the hospital into the social, intellectual and artistic health of her community as she fostered racial inclusion, women’s rights, and local art exhibits. “What’s interesting about the period of Reconstruction, is that you have Black people creating communities whole scale from scratch,” Greenidge told me, “and what was really striking to me was how revolutionary their ideas of care were.”

Greenidge described her fascination upon discovering that African American newspapers serving newly freed Black people dedicated half of their space to news and half as a literacy primer. The consideration demonstrated in this—a paper both for those who can and those who are still learning to read—struck Greenidge as genius.

“The novel is really looking at the politics of care, and how communities decide who is worthy or unworthy of care,” Greenidge explained.

Jacob Lawrence, The Visitors, 1959, tempera on gessoed panel, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund, 1984.174, The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Jacob Lawrence’s The Visitors, above, loved ones offer consolation to the bedridden. The theme of care, as seen here and in Greenidge’s novel, resonates today.

Cristina Carolina Echezarreta is the 2020-2021 McDermott intern for Adult Programs/Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.


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