Archive for October, 2021

The Views Are Tree-mendous

When you visit the DMA this fall, you’ll have the opportunity to see Van Gogh and the Olive Groves, the first exhibition dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s series of olive grove paintings!  

These paintings capture the abundant olive trees around the asylum of Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh spent the final year of his life. But he was not the only artist that took inspiration from nature. There are many depictions of trees in our collection; take some time to see how many you can find!  

To help you, I’ve put together a tour of trees featuring 11 of my favorites currently on view. Starting on Level 1 in the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, look for this 17th-century dish from Iran among the many ceramics displayed in this gallery. 

Dish, Iran, 17th century, fritware, underglaze-painted in black, blue, turquoise, and brown, with red and yellow slips, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.653

Across from the Keir Collection, step outside into the Fleischner Courtyard, named after the artist Richard Fleischner, who designed this space for the DMA’s move to this location in 1983. These are not the original trees, as the courtyard has been refurbished twice since the 1980s—in 1993 and 2009.

Richard Fleischner, Courtyard Project for the Dallas Museum of Art, 1981–83; reconfigured by the artist for the Hamon addition, 1993; refurbished 2009, limestone, marble, wood, and plantings, Dallas Museum of Art, commissioned to honor Minnie and Albert Susman on the occasion of their 50th anniversary by their children Robert F. and Anna Marie Susman Shapiro, 1983.14, © Dallas Museum of Art, 

Next, head to Level 2 and our European Art Galleries to find the grove of oak trees in the Forest of Fontainebleau by Narcisse Diaz de la Peña. The artist was part of the Barbizon School of French painters, whose goal was to rediscover the magic of untouched nature.

Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1868, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1991.14.M

Leaving the dark forest behind, take in the bright colors of Claude Monet’s poplar trees. Poplars, Pink Effect belongs to a series of 24 paintings; like Van Gogh, Monet often revisited the same subject multiple times to capture varying light and weather conditions.

Claude Monet, Poplars, Pink Effect, 1891, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.14.McD

Before leaving Level 2, look for an apple tree painted by Piet Mondrian. Through his use of line and color, Mondrian conveyed nature’s dynamic energy.

Piet Mondrian, Apple Tree, Pointillist Version, 1908–09, oil on composition board, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation, 1982.26.FA

Did you know Winston Churchill was also an artist? If you visit the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection on Level 3, you will find several paintings by Churchill, including Sea and Pine Trees, Cap d’Ail

Winston Churchill, Sea and Pine Trees, Cap d’Ail, about 1955, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.14, © The Churchill Heritage Limited

As you continue exploring Level 3, take a moment to stop and appreciate the standing male figure from Vanuatu. While not a literal depiction of a tree, it was carved from the lower part of a tree-fern stem and stands over 11 feet tall! 

Standing male figure, Vanuatu, Ambrym Island, about 1930–50, tree fern and pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift, 1996.33

Now make your way to the Arts of Africa Galleries and look for the linguist staff (okyeame poma) from the Asante peoples of Ghana. The finial on this staff refers to an Asante proverb that states, “One who climbs a good tree always gets a push.”

Linguist staff (okyeame poma), Ghana, Asante peoples, 1900–50, wood and gold leaf, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2010.1.McD

Head to Level 4 and find Veteran, a painting by Everett Spruce (bonus tree points!). The tree in this painting shows us the often uncompromising and inhospitable forces that shape the Texas landscape.

Everett Spruce, Veteran, 1932, oil on Masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Maggie Joe and Alexandre Hogue, 1986.232, © V. Alice Spruce Meriwether

Around the corner from Veteran, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Bare Tree Trunks with Snow give us a more minimalist and abstract version of trees. O’Keeffe would often simplify what she saw in nature, using descriptive titles to clarify things for the viewer.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Bare Tree Trunks with Snow, 1946, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1953.1, © The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The final tree on this walk through the woods is in the free special exhibition Devoted: Art and Spirituality in Mexico and New Mexico. George López’s sculpture Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life shows the moment when Eve offers Adam an apple from the tree of knowledge—and it is made of wood from three different trees: cottonwood, pine, and cedar!

George López, Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life, 1956, cottonwood, pine, and cedar, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1956.100.1

Stacey Lizotte is the DMA League Director of Adult Programs at the DMA. 

A Change of Scenery for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Sam F”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam F, 1985, oil on door, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Samuel N. and Helga A. Feldman, 2019.31, © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

In 2017 we began conversations with Helga Feldman about a landmark gift to the institution of a work by the incomparably important US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The portrait, Sam F, painted right here in Dallas, is of Feldman’s late husband, who wanted the work to be given to his city’s museum to be enjoyed by the public. As was the wish of the Feldmans, the work entered the collection at the time of Mrs. Feldman’s death in spring 2021. Basquiat’s significance to the recent history of art is almost unparalleled, and when we received the painting, we got to work making immediate plans to get it on view. With this in mind, we adapted to certain considerations of time and space in order to share the work with our audiences without delay. Therefore, we decided to show it in our Concourse, which is the most public of the Museum spaces, and is traversed by all visitors to the DMA. We have often shown works in that space that we want to honor—the Basquiat hangs where the honored artist of our major annual fundraiser, TWO X TWO for AIDS and Art, is typically found. However, because of the very public nature of this space, our duties to care for the collection mandate that the work must be hung above visitor touch distance—an average viewer’s arm span—to keep the work safe. When Sam F went on view, we received the feedback that seeing the painting from this height was far from ideal. This work clearly struck a chord with viewers—for Basquiat was one of the most innovative figures in 20th-century art history. Moreover, as an artist of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, his presence in the Museum’s collection signals the crucial contributions of Black and Latinx artists to the art historical canon, and the work contains a wealth of references to Afro-diasporic culture that are illuminated in the accompanying interpretive panel.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sam F on view across from Pablo Picasso’s The Guitarist on Level 2

We heard this feedback, and we agree—it’s time to move the Basquiat so that the conditions of display can better facilitate the close looking the work merits. As of today, the work will be on view on Level 2, at the threshold between the European and contemporary galleries. The work’s neighbors include paintings by Pablo Picasso and sculptures by Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, and Aristide Maillol. It also abuts our collection of classical art, providing a compelling survey of how artists have treated the human form over thousands of years. Basquiat’s portrait of Sam, who used a wheelchair, rejects the idealism first introduced in the classical period and depicts subjects that are typically excluded as subjects of the fine arts. His signature formal style combines expressive mark making taken from both his past as a graffiti artist and the Neo-Expressionism movement that dominated art in New York in the 1980s, while also pointing to a groundbreaking synthesis and reconfiguration of the art historical language that now surrounds it. We invite you to come and see the work, and to let us know what you think.

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

The Road to Van Gogh

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, Interim Chief Curator and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art, spent almost a decade working tirelessly on bringing Van Gogh and the Olive Groves to life. Read about her perspective on making the magic of the exhibition happen in this Q&A excerpt from our DMA member magazine, Artifacts.

How does it feel to approach the exhibition opening after so many years in development? 

I began developing the concept for this exhibition in 2012, while I was researching the incredible olive tree painting by Van Gogh in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Although I had worked a great deal on the artist, I was shocked to find that the painting belonged to a significant series about which I knew nothing. I set out to learn more, only to find that there had been no exhibition or book dedicated to the subject to date. Moreover, there were many unknowns about the series, such as the dates of some of the paintings, the sequence in which they were made over a six-month production period, and which paintings Van Gogh was describing in his letters—something unexpected given the incredibly saturated research field dedicated to this beloved world-famous artist. With that, I launched the exhibition and the unprecedented comparative study that involved an international team of curators, researchers, conservators, and scientists.  

The exhibition planning took many twists and turns along the way. It’s never easy to borrow important artwork by heavily sought-after artists such as Van Gogh, and some of our loan negotiations took five years to secure. Just as the checklist was nearly finalized, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about new challenges and uncertainties. Rather poignantly, the exhibition catalogue, which takes as its subject the artistic production of a painter confined within an asylum—an experience Van Gogh described as a “necessary and salutary quarantine”—was written and produced in its entirety during the self-isolation and confinement imposed by the pandemic. It was with a mixture of trepidation and sadness that after all these years of working tirelessly to bring this project to fruition, I didn’t have access to a library or other resources when it finally came time to start the book. But the work forged ahead and I’m deeply grateful for what we accomplished under these exceptional circumstances.  

As I worked at my dining room table turned remote office, I thought often of Van Gogh and his experience at the asylum. Never before had his enduring belief in the healing and consolatory power of art and of nature felt more relevant, his experience more relatable, his achievement more astounding. I hope that visitors to the show will take as much joy and comfort from the olive trees as I have over the last decade, and especially this last year. 


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