Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category

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!

The Figures Behind “Hands of the Heroes”

The brooches in Kiff Slemmons Hands of the Heroes series, part of the exhibition Contemporary Art + Design: New Acquisitions, are each inspired by historical figures. Browse our round-up of interactive materials below to help you become familiar with the heroes represented and their historical significance.

Kiff Slemmons, Hands of the Heroes, 1987–1991, silver, ebony and mastodon ivory, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Deedie Potter Rose; TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund for Wearable Art, 2020.12.1-12

Harry Houdini

Jacques Cousteau

Marie Curie

Marco Polo III

Don Quixote

Glenn Gould

Roald Amundsen

Louis Leakey II

Fred Astaire

Emily Dickinson

Stephen Jay Gould

Joseph Cornell

Tracy Hicks’s “Freedman’s Field”

Tracy Hicks was a beloved figure in the Dallas arts community when he passed away in 2014 at the age of 68. Having myself moved to the city only in January 2017, I never got a chance to meet him, but his reputation soon reached me as I attempted to immerse myself in the local arts scene. Hicks was a foundational figure in Dallas, where he had lived since he was a toddler, before ultimately moving with his wife, journalist Victoria Loe Hicks, to North Carolina.

In fall 2018, Greg Metz invited me to see a brilliant retrospective of Hicks’s work at UTD’s SP/N Gallery. After walking through several rooms that showcased Hicks’s investigations around the intersection of scientific and archival processes with art, we encountered a light-locked space. Upon turning the corner, Freedman’s Field, a collection of excavated artifacts artfully arranged on a table, lay in resplendent glory. I had known of the work because it was first exhibited at the DMA in 1994 as part of the Encounters series, which keenly paired his work with the YBA artist Damian Hirst.

Tracy Hicks, Freedman’s Field, 1990–94, wood table, pottery shards, broken bottles, old watch parts, fragments of porcelain dolls, coins, buttons, oxidized silverware, and rusted metal, Dallas Museum of Art, Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund, 2020.14

Seeing it for the first time in person, after being steeped in the artist’s world and regaled with stories of his life and practice through Professor Metz’s fabulous tour, was a revelatory experience. The intense love and care Hicks had shown for these objects, which were repositories of such an important and lesser-known history of my new hometown, was palpable. I instantly fell for it, and knew it belonged back at the DMA, where it could communicate these local histories to visitors in perpetuity.

Close-up of Freedman’s Field

After that visit, we sought to learn more about the history of Freedman’s Town and its eventual demolition, beautifully explored in scholarship collected in SP/N’s exhibition catalogue, and in a semi-permanent exhibit at Fair Park’s African American Museum. Meanwhile, our collections team got to work learning how to care for such an installation, meeting with those who had cared for it before—including friends Ron Siebler and Nancy Rebal, who had shown the work in a memorial exhibition Rebal organized for Hicks in Corsicana in 2015—and learning firsthand about the myriad of decisions Hicks made in creating the work. As you’ll see, Freedman’s Field is unlike most works you’ll find in an art collection. The typical rules of cataloging just don’t apply here. It is better conceived as an archaeological dig. And Erick Backer, Preparator; Katie Province, Registrar; and Fran Baas, Objects Conservator, bravely undertook the challenge to apply their best professional standards to its care.

Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas carefully treating the artwork.

The word curator comes from the Latin curare, “to care,” and this work is all about care: the care Hicks showed for the city of Dallas, the care the many local artists we met with showed to Hicks, and our care in honoring those relationships that predated us. My hope is that this work’s testament to that loving care might encourage us to pay closer attention to the world around us so that we can hear the stories it yearns to tell us.

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

Click here to dive deeper into this piece by watching an excerpt from Ron Siebler’s film Remembering Tracy Hicks.

Artist Interview: Do Ho Suh

Earlier this year, Dr. Vivian Li, the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art, had the opportunity to interview artist Do Ho Suh, whose work is featured in the exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses. Read excerpts from the interview below about his inspiration and how the pandemic has changed his practice, and click here to read the full interview.

Do Ho Suh, Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea, 2016, Polyester fabric and stainless steel, 117 × 102 × 65 in. (2 m 97.18 cm × 2 m 59.08 cm × 1 m 65.1 cm), Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.15. Photo by John Smith.

VL: Many of your fabric pieces are replicas of a specific place you once called home and are often described as such with the precise address as the title. Can you describe the place that inspired Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea (2016), and why you selected to make a fabric replica of this particular structure?

DHS: Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea is an area of my parents’ home in Seoul, where I grew up. It’s a traditional han ok (Korean house)—a 70s copy of the one King Sunjo (1790–1834) built in the early-nineteenth century because he wanted to experience the life of ordinary people. I’ve continued to stay there whenever I’m back in Seoul so it’s the site of decades of memories for me. I think of the fabric architecture works as, in a sense, an act of shedding skin, slipping out of my clothes and packing them quietly away to unfold elsewhere.

The Hub sculptures are transitional or in-between spaces—corridors, passages, entryways. This one is an area between the bathroom and the living room/bedroom. Traditional Korean architecture is much more porous than in the West—there is less rigidity to the separation of the rooms, and the outside world is much more integrated: sounds travel; doors or windows become walls; you feel the temperature of your external surroundings keenly; the spaces themselves are reconfigured throughout the day and night. That porous quality all feeds into this sculpture and it’s partly why the translucence of the fabric is key. I began using fabric partly because of its affinities with those qualities in Korean architecture and Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong is probably the closest one of my Hubs comes to the original structure, because three of the walls are doors and windows covered in rice paper. The transition feels very natural.

Do Ho Suh, Seoul Home/Seoul Home/Kanazawa Home/Beijing Home/Pohang Home/Gwangju Home, 2012-present, Silk and stainless steel tubes, 575 x 285 x 156.5 inches / 1460.5 x 723.9 x 397.5 cm, Installation view, Do Ho Suh: Perfect Home, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, 2012–2013. © Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

VL: How has the pandemic changed your studio practice, or is there anything you have become more focused on lately?

DHS: I keep thinking about what it means if you don’t have somewhere to call home. I first started to consider what home meant when I left Korea and I’ve never stopped, so for me it was something that came into focus when it was challenged. So many people must be struggling with that now. Also how borders—physical, political, social—impact our behaviors. I’m a transnational artist and I’ve benefited from notions of a borderless world, the fluid and constantly moving nature of the cultural sector. What happens to that now? They’re such complex areas though. I’m also thinking a lot about what’s happened in the wake of globalization, and to an extent neoliberalism—all the lost optimism, all the ambitions to build new walls and borders.

In terms of my studio practice, I’m inevitably doing less work on larger-scale physical projects and a lot of thinking around philosophical concerns. Even the fact that I’m spending a lot of time cleaning my apartment – I’m touching and seeing it in different ways and that’s really interesting to me. Looking anew at the objects you unthinkingly interact with on a daily basis. I’m also working a lot with my two young daughters on an ongoing project, but it’s really taken shape during the lockdown. We’ve been building a lot with Legos and whole fantastical worlds of modelling clay. I’m interested in what happens to our psychic space as we age, how the child’s mind works and what imaginative play communicates about how we frame our worlds, how we try and impose order on the chaos and how much better children are at navigating that chaos.


See this work in For a Dreamer of Houses, now open to the public at the Dallas Museum of Art through July 4, 2021. Plan your visit to the DMA and reserve your tickets here.

Reopening Excitement!

Our recent reopening has stirred up great excitement, especially among DMA staff, who are thrilled to be able to welcome you back to your city’s museum! We asked a group of DMA curators to tell us what they are most excited about as the Dallas Museum of Art opens its doors. Read what they had to say.

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art
One of the joys of working with the Keir Collection is making new discoveries—sitting down with a manuscript or picking up a work in ceramic always feels like an adventure. A scribal note or a design can speak quite directly across geography and time.

Tile, unknown artist, 15th century, red clay with painting in blue and turquoise on a white slip under a transparent glaze, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.893.1

Julien Domercq, The Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of European Art
I am thrilled to be able to see real works of art again, and for visitors to be able to enjoy them firsthand in the galleries. There’s just nothing like being able to lose yourself in looking closely at brushstrokes of paint.

Frans Hals, Portrait of Pieter Jacobsz. Olycan, 1629–30, oil on panel, Private Collection, Courtesy of David Koetser Gallery, Zurich

Dr. Vivian Li, The Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
I love seeing once again Miguel Covarrubias’s Genesis, The Gift of Life, an iconic Museum landmark that has become woven into the fabric of Dallas. Countless families, friends, and young ladies in their spectacular quinceañera dresses have captured beautiful memories in front of it.

Miguel Covarrubias, Genesis, The Gift of Life, about 1954, tempera on cardboard laid on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Jorge Baldor, 2019.60

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art
I am excited to return to For a Dreamer of Houses, an exhibition that was installed but never opened to the public before August 14. The Rubber Pencil Devil installation has a three-hour video, so that’s where I hang out during breaks.

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 John Smith.

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
Among the things I’ve missed most are seeing and hearing visitors’ excitement as they explore the galleries and linger in front of objects that speak to them. It’s great to see the Museum come back to life.

Plan your visit to enjoy all of these wonderful art experiences and more! Reserve your timed tickets here. We can’t wait to see you back at the Museum!

Unnecessary Embarrassment: Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Letters

Among the treasures in the DMA Archives are four letters exchanged in the summer of 1941 between artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi and the Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Richard Foster Howard. For more than 40 years, these letters were the only works by Kuniyoshi housed in the DMA. Since 1988, Museum visitors have become acquainted with him through Bather with Cigarette. This star of the American art collection is currently on view in My|gration in the Center for Creative Connections.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Bather with Cigarette, 1924, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase Fund, Deaccession Funds/City of Dallas (by exchange) in honor of Dr. Steven A. Nash, 1988.22, © Estate of Yasuo Kuniyoshi/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Displayed alongside works by artists and designers including Hans Hoffman, Peter Muller-Munk, and An-My Lê, Kuniyoshi’s painting represents one of the 14 immigration stories shared in the exhibition’s “Arrivals” section. The 1941 correspondence between the 51-year-old artist and the DMFA director sheds light on the challenges and discrimination Kuniyoshi experienced in the US.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, from the Archives of American Art, photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son

Kuniyoshi arrived alone in Spokane, Washington, as a teenager in 1906. Although he initially planned to stay only a few years, by 1910 his artistic talents had led him to New York City. There he enrolled in a series of schools and entered the circle of leading figures in American art.

Bather with Cigarette was completed in 1924—the same year Congress effectively banned immigration from Asian countries. Kuniyoshi had already witnessed the government’s discriminatory policies. His marriage to fellow artist Katherine Schmidt in 1919 caused her to lose her citizenship. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese people were not the same as “free white persons” and thus did not have the same rights to naturalization. 

Fast forward to the summer of 1941. Headlines about naval attacks and international conflict fueled racism and xenophobia in the US. Kuniyoshi, like many American artists, wanted to travel the country in search of new inspiration. Unlike most of his peers, he could not embark on a trip without being hyper-aware that his appearance and national origins could be perceived as threatening. To mitigate the risk of police detention, he asked regional arts leaders to provide letters verifying his profession. The DMA Archives holds Kuniyoshi’s initial request to Howard (May 22, 1941), the director’s two-part response (here and here, May 26, 1941), and the artist’s thank you (mailed mid-journey from Colorado Springs, July 9, 1941).

Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s original letter to Richard Foster Howard.
Click HERE to expand.

In December 1941, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the US declared war. Kuniyoshi was not among the 120,000 people of Japanese heritage who were forcibly moved to internment camps in early 1942. He was, however, declared an “enemy alien.” Federal authorities impounded his bank account and confiscated his binoculars and camera as potential spy equipment. Despite this maltreatment, he spent the war years working for the federal government as a graphic artist and radio broadcaster (valued for his fluency in Japanese). Following WWII, Kuniyoshi became the first living artist to be honored with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1948. Although he had identified as an American and lived in the US for over 40 years, immigration laws prevented him from becoming an American citizen before his death in 1953.

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

DSO x DMA: A European Art-Inspired Playlist

We asked Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians to curate their own Spotify playlist that pairs music with artworks from our European collection. Hit play and take an immersive stroll through our virtual galleries to hear how each piece of music harmonizes with the art, and read deeper into each musician’s notes here:

Derick Baegert, The Descent from the Cross, about 1480-1490, oil on oak panel, Dallas Museum of Art, Marguerite and Robert Hoffman Fund in memory of Dr. William B. Jordan, 2018.14

Kari Kettering, Cello
Artwork: Derick Baegert, The Descent from the Cross
Track: Johann Sebastian Bach, St. Matthew Passion
I picked J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion for this painting because it is a masterpiece of sacred music and to me nothing else more perfectly and divinely depicts the story of the crucifixion. The whole work is almost three hours long so if I had to pick one movement to accompany the painting it would be No.64, “Am Abend, da es kuhle war”. It occurs right after the Evangelist speaks of the scene depicted in the painting.

Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Ecce Homo, after 1615, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 1969.16

Jenna Barghouti, Violin
Artwork: Giulio Cesare Procaccini, Ecce Homo
Track: Johann Sebastian Bach, Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052: II. Adagio
Though written about a century after Procaccini’s Ecce Homo was brought to lifethe second movement of J.S. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D minor felt like the perfect setting for Procaccini’s work. The movement opens with an eerie, chromatic melody that is played in unison by the strings and the harpsichord. The dramatic opening almost illuminates the surroundings of Procaccini’s work; the looming figures surrounding Christ who portray indifference to his suffering. The short introduction paves the way for the glistening harpsichord sound to soar above the orchestra. The lone harpsichord embodies Christ’s heightened emotions. His suffering comes through in the highly embellished, yet despairing, solo harpsichord melody. The harpsichord draws the listeners in through the rest of the movement, just like Ecce Homo gradually reveals new details with each glance.

Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre, The Abduction of Europa, 1750, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 1989.133.FA

Ted Soluri, Principal Bassoon (Irene H. Wadel & Robert I. Atha, Jr. Chair)
Artwork: Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre, The Abduction of Europa
Track: Jean-Philippe Rameau, Zaïs, Prologue,: EntrActe
The Rococo Era of painting and music expands on the Baroque style with more color and lightness. The rococo French composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s music is a perfect pairing with the work. The music is light and energetic with wonderful colors in the orchestral writing.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée‑Lebrun, Portrait of Natalia Zakharovna Kolycheva, née Hitrovo, 1799, oil on canvas, Lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 32.2019.14

Willa Henigman, Associate Principal Oboe
Artwork: Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of Natalia Zakharovna Kolycheva, née Hitrovo
Track: Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony in B flat, H.I No.85 -“La Reine”: 1. Adagio – Vivace
Since Vigée-Lebrun was Marie Antoinette’s portraitist, I have chosen one of Haydn’s “Paris” Symphonies, nicknamed “La Reine” (“The Queen”) after Marie Antoinette declared it her favorite of Haydn’s works. The first movement of the Symphony captures the grace of 18th-century society but also contains moments of drama, which I feel matches the elegance and rich colors of this portrait.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Bonneville, Savoy, 1803, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Nancy Hamon in memory of Jake L. Hamon with additional donations from Mrs. Eugene D. McDermott, Mrs. James H. Clark, Mrs. Edward Marcus and the Leland Fikes Foundation, Inc., 1985.97.FA

Theodore Harvey, Associate Principal Cello (Holly & Tom Mayer Chair)
Artwork: Joseph Mallord William Turner, Bonneville, Savoy
Track: Edward Elgar, In the South, Op. 50
Even though Bonneville, Savoy is in France, “Savoy” is also the name of the royal family of Italy, and I was thinking about Englishmen being inspired by visits to continental Europe. Elgar’s In the South (Alassio) came to mind. We performed that at the DSO not too long ago.

Gustave Courbet, Fox in the Snow, 1860, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 1979.7.FA

Gregory Raden, Principal Clarinet (Mr. & Mrs. C. Thomas May, Jr. Chair)
Artwork: Gustave Courbet, Fox in the Snow
Track: Claude Debussy, String Quartet in G Minor, Op.10, L. 85: 2. Scherzo (Assez vif et bien rythmé)
I chose the second movement of Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor. In this movement, I could feel the coolness of the snowy landscape and the sense of the victorious fox with his prey after the chase.

Claude Monet, Valle Buona, Near Bordighera, 1884, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 1981.127

Christine Hwang, Viola
Artwork: Claude Monet, Valle Buona, Near Bordighera
Track: Hector Berlioz, Harold en Italie, Op. 16, H. 68: III. Sérénade d’un Montagnard des Abruzzes à sa maîtresse (Allegro assai – Allegretto)
When I saw this painting, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy came to mind (yay, solo viola ). I’m particularly reminded of the third movement, in which a mountaineer sings to his beloved in the Abruzzi region of Italy. It’s both rugged and picturesque at the same time.

Paul Gauguin, I Raro te Oviri (Under the Pandanus), 1891, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc., 1963.58.FA

Stephen Ahearn, Clarinet
Artwork: Paul Gauguin, I Raro te Oviri (Under the Pandanus)
Track: Claude Debussy, Suite bergamasque: I. Prelude
Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque is one of his most famous piano works, and was composed around the same time that Gauguin painted “I Raro te Oviri”. The first movement “Prelude” pairs wonderfully with the Gauguin as they both use a bold color pallet and clear, concise structure to create their respective scenes. Debussy’s Suite was beautifully orchestrated by André Caplet, a contemporary of Debussy’s, and the recording I’ve suggested was conducted by Jun Märkl. Märkl is a frequent guest conductor at the Dallas Symphony and I always look forward to working with him.

Edvard Munch, Thuringian Forest, 1904, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.15.McD

Maria Schleuning, Violin (Norma & Don Stone Chair)
Artwork: Edvard Munch, Thuringian Forest
Track: Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1 in D Major: 4. Stürmisch bewegt
I love the idea of Mahler Symphony No. 1 for this, but I would suggest the opening of the 4th movement. I think it expresses the deforestation and bleeding/anguish depicted in the painting perfectly.

Gerrit Rietveld, Zig-Zag Chair, 1932, stained pinewood, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2018.8.McD

George Nickson, Principal Percussion (Margie & William H. Seay Chair)
Artwork: Gerrit Rietveld, Zig-Zag Chair
Track: Igor Stravinsky, The Soldier’s Tale (Histoire du soldat)
This reminds me of the wit and fun angularity of Stravinsky’s music from this period. I think Soldier’s Tale fits this really well!

All Bow Before the Bow

Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas with Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s L’Alsace

As the checklist was being developed for the recent reinstallation of the European Art Galleries, curator Dr. Nicole Myers consulted with the Objects Conservation Team about the DMA’s terracotta bust L’Alsace by French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. This mid-19th-century sculpture had not been featured in our permanent collection galleries in over 10 years, and the re-envisioned gallery design, featuring recent bequests and a more in-depth narrative of European art history, was just the opportunity to review some of our holdings. When we assessed the sculpture’s condition, we agreed on a few issues that needed to be addressed prior to display. Though structurally sound, this sculpture needed some attention to increase the aesthetic legibility. The curatorial-conservation collaboration is an insightful joint investigation as both subject matter experts work together to best present a work of art to the public.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, L’Alsace, before 1883, terracotta, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Edmund Pillsbury, Fort Worth, in honor of the opening of the new Dallas Museum of Art, 1983.153

This captivating terracotta sculpture is a symbolic representation of an idealized young woman of the Alsace region—a politically charged cultural and historic area because governance passed back and forth between France and Germany from the Thirty Years’ War to World War II. Though it is unclear exactly when in the 19th century this bust was created, the Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.

The subject’s elaborate hairstyle (crimped bangs and two long braids, also called “plaits” in the 19th century), a section of an embroidered traditional dirndl apron dress, and bunches of flowers at her chest and in her hair are all visual cues to amplify the allegory of femininity and nationality. In the mid-19th century, the societal fashion across the European countries celebrated elaborate and rather complicated hair, and even for a time, these crimped bangs. A woman’s crowning glory was her hair. Keep in mind, hairstyle codes for women differed with age and even marital status. And, in this sculpture, we also get a snapshot of the region.

Charles Spindler, cover of Léon Boll’s “Wines and Coteaux d’Alsace” brochure, 1900

To both increase the legibility of and focus the viewer on the sculpture’s attributes (both in subject matter and material appreciation), the goals were to give it a general cleaning and to minimize stains and discolored old repairs. The minor oily grime discolorations seen around the high-touch areas, such as the underarm area, were reduced mechanically with vinyl erasers. The deep interstices in the terracotta had accumulated layers of dust, darkening the recesses even further. Dust and some minor spots of mold were carefully removed with a selection of tools (soft brushes, swabs, and a HEPA vacuum with micro-attachments).

Notice the minor oily grime discoloration around high-touch areas, such as this underarm area, before conservation.
Before and after reducing discolorations mechanically with vinyl erasers

Unifying the appearance of a previous restoration (a large patched hole on the back of the sculpture) with the surrounding areas was the most time-consuming part of the treatment. This old restoration was still structurally stable but drew unnecessary attention because the old fill materials used did not match the terracotta. So, the areas were toned back with reversible conservation paints.

The old restoration fills did not match the original terracotta.
Fran Baas treating the sculpture
Before and after treatment

She is now on view, under an acrylic case for protection from dust and grimy hands, with each side visible and offering something interesting for the viewer. Please find this work in our virtual gallery and spend time appreciating its craftsmanship and how the terracotta clay was manipulated by the artist before firing. You can see the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals at her chest, revealing the creative spontaneity during the working process. Notice her exquisite outfit depicting her regional identity but especially appreciate that large bow. She’s gorgeous—even more so now that she’s been cleaned and restored!

Notice the details in the flowers, including the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals.

Fran Baas is the Interim Chief Conservator at the DMA.

A Sneak Peek of “Dalí’s Divine Comedy”

Whimsical. Unsettling. Surreal. These are a few of the adjectives used to describe the look and feel of the exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy, coming soon to the DMA. As the 2019-2020 Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art, I was given the opportunity to curate an exhibition of works on paper in a space in the European galleries on Level 2, drawing from the Museum’s rich collection of European prints and drawings. Exhibition planning comes several months (if not years for large exhibitions!) in advance before the works even touch the wall. Thus, I arrived at the DMA at the beginning of my tenure in mid-August last year with my sleeves rolled up and ready to work.

Dali’s Divine Comedy brings together works from prominent Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí’s series illustrating The Divine Comedy. Written by Florentine poet Dante Alighieri in 1320, this long narrative poem charts Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in search of salvation.

In 1950 the Italian government commissioned Dalí to illustrate The Divine Comedy in celebration of Dante’s 700th birthday. Although the request was later revoked, Dalí, likely inspired by the poem’s imaginative qualities and its potential for fantastical illustrations, persisted with this project. From 1951 to 1960 he created 100 watercolors representing each canto (or section) of the poem. The watercolors were later transferred to colored wood engravings. This series, containing 100 prints, came into the DMA’s collection in 1996 as a gift from collectors Lois and Howard B. Wolf.

Following the narrative cycle of its original literary source, Dalí’s Divine Comedy opens with a presentation of Dante’s depictions of Hell. Dalí visually reinterprets this realm as a barren, empty landscape crawling with strange amorphous forms as illustrated in the print Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30). His radical articulation of space demonstrates his unique Surrealist spin on the frightful qualities traditionally ascribed to Hell. Instead of depicting Hell as a fiery inferno, Dalí portrays this region as a vast empty space that conjures comparable feelings of terror.

Salvador Dalí, Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.30
Salvador Dalí, Hell: The Blasphemers (Canto 14), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14

Echoing the liminality, or state of in-betweenness, that characterizes Purgatory, Dalí recycles visual strategies employed in his renderings of Hell and Heaven to illustrate scenes from this region. In Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), sharp lines seen in Hell resurface in Purgatory, mediated by dynamic watercolor forms that distinguish Heaven. Dalí also provides up-close portraits of the realm’s inhabitants, providing a psychoanalytic glimpse into the complex nature of repentance.

Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14
Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: The Indolent Ones (Canto 3), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.37

Visitors will find Dalí’s seemingly placid though uncanny representations of Heaven in stark contrast to the scenes presented in the previous two realms. Dalí depicts the celestial cosmos with vibrant, warm watercolors as illustrated in Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2). The loose, fluid brushstrokes that compose the painterly form of the angel resonate with the ethereal properties that Dante ascribes to Heaven.

Perhaps the most visually striking element among these prints is Dalí’s persistent use of tiny geometric forms, which he refers to as rhinoceros horns, to make up the bodies of the angels and spirits that Dante encounters in Heaven. Dalí developed a peculiar interest in these forms during the later phase of his career claiming that they served as his sources of “angelic inspirations.”

Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.69
Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Sixth Sphere of Jupiter (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.87

Dalí employs different visual aesthetics in his depiction of each realm while also guiding the viewer to consider the timeless paragone, or interaction between word and image, through his illustrations. The DMA’s exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy presents these varying perspectives, all while encouraging an endless pursuit of fantasy, play, and imagination.

Chasitie Brown is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art 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.


Archives

Twitter Updates

Flickr Photo Stream

Categories