Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category

A Conversation with Rashid Johnson  

Pictured Left to Right: Artist Rashid Johnson; Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art; Dr. Agustín Arteaga, The Eugene McDermott Director

Rashid Johnson, this year’s TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art 2022 honoree and renowned multidisciplinary artist, gifted the DMA with his multimedia work, The New Black Yoga Installation. Featuring five men performing an enigmatic dance of ballet, yoga, tai chi and martial arts across a sun-soaked beach, the work explores the complexity of personal and cultural identity. Johnson’s ongoing meditations on black masculinity and mysticism are reflected through their choreographed dance movements. Rugs branded with crosshairs, a symbol that is etched into the sand in the video, are situated throughout the gallery, projecting the film’s combined sense of peace and foreboding into physical space.  

Below is an excerpt from a transcript of a conversation between Rashid Johnson and the DMA’s Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, at The Warehouse in Dallas, Texas. This dialogue has been edited for length and clarity. 

Katherine: 

When I saw you yesterday at the Museum, you were saying it’s been probably eight or nine years since you’ve really interacted with the piece and seen it in person. I’m so happy to have this work on view and to discuss it with you for the first time because it’s a very layered and enigmatic work. Perhaps you could speak a little bit on how this work came about in your practice. 

Rashid: 

This film, The New Black Yoga, was born of a time when I was living with my wife, Sheree, in Berlin. And it was the first time I was living internationally. I was working on an exhibition and doing a residency. But, as anyone who’s familiar with my work knows about me, I’m an anxious person. And I was asking myself, how do I start to deal with this anxiety? My doctor said I should go do yoga. Since I was in Germany, all the yoga classes were in German. Apparently, that’s just how it works, right? [Laughs] I thought I would just follow what the other people did. 

And, apparently, that’s just not how a real yoga practice is formed [laughs]. And so, because of that my sense is to do something absurd and continue to follow a path. I found a male performer and made a film, and I called it Black Yoga. Now, this man knew nothing about yoga—I, too, knew nothing about yoga [laughs]—but he was interested in ballet. I had an 8mm camera and I said, “Let’s do it, let’s make up black yoga.” I just started giving him moves to do and we made this film called Black Yoga. And by expanding on that was born this film, which is executed using five characters called The New Black Yoga and shot on 16mm film. 

It’s this fun way to kind of revisit this idea of healing, or the creation of healing, using your own creative sensibility to invent a way to navigate complicated circumstances. And that’s how this film was born. That’s its origin story.  

Katherine: 

Thank you for that. I want to talk a little bit about the healing aspect of the piece. The installation that we have at the DMA has a series of branded rugs on the floor. Then you look at the film—it is a very serene film of beautiful movement on a beautiful beach at dusk—and there also appears to be crosshairs that are written into the sand. Then you notice that there are enigmatic runes that give a sense of mysticism but also of foreboding because it does appear that there are these crosshairs in the rugs. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the kind of symbolism that you’re dealing with.  

Rashid: 

You know, throughout my practice I’ve built an iconography, or a series of symbols and signs, that reference either personal or collective experience—for example, the rugs through branding, but also on the beach, a kind of simple technique of drawing in the sand. And one that you mentioned, Katherine, is the crosshairs.  

I’m a child of the eighties. The day before yesterday, I went to see a play by an incredible playwright and screenwriter named Susan Laurie Parks—she happened to also write the script for a film that I made. But I was sitting behind Spike Lee. I love Spike Lee. I’m just a huge, huge fan of Spike Lee. 

I have to say that, early on, I was quite obsessed with his films. One of his early films is a film many of you have probably seen called Do the Right Thing. I was quite young when it came out. But, there’s a song in it by a band called Public Enemy, and the song is called Fight the Power. I fell in love with Public Enemy. I thought that they were so brilliant. It was this radical discourse but it was also urban music and it was philosophy. Chuck D, who was the lead singer for the band, was this activist and this really brilliant character. On the cover of their albums, they often had this kind of crosshair—a gun sight. I remember asking myself over the course of looking at that album, listening to the music, and seeing how they employed the symbol—who was that sight for? Was the gun being pointed at them? Were they in the crosshairs or were they projecting the crosshairs onto whoever they were battling against? I’ve borrowed this symbol a lot in my work through branding. 

Of course, Katherine, you mentioned there’s several rugs that lay on the floor. Well, my wife is Iranian and I always joke that my mother-in-law and I don’t have a ton in common. But she likes Persian rugs and I like Persian rugs. So I started using these things in my work—almost as a way of reflecting on this relationship that I was building with her, and these cultural signifiers and the possibility that cultural encampment, instincts, and signifiers can become global and employed in different ways and borrowed, sanctioned, and given agency in different languages. So I coated the floor in these Persian rugs and then I branded them with different symbols. I’m excited about how they become both legible and potentially mysterious, simultaneously.  

Focus On: Rashid Johnson 

The Dallas Museum of Art invites visitors to step into the artwork of renowned multidisciplinary artist Rashid Johnson in Focus On: Rashid Johnson, an installation showcasing Johnson’s multimedia work The New Black Yoga Installation. Gifted to the DMA by the artist in 2022, this installation combines a video projection and branded Persian rugs to create an experience that is, at once, intense and intimate. The film features five men performing an enigmatic dance of ballet, yoga, tai chi, and martial arts across a sun-soaked beach, exploring the complexity of personal and cultural identity. Their choreographed movements reflect Johnson’s ongoing meditations on Black masculinity and mysticism, as well as his investigations of the body in space. Rugs branded with crosshairs, a symbol that is etched into the sand in the video, are situated throughout the gallery, projecting the film’s combined sense of peace and foreboding into physical space. 

About Rashid Johnson 

Rashid Johnson’s practice encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, painting, drawing, filmmaking, and installation. Via a rich visual lexicon of coded symbolism and autobiographical materials, Johnson’s artwork conducts searing meditations on race and class, in addition to examining individual and shared cultural identities. The artist, who was born in Chicago in 1977, is perhaps best known for translating cultural experiences, most commonly that of Black Americans, through his unique visual language. Johnson was recognized as the 2022 honoree for his contributions to contemporary art at the 2022 TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Gala and Auction, a charity auction that benefits both the DMA and amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. 

Edited by Trey Burns, Multimedia Producer, and Ellee McMeans, Communications Manager  

Photos Trey Burns, Multimedia Producer

Under the Influence: What Inspired Picasso 

Pablo Picasso’s first financial success came in spring 1906, when he sold the entire inventory of his studio to art dealer Ambroise Vollard for the then large sum of 2,000 francs. This allowed him and his partner, Fernande Olivier, to travel to Barcelona and from there to the Pyrenean village of Gósol. In Spain, Picasso was a different person, Olivier remembered: “[A]s soon as he returned to his native Spain, and especially to its countryside, he was perfused with its calm and serenity. This made his works lighter, airier, less agonized.”1 It is not surprising then that in the almost three months the couple spent in Gósol, Picasso produced more than 300 paintings, drawings, and sculptures with Olivier as his main model. A significant change in his style announced itself during these months, influenced in part by the spare landscape and the region’s unique colors, but also by two exhibitions he had recently seen: the Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres retrospective at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, and a display of Iberian art at the Louvre from recent excavations in Andalusia. 

Picasso, Nude with Folded Hands, 1906. Gouache on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.19.McD
Picasso, Head of a Woman, Modeled 1905–1906, cast 1960. Bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2019.67.18.McD

A diamond pattern and the contours of a figure bleed through the thin paint of the pale pink background in Nude with Folded Hands. Only Olivier’s own ocher outlines set her apart from the nondescript, empty environment in which she is standing, giving the painting the effect of a bas-relief. Her voluptuous body seems awkwardly twisted at the waist and shoulders, her head is slightly bent down, and her almond-shaped eyes are closed. In its rigidity, the face evokes Iberian art, as well as a sculpture bust of Olivier, Head of a Woman, that Picasso made in the same year. Standing in front of her beholder, she is timidly folding her hands below her pudenda; however, her modesty is a false one, her hands revealing more than they hide, guiding the viewers gaze. Olivier often posed in the nude for Picasso, and while the young artist frequently made small drawings and caricatures of his sexual escapades, the studies and paintings of Olivier from 1906 stand out through their intimate eroticism, absent in his earlier works and in the following years. 

Picasso, Bust, 1907–1908. Oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Joshua L. Logan, Loula D. Lasker, Ruth and Nathan Cummings Art Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Marcus, Sarah Dorsey Hudson, Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, Henry Jacobus and an anonymous donor, by exchange, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 1987.399.FA
Yaure peoples, Je face mask, c. 1930-1952. Wood and pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art, 2018.7.McD

Bust, probably painted in the winter of 1907–08, looks fundamentally different from Nude with Folded Hands, and much had happened in the meantime. In spring or summer 1907, Picasso visited the Indigenous art and culture collection at the Musée du Trocadéro in Paris, which, though dusty and deserted, opened his eyes to a new influence: art from outside the Western canon, originating from European colonies in Africa and Oceania, leading him to finish his monumental painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, MoMA). Finally, at the Salon d’Automne, he saw the retrospective dedicated to Paul Cézanne. These exhibitions greatly influenced Picasso’s artistic development and his quest for an escape from the confines of illusionistic art, established during the Renaissance. Picasso further explored the pictorial means of simplification, thus the muscular woman in Bust, lifting her arms above her head, pulling her hair into a bun, is reduced to outlines and shading that was achieved through isolated application of color and expressive brushstrokes, rather than through the traditional method of gradients from white to black. Her face, devoid of emotion, echoes the masks Picasso saw at the Trocadéro, which might have looked like the Je face mask from the Yaure peoples. The fragmented body is reduced to basic geometric shapes, with the contours opening so that the background and the foreground merged, as Picasso had observed in Cézanne’s work.  

Paul Cézanne, The Rooftops, About 1898. Oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art,
The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.6.McD

Despite being celebrated as an inventor, Picasso never worked in an artistic vacuum. Trying to find a new language from 1906 onward, he was especially receptive to influences from outside the traditional Western canon, which makes these works compelling, even for the present-day beholder.  

[1] Fernande Olivier, Picasso und seine Freunde. Erinnerungen aus den Jahren 1905-1913, 1989, p. X. Translated from German by the author. 

Christine Burger, Curatorial Research Assistant for European Art 

One Way of Looking at a Mola

The Guna people live in an autonomous region of coastal Panama. The molaa blouse with appliqué panels on the front and back—is one of the most recognizable Guna art forms.  Guna women devote hours daily to making molas together while they converse about their craft. This social context of production reinforces a shared set of aesthetic principles, including symmetry, contrast, and evenly distributed detail.[1] Well-made molas are admired and copied by others.

This brightly colored mola features birdlike figures rowing boats. Velvety sleeves and rick-rack trim elevate the sumptuous detail of the appliqué panels. There are many ways—cultural, historical, and economic—to approach these intricate works. For now, let’s look closer at this mola to understand its key aesthetic attributes.

Symmetry: Imagine drawing a line from the center of one side of either panel straight across to the other side. The top half and the bottom half of the panel would mirror each other—with minor variations on either side. You would discover the same effect if you drew a line down the center of the blouse. This mola is symmetrical in quarters.

Duality: This blouse features near identical panels on the front and back. Guna women often make molas in pairs. This practice, along with the symmetry that governs individual panels, relates to the Guna belief that every living being has a double.[2] However, Guna women are not wedded to cosmology. They are artists who explore aesthetic convention and respond to market conditions. Women sometimes tear apart blouses to sell individual molas, thus interrupting the ability of their objects to reflect the cultural value of duality.

Stitches: Small, evenly spaced concealed stitches are also a hallmark of prized molas. While some stitches are visible in a close-up of this blouse, they are light in color, small, and evenly spaced and do not detract from the quality of the mola.

Contrast: Pay attention to the range of colors in this detail. Notice the red shapes over an area of blue and an area of green. Layers of bright contrasting colors articulate the shapes of this mola.

Filler motif: Guna women aim to create molas with little empty space. This technique leads to a cohesive composition while highlighting technical expertise. Guna artists have developed varieties of “filler motif”—small, simple repeated shapes—to cover spaces between main compositional elements. Filler motifs can be made from small circles, triangles, or, as we see here, slits called tas-tas.[3] The slits extend over the boats and figures to create an especially cohesive composition.

It can be tempting to interpret unattributed Indigenous art as a direct transmission of a unique—often exoticized— culture. While a cultural framework is key to interpreting Guna art forms, close looking reveals how women’s aesthetic choices also inform the production of molas.


[1] Mari Lyn Salvador  and Vernon Salvador, Yer dailege! Kuna women’s art. (Albuquerque, NM: Maxwell  Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, 1978)

[2] Michel Perrin and Deke Dusinberre. Magnificent Molas: the Art of the Kuna Indians (Paris: Flammarion, 1999), 45.

[3] Diana Marks, Molas Dress, Identity, Culture ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016)

Madeleine Aquilina, Michigan Summer Intern for Latin American Art, PhD Candidate in History of Art at University of Michigan

Behind the Scenes: Installing Senga Nengudi’s “Water Composition I”

Influenced by Black cultural traditions and Japanese Gutai, artist Senga Nengudi’s work synthesizes multiple ideas circulating in the 1960s and 1970s: feminist practice, the role of materiality, and the relationship between activation, viewership, and performance. In her sculpture Water Composition I, currently on view in Slip Zone, Nengudi encloses colored water in plastic, creating a body-like form.

Senga Nengudi, Water Composition I, 1969-1970/2019, heat-sealed vinyl and colored water, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund

We asked Senior Preparator and IPM Coordinator Mary Nicolett what stood out to her about her experience installing this abstract work. Here’s what she had to say:

First priority upon being approached to work with Fran Baas, Interim Chief Conservator, on the Nengudi was sourcing two 2-gallon jugs for filling the piece. 

Once that had been done, we set about opening the contents of the packing tube. There I found a beautiful rope, tubing and funnels, pre-filled dye containers with pre-measured amounts, and of course the plastic “bags.” Also included, and very important, was the template for placement! We were able to figure out exactly where on the platform the piece would go, and it detailed the exact pinpointed location of each PVC bag including position of the heat-sealed-seam. 

It took a while to truly understand the tubing and funnel system. What I wasn’t prepared for was how exquisitely this PVC bags where packed, in order of installation, one by one. Preparators often wish for things to be packed better, but this was a thing of beauty! 

Fran and I set about the morning hooking the tubes into each bag and filling with the prescribed amount of dye mixed with the prescribed ionized distilled water. It was “slow and steady wins the race” and we did not spill a drop! Each funnel was marked with tape on the wall, as to which bag the tube went to, just to avoid any possible confusion. 

After all the bags were filled, Fran and I began removing bubbles in the bags by gently thumping each bag until the bubbles moved to the top. 

A bit of tape removal, sweeping, touch-up paint, and we were done! And it looks marvelous!

Come see this work for yourself in the free exhibition Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia, on view now through July 10, 2022.

Mary Nicolett is the Senior Preparator and IPM Coordinator at the DMA.

Connections Across Collections: Love is in the Art

Love is in the air—and in the art at the DMA! Take a look below to see our staff picks of art that we heART in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Wedding vase with butterflies, Mary Louise Eteeyan, Jemez Pueblo, 1975–2000. Ceramic. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert I. Kramer, 2014.43.18.

Becca Merriman-Goldring, McDermott Intern for Arts of the Americas
Each spout of a Pueblo wedding vase represents one spouse; the two are joined by a bridged handle to form a continuous whole. Mary Louise Eteeyan emphasizes that significance in the decoration of this vase, with two butterflies coming together over a single basket of corn.

Wedding ring, department of San Marcos, San Pedro Sacatepequez, Guatemala, Maya — Mam, probably 1930s or 1940s. Dallas Museum of Art, the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Collection of Maya Textiles from Guatemala, gift of Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher, 1983.524.

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art
There are several wedding rings, like this one, in the Museum’s collection of Maya textiles from Guatemala. We don’t know if they were ever used, but perhaps they might bring you good luck if you’re popping the big question this Valentine’s Day!

John White Alexander, Miss Dorothy Quincy Roosevelt (later Mrs. Langdon Geer), 1901–1902. Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Pauline Allen Gill Foundation in memory of Pauline Gill Sullivan, 2007.36.

Martha MacLeod, Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for American Art
John White Alexander painted Dorothy’s portrait shortly before she married Langdon Greer. It was possibly a gift for her soon-to-be husband. The composition includes her beloved Irish Setter, Shamrock. Artists often include dogs in paintings to symbolize fidelity and devotion.

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

Hilde Nelson, Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art
In her series The Notion of Family, Frazier centers three generations of women—herself, her mother, and her grandmother. Here, the artist honors her grandmother; the fridge covered with the proud matriarch’s family memorabilia conveys their loving bond.

Stretching Ed Clark’s “Intarsia”

Ed Clark is an American abstract expressionist and pivotal Black artist in the DMA’s collection who experimented with shaped canvases. His large-scale painting Intarsia is on view for free in the exhibition Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia. To create this work, he laid raw canvas on the floor, poured acrylic paint directly on the surface, and spread it across the canvas with a push broom in a performative process. The title of this painting refers to a knitting and metalworking technique used to create fields of different colors that appear to blend in and out of one another. Combined with the elliptical shape of the canvas, which Clark saw as evocative of the shape of an eye, the radiant colors give the overwhelming sense of an expanding, pulsating image. Find out how our team of art conservators and preparators worked to preserve this work’s thick layers of paint by stretching the canvas before displaying it.

From Laura Hartman, Paintings Conservator at the DMA:

It was a true team effort—the painting measures over 5 meters by 3.5 meters, and weighs over 200 pounds! This painting is unique in that the artist has applied so many layers of paint that the paint is in fact thicker than the canvas, which changes the entire physics of the work. It has also traditionally been shown pinned directly to the wall, which was possible in 1970 when it was painted, but now the work has aged and needs a new approach to ensure longevity.

We worked directly with a stretcher maker in New York to design a stretcher that would hold the weight of the piece while remaining thin, giving the appearance that the work is pinned to the wall.

I worked with our preparators to create edge extensions, or a strip lining, and attach these to the back of the work to be able to stretch it while retaining the illusion of pinning. We first stretched a loose lining, which is a giant piece of canvas that acts as an additional support, and then carefully stretched the work onto the prepared stretcher, slowly increasing tension over several days to allow the paint to relax and release into a comfortable position. The work is now secure for the long haul, while retaining the artist’s original intention.

It took a lot of hands but we got it done! It takes at least 8 people to safely move the work, so all hands were on deck for this one!

Highlights of “Pursuit of Beauty”

Museum exhibitions serve different purposes. Some do heavy lifting in the field of new scholarship about unknown or understudied artists or cultures. Others may capitalize on strengths in the museum’s collection and, thereby, present a richer, contextual understanding of an artistic movement. And yet others present to our visitors works by artists that address gaps in our own permanent collection—a role beautifully fulfilled by the present exhibition, Pursuit of Beauty: The May Family Collection. I would like to focus on a few works and what—besides their apparent beauty—makes them special to me.

William Merritt Chase, Weary, c. 1889, oil on panel, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr., 114.2019.17
Gertrude Fiske, Contemplation, before 1916, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr.

Weary (1889), a small interior scene by William Merritt Chase is a quintessential example of the artist’s skills of observation that also provides us a peek into his well-appointed studio in Manhattan. Chase was not striving to make a narrative here. The subject is beauty alone—of a sitter placed within a beautiful setting full of patterns and textures. The large Japanese screen in the background, the plush velvet of the cushion beneath her feet, the sparkle of gilding on the armature of the chair, and the gleam of light on the large vase in the background at right, are all effects that lure and please the eye. A wonderful counterpoint to Chase’s creation is Contemplation (1915) by Gertrude Fiske, an artist trained in Boston. While it too presents a contemplative woman set in an interior, the artist is presenting to us a modern woman for the new age. Using complimentary colors of orange and green to frame the sitter, the crisp striped wallpaper effectively foregrounds her. Fiske further illuminates her with light flooding in from the upper left, which simultaneously bathes her face and torso in yellow that reflects off the material at the right edge.  

Theodore Robinson, Miss Motes and Her Dog Shep in a Boat, 1893, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr.
John Henry Twachtman, Frozen Brook, 1893, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr., 114.2019.12

American Impressionism is underrepresented at the DMA and two works within the May Family Collection created in the exact same year offer comparison of two artists whose means (light & brushwork), achieved different ends. Theodore Robinson’s small canvas of Miss Motes and Her Dog Shep in a Boat (1893) is an oil sketch by the first and most important of the American Impressionists to paint alongside Monet at Giverny between 1886 and 1892. Robinson’s intent was to capture an individual in a fleeting moment and his quick touches of brushwork fix her at a point in time as well as evoking the optical effect of forms blurred in reflection on the dappled surface of the water. In Frozen Brook (1893), John Twachtman also endeavored to capture a particular moment, but his motivation was to capture the atmospheric and emotive effects of a winter’s day. His brushwork is more varied, complex, and labor intensive (daubed, scumbled, and dragged) to conjure the optical effect of heavy, wet snow on the cusp of spring, when all is blanketed in contemplative silence. 

I do hope that you will come to the DMA to explore these five works for yourselves, along with the other twenty-three now on view. 

Sue Canterbury is The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art and Interim Allen and Kelli Questrom Curator of Works on Paper 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. 

Artist Spotlight: Emilio Amero

Modern Mexican art is dominated by artists with colossal reputations—Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo, and many others. In my experience though, it is sometimes the artists who have garnered less attention that produced the most gripping works, charting unique artistic trajectories. One such figure, whose work I adore and have long wanted to write about, is Emilio Amero (1901–1976). Among the most versatile artists of his generation, Amero painted in fresco and on canvas, but was also a graphic designer, caricaturist, photographer, filmmaker, printmaker, gallery owner, and professor.

Born in Ixtlauaca, in the State of Mexico, Amero moved to the capital as a boy, eventually studying at the National School of Fine Arts. Although he was initially drawn to fresco painting and assisted on several important mural projects, Amero left Mexico in 1925 and settled in New York, where he worked as an illustrator for various publications, including the New Yorker and Life, and designed advertising campaigns for Saks Fifth Avenue. In New York, he explored new mediums, producing a short experimental film, 777, and trying his hand at photography. In his early photographs, he played with double exposures and other techniques for manipulating photographic negatives, but he eventually began working in a more documentary style.

Although Amero’s love for film and photography would continue when he returned to Mexico in 1930, he began working in the medium for which he appears to have had the greatest creative passion—printmaking. While teaching lithography at the National School of Fine Arts, Amero also opened a gallery, Galería Posada, where he exhibited the work of young artists, gave lectures, and held film screenings. In the mid-1930s, he returned to the United States, moving between the two countries for many years while completing various projects and teaching in New York, Mexico City, and Seattle. In 1946 Amero accepted a position at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he taught graphic arts until his retirement in 1967.

Emilio Amero, There is Fear, 1947, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Neiman-Marcus Prize, First Southwestern Print Exhibition, 1948, 1948.12
Emilio Amero, Where?, 1948, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum Zonne Memorial Prize, 2nd Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1949, 1949.5

The DMA is fortunate to have four lithographs from Amero’s time in Norman, all of which speak to larger themes in the artist’s work. There is Fear and Where? show the artist’s propensity for contorting and compressing figures, their rigid bodies giving the impression of flesh that has turned to stone. This disquiet is enhanced by the dreamlike landscape in which the figures exist, filled with oddly shaped objects whose purpose seems unclear. In contrast, Dressing and Fiesta show more relatable scenes, their figures alive with movement, recalling some of Amero’s photographs of everyday life in rural Mexico.

Emilio Amero, Dressing, 1949, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum Zonne Memorial Prize, 2nd Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1949, 1949.4
Emilio Amero, Fiesta, 1950, color lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1954.27

Three of these prints entered the collection after winning prizes at DMA exhibitions celebrating printmaking in the Southwest during the mid-20th century. Together they are a testament to Amero’s impact on the arts of this region.

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


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