Archive for the 'Contemporary Art' Category

Reflections with Chris Schanck

Ahead of Chris Schanck’s first major museum presentation, Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck, we asked the artist a few questions about his formative years in Dallas, his artistic practice, and what he hopes visitors will reflect on when experiencing the exhibition. Read what he had to say and see Curbed Vanity, on view February 7 through August 29, 2021.

How was your high school experience at Booker T. formative for you as an artist?

“Good morning and welcome to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the most unique school in Dallas”—that’s how our principal, Dr. Watkins, addressed the student body over the PA system every morning; I can still hear the optimism in his voice. For a student like me, who often managed to find trouble, I am thankful for the patience and persistence that Dr. Watkins gave me—each day was a new day, a new chance. He gave me enough room to be creative and make mistakes, but he also helped me stay on the path.

Booker T. was the most critical educational experience of my life. My teachers offered me a sanctuary of stability and mentorship. Nancy Miller, Patsy Eldridge, Polly Disky, George Mosely, Charlotte Chambliss, Lolly Thompkins, Josephine Jones, and Sylvia Lincoln together gave me a strong fine arts foundation. 

My painting teacher, George Moseley, changed my life forever. Mr. Moseley is a great artist, an inspiring educator, and a trusted mentor. I, along with many of my peers, idealized him for the leadership he showed us in our youth. I know without a doubt that my life and career are forever indebted to him and those handful of teachers who helped me find the confidence to believe in myself.

What does having this show at the Dallas Museum of Art mean to you?

My high school was just down the street from the DMA and I visited countless times in those impressionable years. The Museum always had the familiar feeling of visiting a friend’s home; I felt welcomed and I knew my way around. At the same time, the DMA was my temple. It didn’t matter who I was in the Museum—everyone is equal before art.

The Museum was my gateway to art history. In one afternoon, I could visit with Aztec gods, Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo—and I could start to see the connections and conversations between them all. I didn’t have a lot growing up, but the Museum and my high school gave me exactly what I needed. They showed me from a young age that art gives everything else meaning.

I’m grateful for the support of the Museum and the friends of the Museum. The DMA’s collection is the closest collection to my heart and to be a part of it is the greatest honor.

How does the transformation process of found objects into furniture inspire your artistic practice?

The found objects I work with have very disparate characteristics and I don’t have one specific method for grouping them. For each piece of work, I first build a simple structure and use that as an armature to explore the relationships between the objects and the material. The process of transforming the objects into form is driven by intuition and practical constraints. Many times, I’m following a hunch that two distinct things belong together, while other times I’m exploring rigid dimensional constraints between manufactured generic objects whose original intent is a mystery.

It feels like a collaborative effort between myself and the material—I have a notion of where to begin but the objects bring the project into focus.

William C. Codman, Martelé dressing table and stool, 1899, silver, glass, fabric, and ivory, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Dr. Charles L. Venable, 2000.356.a–b.McD

What was your first encounter with the DMA’s Martelé dressing table like?

Like encountering the sword Excalibur; its presence is magical in form and reflectivity—it’s a formidable piece of work to talk to.

What experience do you want visitors to take away from Curbed Vanity?

I’d like them to know that I find my corner of the world inspiring and beautiful in it’s everyday characteristics. I hope the work inspires viewers to enjoy the subtle and unconventional beauty in their own communities.

Found and Foiled

Chris Schanck is a Dallas-native artist whose first museum commission and solo museum presentation Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck debuts at the DMA this winter. Schanck creates artworks from industrial and discarded objects he collects from outside. The artist then coats the materials in aluminum foil and resin—a reference to the Dallas aluminum factory where, along with his father, Schanck worked when he was young. Take a behind-the-scenes look at his process of collecting materials, as well as progress shots of how he transforms these objects into new pieces of furniture.

Chris and his team in his Detroit neighborhood inspecting furniture left on the curbsides
Chris gathering materials from an old house near his home in Detroit
Chris and his team collecting discarded construction materials from an abandoned lot in his Detroit neighborhood
A collection of discarded objects and materials Chris found in his neighborhood
More discarded objects that Chris and his team found and cataloged back in the studio
Chris and his assistants in his Detroit studio building the maquette, or skeleton, for Curbed Vanity.

Curbed Vanity in progress:

Chris Schanck, American, born 1975
Curbed Vanity, 2020
Mixed media, aluminum foil, and resin.
T44152.1-2

Connections Across Collections: Gratitude

With more than 25,000 objects, the DMA’s encyclopedic collection is a treasured source of inspiration. Our curators selected works from across collections to express sentiments of gratitude—read their picks below!

Deborah Roberts, When you see me, 2019, mixed media and collage on canvas, Dallas Museum of art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.20, © Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I am thankful for the contributions of Texas artists to our collection. One of my favorite recent acquisitions is by Austin-based Deborah Roberts, whose When you see me is a work of heartbreaking beauty that elicits an honest reckoning from the viewer.” 

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1846-1847, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Art Museum League Fund, 1973.5

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art 
“Hicks’s allegory centered around themes of peace and unity resonates at this moment when we at the DMA yearn for companionship and understanding. Hicks’s painting is an ideal and historic model for the possibility of peaceful coexistence and of gratitude for the blessings of community.” 

Ex-voto Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, 1886, Mexico, oil on tin, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Foundation, 1961.84

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art 
“C. Nicolaz Moralez fell from a tree on October 7, 1886. Carried home in a blanket, he prayed to Saint Martin. After his recovery, he commissioned this small ex-voto to offer his thanks to the saint for healing him.” 

Lorna Simpson, Blue Turned Temporal, 2019, ink, watercolor, and screenprint on gessoed fiberglass, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2020.16, © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang 

Vivian Crockett, The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art 
“I’m grateful for recent acquisitions that not only highlight the strength of the artists in question, but also make possible meaning dialogues with existing works in the collection. Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal (2019) exemplifies her lifelong commitment to interrogating supposedly universalist frameworks and in turn, enriches our understanding of Frederic Edwin Church’s The Icebergs (1861), a beloved work in the DMA’s collection.” 

Qur’an, Damascus, Syria, 1340, ink, gold and colors on paper (modern binding), Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.578, fol.217v. 

Dr. Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman & Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic & Medieval Art 
“A well-known verse in the Qur’an tells us that the expression of gratitude is for the benefit of one’s own soul (Q 31:12). It can be read in the third and fourth lines of this page from a manuscript on view in the Keir Collection gallery.” 

Kazuo Shiraga, Imayo Ranbu (Modern Dance), 2000, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2013.21, ©︎ The Estate of Kazuo Shiraga 

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art 
“The bright, explosive colors of Imayo Ranbu evokes the vigorous energy and movements of the artist in creating this foot painting. The title’s reference to the festive dance (ranbu) of the Heian period (794-1185) in Japan further conveys a mood of celebration and joy.” 

Louis Anquetin, Woman at Her Toilette, 1889, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2020.3.FA 

Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art
“I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of Dallas’s own Foundation for the Arts. Through its dedication and sustained support, we are able to add masterpieces to the DMA’s galleries, such as Louis Anquetin’s Woman at Her Toilette. This exquisite recent acquisition by an artist in Van Gogh’s circle debuts in the European galleries this month.” 

Artist once known, Chancay, doll, 1000–1460, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, the Nora and John Wise Collection, bequest of John Wise, 1983.W.2181 
Artist once known, Wari (Huari), tunic with profile heads and step frets, 850–950 CE, cotton and camelid fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Carol Robbins’ 40th anniversary with the Dallas Museum of Art, 2004.55.McD 
Artist once known, Maya, Tzutujil, spindle with white cotton, 1970, wood and cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams Collection of Guatemalan Textiles, 1982.274.A-B
Artist once known, Chimayo or Rio Grande, blanket, c. 1900–1920, cotton and wool, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of John Lunsford, 2003.51

Dr. Michelle Rich, Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas 
“Materials used to spin yarn and tools employed to produce cloth may vary across time and space, but weaving in the Americas is a rich tradition that is thousands of years old. Textiles are extremely fragile, and I am grateful the DMA has the opportunity to help preserve a wide range of works: from Andean dolls and tunics to Maya wooden weaving tools to Chimayo and Navajo blankets.” 

David Clarke, Family Matter, 2020, sterling silver, silverplate, pewter, common salt, paint, and sugar, Dallas Museum of Art, Silver Supper Fund, 2019.96 

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design 
“Comprised of heirloom silver contributed by DMA staff, patrons, and trustees, Family Matter embodies the meaning and memory instilled in treasured family objects. With this work, David Clarke created a unified vision of our extended communities reminding us that the past and present continue to be connected, often in new and unexpected ways.” 

Sword ornament in the form of a spider, Ghana, Asante peoples, late 19th century, gold-copper-silver alloy, Dallas Museum of Art, McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.26.1

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art 

“Thanks to the McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, the DMA was able to acquire a 19th century cast gold sword ornament in the form of a spider from Ghana. What I learned about it inspired an awesome exhibition, The Power of Gold, and brought Asante royalty to the Dallas.” 

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.

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.

Behind the Scenes with the Dream Team

It takes a village to make an exhibition come together. The imaginative and immersive exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses wouldn’t be possible without a top-notch team of passionate DMA staff members, each of whom play a unique and vital role in making the art come to life. They all had a bit of fun in the process, too! Check out these behind-the-scenes photos submitted by our “Dream Team.”

The Dream Team! This team is made up of registrars, preparators, conservators, designers, security and operations staff, and curatorial staff.
Installation begins for Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil.
Raising the roof! The DMA preparator team begins installing the roof section of Rubber Pencil Devil.
Rubber Pencil Devil is wrapped in plastic as the floors around it are built.
Curator Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck and Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art Hilde Nelson watch the videos inside Rubber Pencil Devil.
Designer Jaclyn Le prepares the house-shaped scrim to go in place.
Going for a ride in the lift.
Even underwear chandeliers need steaming! Here, Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas prepares Pipilotti Rist’s Massachusetts Chandelier. #ArtConservation
Janine Antoni’s Grope with contract preparator Vince Jones’s feet. “It was necessary to get behind the piece, and it just made me laugh!” —Mary Nicolett, Senior Preparator
Gallery Attendant Tirfe Chafo spreading JOY!
Straightening up Betty Woodman’s The Red Table.
Artist Francisco Moreno lends a hand to Senior Preparator Russell Sublette with the installation of his work Chapel.
Francisco Moreno and contract preparator Kevin Jacobs perform a post-installation quality check on the interior of Chapel.

Making Ourselves at Home

Our homes have taken on new significance in these past few weeks. We are getting to know much more intimately our rooms, our furniture, and certainly our roommates. We might be noticing the dust more on the floors, or the cracks in the ceiling. We might be noting habits that perhaps were always there, but have come to the fore.

Is there a chair you prefer to sit in for comfort? A window you often find yourself daydreaming out of? Is there a favorite sweatshirt or blanket you reach for when you feel a draft?

Daniel Barsotti, Untitled (Window), 1977, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Polaroid Foundation grant, 1977.46, © Daniel Barsotti

There might be things we are lacking, things that had broken that we had been meaning to replace. We might be farther away from the homes in which we were raised, and the families inside, and it might feel harder to get to those places.

Romare Bearden, The Family, 1975, intaglio, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Michael L. Rosenberg, 1994.245.5, © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Maybe that family heirloom is being revisited more often now. Hands grazing over the nooks and crannies in the wood. Smells from recipes handed down from generations might be flooding our kitchens, if we are lucky.

Bill Owens, We’re really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home., 1971, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 2005.103.2, © Bill Owens

Our homes are microcosms of ourselves. They are our habits embodied. They are visualizations of our personalities. They can make us feel safe, but they can also scare us. The storms in the middle of the night might cause strange sounds and shadows to appear. The house can take on a life of its own. But it’s ultimately a shelter, and a home is a privilege not everyone has.

Francisco Moreno, Chapel, 2016-18, pencil, vine charcoal pencil, and acrylic on an all-encompassing structure, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, the Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund, Elisabeth Karpidas, Charles Dee Mitchell, Tammy Cotton Hartnett, Travis Vandergriff, Joyce Goss, Harper and Jim Kennington, and Karen and John Reoch, 2019.58. Photo by Wade Griffith, courtesy of the artist and Erin Cluley Gallery.

A house is also a boundary between ourselves and the world around us. We might see neighbors pass by our windows for the first time. We might peer into brand new rooms, far away, via technological devices, now that our schools and businesses are being conducted from home.

The exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses was organized before we as curators had any idea how much time we would all be spending in our own homes. Indeed, currently you can see the show via the comfort of your pajamas in 3-D on the web. But it was born from ideas circulated in philosophy, psychology, and sociology in the last hundred years. Hilde Nelson, Chloë Courtney, and I developed the concept for the show over the past year, inspired by recent acquisitions of immersive installations that brought to the fore just how wonderful the home is. Not just as a well-known and -loved domestic space, but as a place of fantasy.

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 Tom Little. Courtesy of the artist and Karma, New York.

We noticed that artists’ depictions of the home were reflecting our increasingly globalized world, re-creating a childhood house that could fit inside a suitcase. Or sociopolitical issues, like state-sponsored violence, imagining how furniture could reflect invented futures that were nurturing instead of traumatizing. Then, a global pandemic arose, and we were startled to realize how works in the show, chosen months ago, seemed to presage a strange new reality, with quarantining procedures, new emphasis on hygiene, and the fear of illness striking our loved ones.

Misty Keasler, Green Room (Quarenteen) Leagnul di Copii, Tigru Mures, Romania, 2004, C-print on Kodak Supra Endura, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Burt and Missy Finger, 2006.33. Courtesy Misty Keasler and The Public Trust Gallery.

But in spite of these fears, readers, we saw a resiliency in the worlds depicted by these artists. We still see a bright future, where we can take the lessons learned in the imaginative worlds of art, and apply them to a reality where we are all in this together, helping build a more equitable and safer future. And so we look to art, just like to the home, to visualize our shared humanity. And we have lots more time to look, and reflect on what we are seeing, at home.

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

Obscured Homes: Gee’s Bend Quilts and Overlooked Narratives in US Art History

America Will Be!: Surveying the Contemporary Landscape, the DMA’s new free exhibition on view April 6 through October 6, 2019, ends with “The Home.” One of six thematic galleries, “The Home” is the last in the exhibition and features one object in particular whose form is at once familiar and comforting—a worn and humble quilt, Amelia Bennett’s Bars and Strips. The quilt is included in the exhibition after a recent acquisition of seven artworks from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which collects and advocates for the work of self-taught African American artists from the Deep South. Amelia Bennett is one of over 100 women collectively referred to as the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers. These women are part of a rich tradition of quilt making in their shared community in Alabama, dating as far back as the mid-19th century. The story of how these quilts, made for intimate spaces of the home, have ended up on the walls of major museums asks viewers to consider the roles race and class play in the formation of art history.

Amelia Bennett
© Souls Grown Deep Foundation

The Souls Grown Deep Foundation advocates for works such as Bennett’s quilt to be considered within our modernist paintings in the art historical canon. Incorporating what is considered craft or folk art into the larger framework of high art begins to historically correct for the absence of women, and more specifically, women of color, in the mainstream narrative of US art production; however, the foundation’s current efforts in advocating for these artists demand a renewed consideration of the work on its own terms, necessitating a critical look at these objects’ pasts. Historical attempts to introduce the quilts of Gee’s Bend to the larger art world inadvertently reinforced harmful understandings about why we should value the art production of black women living in remote parts of the country.

In attempts to make them legible to art audiences, the quilts were introduced as reflecting the aesthetics of modernist art movements such as Abstract Expressionism. Valuing these quilts only as approximations of abstract painting diminishes the inherent creativity and worth of the quilts themselves when, in fact, the Gee’s Bend quilts are not derivative but a historical part of Abstract Expressionism’s development. Founders of Abstract Expressionism originally drew from sources such as folk and classical art to legitimize their art movement as one that spoke to a universal humanity. Barnett Newman, Robert Murray, and Roy Lichtenstein looked to quilts to develop a sense of home-grown American art aesthetics and identity unique to the nation. Discussing the quilts as attempts at modernist painting erases this history and does not validate their status as art objects produced by women of color without connecting them to a formal, masculine, and traditionally accepted art movement.

The second popular reading of the quilts was developed by their founder William Arnett. He believed that the quilts and other assemblage works by Souls Grown Deep artists actually embodied a complex and private system of communication among black community members in the South. Other related readings connected the colors and patterns in Gee’s Bend quilts to those used in textiles in West Africa. Maude Southwell Wahlman, an African and African American art historian, believed these techniques were passed down from generation to generation, so that contemporary quilters were embedding codes into their works that even they no longer knew the significance of; however, textile historian Amelia Peck quickly sets straight that these readings, “about most African Americans being unaware of the symbols and signs in their quilts makes the concept both paternalistic and suspect.” The Souls Grown Deep Foundation grapples with these histories of interpretation, including its own past, in order to make sense of the artists’ work for our contemporary moment. 

The quilts of Gee’s Bend are compelling on their own, unrelated to what these interpretations impose on them. Bennett’s Bars and Strips was made to captivate the viewer with its block patchwork composition and gradations of blues and grays. It wears its history, its over 90 years of age. The small tears, discolorations, patches, wrinkles, and uneven wear speak to the former lives of the fabric pieces, when they covered legs, soaked up sweat, and faded in the sun. The quilt moves beyond holding our aesthetic attention. Bennett’s work visually embodies the hard labor of her family and community members, and the poverty in their community that necessitated recycling every small bit of cloth. Its colors and patterns speak not to Mark Rothko’s color fields or to lost secret codes, but to the rich history of a multi-generational art practice and the ability to glean creativity and beauty out of hardship. While America Will Be! ends with “The Home,” contemporary understandings of US art history should begin in the domestic and creative sites of women and people of color so long overlooked.

Amelia Bennett, Bars and Strips, 1929, cotton, denim, and muslin, Dallas Museum of Art, Discretionary Decorative Arts Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Foundation, 2019.3.6

Read more about the Gee’s Bend Quilts as contemporary art objects:
Peck, Amelia. “Quilt/Art: Deconstructing the Gee’s Bend Quilt Phenomenon.” In My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South, edited by Kamilah Foreman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018: 53-91.

Kimberly Yu is the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA.


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