Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category

“Slip Zone”: East Asian Artist Spotlights

The upcoming fall exhibition Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia looks to tell an expansive story of abstract art after 1945. Highlighting the work of artists working in places such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Tokyo, and beyond, Slip Zone seeks to help visitors understand how artists in various global centers revolutionized new forms, materials, and techniques in the decades following World War II.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s especially important that we bring attention to the impressive selection of works by East Asian artists featured in this exhibition. Artists such as Jiro Yoshihara, leader of the Gutai group (the first radical Japanese postwar art collective, founded in 1954 in Osaka), and Lee Ufan, leader of Mono-ha (a movement that emerged in Tokyo and included artists who experimented with natural and raw materials in response to the ruthless industrialization in 1960s Japan), made their mark by pushing artistic boundaries in both their process and presentation, which also resonated with prominent abstract art practices happening around the world. Many of these artists have had their names recognized only at the margins of postwar Euro-American art historical discourse today; however, it was important in the planning of Slip Zone that they are centered in the postwar discourse.

Lee Ufan, Relatum, 1968/1969/2011, steel, glass, and stone, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2012.20.4.a–c, © Lee Ufan

Jiro Yoshihara’s position as one of the lead artists in the Gutai group was undoubtedly informed by the meticulous nature of his practice as a painter. In Yoshihara’s Work, which will be featured prominently at the beginning of the exhibition, the artist laboriously coats multiple layers of red and blue oil paint to create the ensō, a calligraphic circular form synonymous with Zen art and philosophy. Yoshihara’s filling of the negative space surrounding the ensō though subverts the symbol’s usual gestural immediacy. We see this contrasted in Sam Francis’s approach to negative space in his 1959 work Emblem, which will hang in the exhibition next to Yoshihara’s Work. Emblem was created soon after Francis’s first trip to Japan in 1957. Inspired by the Zen art principles that can be found in the work of the Gutai collective and other artists he was exposed to while living in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, Francis painted over colorful areas with white and incorporated white drips into his work, revealing the artist’s conscious shaping of negative space in his works.

Jiro Yoshihara, Work, 1965, oil on canvas, The Rachofsky Collection
Sam Francis, Emblem, 1959, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, 1981.117, © Estate of Sam Francis / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This kind of transnational dialogue takes place throughout the exhibition to illustrate how the connections present in the exhibition are both formal and personal. Slip Zone presents a new and exciting take on modern abstraction that breaks down how artists were engaging with new materials, new approaches, and new techniques in similar ways and at similar times because of the personal dialogues and exchanges taking place between artists and artist communities around the world.

Ashleigh Smith is the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Gertrude Stein and Juan Gris: A Close Connection

Photograph of Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, 1920, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers. American Literature Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

This is the history of Juan Gris.
—Gertrude Stein[1]

After the Salon des Indépendants in 1920, Juan Gris wrote a letter to Gertrude Stein, putting an end to more than half a decade of silence between them:

I am greatly flattered by what you say about my contribution at the Indépendants, more especially as you have a great understanding of painting.[2]

Stein was an American novelist, born in 1874 into an affluent upper-middle-class Jewish family. She studied psychology and medicine before moving to Paris in 1904. There she became one of the foremost connoisseurs of modern art and an early champion of Cubism. She was especially close to Picasso, and it is likely that she met Gris sometime in 1910 through their mutual friend; however, she did not start collecting Gris’s work until 1914, when she bought the first painting from the artist’s gallerist, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Gertrude Stein was particularly interested in papier collé works by Gris.
Image: Juan Gris, The Lamp, 1914, pasted paper, gouache, and conté crayon on canvas, Private collection

Gris and Stein seem to have been on friendly terms up until World War I. She always tried to support her artists while at the same time adding works to her impressive collection. When the war broke out in August 1914, and Gris’s German gallerist had to leave France, the artist found himself without income. Upon Picasso’s appeal, Stein tried to help Gris out by setting up an opportunity for him to exhibit in New York in the gallery of Michael Brenner. Additionally, she and Brenner offered monetary support in exchange for works. Kahnweiler, who thought the war would be a short affair, prohibited this deal and Gris had to decline the offer. Stein broke off contact with the artist until her visit to the Salon in 1920.

Their friendship resumed, grew stronger, and became more intimate. Gris valued Stein’s feedback, and he trusted her taste in and opinions on art. They visited each other frequently and were known to engage in deep and intellectual conversations. She appreciated the artist especially for the exactitude of his Cubism and his intricate compositions. When Gris’s sales and self-esteem were low, Stein tirelessly promoted his work by sending journalists to his studio, publishing texts about him, and collecting his works. In 1926 they collaborated on a project, with Gris contributing four lithographs to Stein’s publication A Book Concluding with as a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story.

A sign of their close relationship, she was the only one to call him “Juan,” emphasizing his Spanish heritage, while he referred to himself as “Jean,” being enamored with everything French.

Most of Gris’s works in Stein’s collection are from the 1920s.
Image: Juan Gris, The Electric Lamp, 1925, oil on canvas, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle. Gift of Louise and Michel Leiris, 1984. On deposit at Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de la Ville de Strasbourg since 1999

When Gris died in May 1927, Stein was heartbroken. Two months later, she published a personal epitaph in the magazine Transition. In her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein would later acknowledge Gris’s importance to Cubism by elevating him to the same level as Picasso, where in her eyes he belonged:

[T]he only real cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and exaltation.[3]

Christine Burger is the Research Assistant for European Art at the DMA.


[1] Gertrude Stein, The Life of Juan Gris: The Life and Death of Juan Gris, in: In Transition: A Paris Anthology: Writing and Art from Transition Magazine 1927-30. New York, 1990,195.
[2] Gris to Stein, February 2, 1920, letter XCI, in Douglas Cooper, trans. and ed., Letters of Juan Gris [1913-1927]. Collected by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, London, 1956, 76.
[3] Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 2020, 110.

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.

Connections Across Collections: Repurposed Materials

Making the old new by transforming discarded objects into works of art is an integral part of contemporary artist Chris Schanck’s practice, as seen in his dressing table featured in the upcoming Curbed Vanity exhibition and made of found materials from the neighborhood surrounding his Detroit studio. We asked DMA curators what other artworks and objects in our collection feature repurposed materials. From personal mementos to wild animal horns, find out about these objects and what they’re made of.

Perry Nichols, [The Desk Top of Jake Hamon], 1966, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Carlos Nichols, 2017.37, © Perry Nichols

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art 
“Dallas native Perry Nichols portrayed Jake Hamon by depicting objects and mementos that represented some of the sitter’s traits, hobbies, and interests. When the Hamons owned the painting, it hung over their mantle while the real-life items rested below.”

Ceremonial basket, California, Shasta basketweaver, 19th–20th century, Squaw grass and black mountain sedge, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Eugene M. Solow, 1954.130.1

Dr. Michelle Rich, Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas
“Foraging for grasses in nature is a form of producing art with found materials. The Shasta artist who wove this beautiful basket took the time to harvest the bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) and black alpine sedge (Carex nigricans) from the wilds of Northern California.”

Helmet mask (komo), Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo sculptor, mid-20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, mirrors, iron, and other materials, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley, 1997.24

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art 
“Sharp horns, tusks, and zigzag teeth of wild animals; mirrors; cowrie shells; wine glasses; and sacred texts contribute to the fierce appearance and spiritual power of this helmet mask, as well as project the prominence of the Komo society member.”

Staff Spotlight: “To Be Determined”

Organized through collaboration among the entire curatorial team over the DMA’s five-month closure, To Be Determined represents the power of art amidst uncertainty and invites viewers to uncover new and personal meanings in objects from the Museum’s vast collection.  

Staff from across the Museum share their inspiration and determination in bringing this exhibition to life:

Hayley Caldwell, Copy and Content Marketing Writer 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the many creative possibilities and meanings that each grouping of artworks can convey, and how the nature of the show is to embrace and give importance to the viewers’ own interpretations. I was and am determined to support this experience by fostering a digital space where viewers can make and discuss their own connections.” 

Jessie Carrillo, Manager of Adult Programs 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the passion DMA curators have for the collections they steward and the objects they selected. I was determined to capture this passion in a series of virtual curator spotlight talks with the goal of moving visitors to find something in the exhibition that speaks to them.” 

Lizz DeLera, Creative Director 
“The theme of this exhibition and the zeitgeist subject matter that the curatorial team put so much thought into spurred me on to be determined to showcase the works and the shared themes they represent. I did this by conceptualizing a resonating and experiential microsite to manifest with ‘chapters’ that speak to the common thread of what people are currently feeling and experiencing in these challenging times.” 

Tara Eaden, Operations Manager 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by the Dallas Museum of Art’s strength and determination to preserve and continue to bring art alive despite the current times. I am still elated to witness the diversity and inclusion within the exhibition, as works from Dallas based artists Oshay Green and Jammie Holmes are on view. I was determined to ensure that the works of art were displayed in a space that is comfortable and pristine for a positive and memorable visitor experience.” 

Jaclyn Le, Senior Graphic Designer 
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by my colleagues’ shared passion to create an exhibition that encourages dialogue surrounding the current state of the world. I was determined to design a graphic identity that was delicate yet strong, embodying the idea of resiliency, and to create a color palette that was in harmony the wide range of works shown. Both have been implemented across both web and print platforms, and is successfully weaved into the exhibition’s microsite.” 

Brian Peterman, Lighting Preparator 
“I was inspired by the curators’ selections and the thought-provoking juxtapositions these created. I was determined to develop the dramatic lighting effects that they were seeking, with areas of concentrated light surrounded by deep shadow, such as in the gallery where Frederick Church’s The Icebergs and Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal are quietly alone together. The show turned out beautifully, with a moody and introspective atmosphere that reflects the tone of the unusual times in which we’re living.” 

Claudia Sánchez, Associate Registrar for Exhibitions  
“In the context of bringing this exhibition to life, I was inspired by a personal need and yearning for the kind of kinship and camaraderie uniquely shared between colleagues and I was determined to be as accommodating and empathetic to fellow staff as a result of the collective challenges experienced due to new COVID rules and procedures. Despite the obstacles, our team safely and successfully installed the show and relished in the satisfaction of being onsite and feeling industrious again.” 

Making the Mural: Behind the Scenes of “Landscape of a Lifetime”

In fall 2019, Sandra Cinto’s large-scale mural Landscape of a Lifetime was brought to life in the Museum’s Concourse by the artist, along with the help of some DMA staff and a team of artist assistants from around Dallas. The team spent roughly three weeks working on the 153-foot mural, which features 24 shades of blue shifting from night to day, intricate pen drawings of celestial elements such as stars and clouds, and low-level audio of crashing waves, rustling leaves, birds, and crickets.

Sandra Cinto and team working on the mural

To coincide with the recent launch of our virtual tour of the mural, we reached out to some of the participants who helped bring this work of art together and asked them to reflect on their experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“Learning Sandra’s simple drawing vocabulary of dots and lines, which we deployed in the cavernous Concourse in the form of stars, bridges, mountains, and clouds, created a link to an ancient human past of painting cave walls, tombs, temples, canyons, and shelters with an extended family that speaks a common language of art.” —Tino Ward

Sandra Cinto: Landscape of a Lifetime at the Dallas Museum of Art
Cinto working with an artist assistant

“Being an artist is a selfish pursuit. Even when it comes to a mural, helpers are treated as a necessary evil, paycheck players brought in to meet a deadline. Sandra Cinto is a magical exception to that rule. Her mural, Landscape of a Lifetime, allowed us lucky few to feel truly invested as this piece took shape, while Sandra deftly handled the key elements. Rather than keeping us at arm’s length, she built a nest in the clouds and drew us in. I was given the job of drawing stars. Up close, they seemed tedious and mundane, but when taken in from a distance, they shimmer—not unlike Sandra herself. I had the privilege of being part of a project that was communal in the best sense of the word—an enterprise of the spirit. Thank you, Sandra.” —Russell Sublette

“Working on Landscape of a Lifetime was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The opportunity to learn from such a successful artist was an honor. I made many meaningful connections that I am eternally grateful for.” —Meena Valentine

Meena Valentine contributing to the mural

“Sandra Cinto firmly believes that everyone can draw. The elements that you see throughout the mural are composed of simple marks—the stars are lines radiating from a center point, the mountains quick penstrokes—but with many people drawing, they come together in a multitude to form a harmonious whole. That is another component of Sandra’s philosophy: communities of people can be an incredible source of love, care, and creative potential.” —Hilde Nelson

Hilde Nelson drawing delicate penstrokes
Cinto warmly giving an artist assistant a hug

A Journey Through the Design of “My|gration”

What items would you take with you if you had a few hours to prepare for a weeklong trip? If you’re like me, you might drag your suitcase down from the storage shelf in the garage and lay out a few outfit options with a pair of good walking shoes, the necessary toiletries, phone charger, and books. But let’s imagine for a moment that we didn’t have a few hours to prepare, and our weeklong trip was actually a permanent move. What items would you choose if you were leaving your home forever and you could only take what you could carry? What if your move wasn’t your decision, and it was forced upon you? Or maybe your move was your decision and you are hoping for a better life with more opportunities?

This is the heartbeat of the exhibition My|gration, which is a play on words describing the personal journey of migration experienced by our community and by artists throughout history. As a graphic designer at the Museum, I was very excited to have the opportunity to take the lead in designing the environmental graphics for this exhibition. Working closely with the Interpretation, Education, and Exhibition teams, we wanted to create an exhibition that encouraged the visitor to experience the world from another person’s perspective, and in particular how life and art are affected by immigration or displacement.

As we started designing, we thought about the natural journey of the earth as it travels around the sun, bringing us day and night, dusk and dawn. We mirrored that with the idea that many people take similar journeys throughout their lives, with periods of light and dark, clarity and ambiguity. These thoughts informed our earthy and atmospheric color palette.

I started to create graphic elements that would help tie this metaphorical journey with the physical journey of movement and migration. I illustrated a compass rose that represented the many directions life could take us, both
emotionally and physically. We used suitcases and luggage tags to suggest the idea of items you might journey with. Then I started working with an illustrated map of Dallas, zooming in and making it the color of earth—a rusty, warm bronze. I laid it out at the bottom of the entry walls with a sunset gradient fading into a starry night sky.

As a focal point of the exhibition, DMA Head of Interpretation Dr. Emily Schiller provided facts about Dallas’s immigrant population to highlight the diversity in our own community. I used the illustrated map of Dallas here as well in this bilingual infographic.

The exhibition space was organized into sections featuring artwork that fell into three categories: Arrivals (artists who immigrated to the US), Departures (artists who emigrated from the US), and In Transit (art reflecting our connected world). For these section headers, I designed circular blade signs that mimicked ones you might see on the road or at a train station while traveling.

The circle used for the blade signs repeats itself throughout the graphics in the space. I used it frequently to suggest multiple meanings: (1) the rose compass, (2) the “you are here” icon on a map, and (3) the metaphorical idea that circles are continuous, much like the personal journeys of our lives.

Brittany Lowe is a graphic designer at the DMA.

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.

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.


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