Archive for the 'works of art' Category

Celebrating Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1907 by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

This month the DMA celebrates the acclaimed African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937). Tanner’s intimate painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures is one of the cornerstones of our American collection. He rendered the lush, densely painted surface using a restricted palette predominated by shades of cool, luminous blue. The color became so synonymous with him that it earned the nickname “Tanner-blue.”

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, 1908, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds, 1986.9

The artist’s wife, Jessie Olssen, an American opera singer living in Paris when they met, and their young son, Jesse, often served as his models. Two existing photographs (figs. 1 & 2) confirm they posed for him as he considered different arrangements for the DMA’s painting, and one (fig. 1) was the template. That they posed for this painting makes it simultaneously a meditative religious scene and a tender family portrait.

Fig. 1: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12359, public domain
Fig. 2: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12360, public domain

Tanner seems to have been so enamored with the composition that three years later he rendered a similar version, Christ Learning to Read. He made slight changes to the poses of Christ and Mary and experimented with an impressionistic application of a high-keyed pastel color palette to render light. Further, the painting’s structural frame and inner arcing spandrel reflect the influence of buildings he most likely saw during his many trips to Morocco.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ Learning to Read, about 1911, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts, 1941.16, photo credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

Tanner’s decision to be a religious painter was deeply rooted in his family background. His father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835–1923), was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the artist’s childhood home was a well-known salon of Black culture in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that his path to a successful career was filled with many obstacles. While he found studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins intellectually fulfilling, the extreme racism he experienced from classmates was intolerable. Acknowledging that he “could not fight prejudice and paint at the same time,” Tanner left Philadelphia, briefly set up a photography studio in Georgia, and eventually lived out his life in Paris as an American expatriate. The city was culturally, socially, and artistically welcoming, while also providing him with the freedom and camaraderie unavailable to him in his segregated homeland. In Paris, the shy, serious-minded artist flourished and prospered. After a trip to Palestine, Tanner turned his focus toward painting biblical scenes and rarely strayed from this theme for the rest of his life.

Both the Dallas and Des Moines paintings, along with the two photographs discussed here, are emblematic of Tanner’s devotion to his faith and career, and all of them serve as affectionate double portraits in tribute to his wife and son. The Dallas Museum of Art is proud to display Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, which is a masterpiece by this admired and accomplished American artist, in our galleries. We are always honored to celebrate Tanner’s life, legacy, and contribution to the canon of American art, and we are most especially pleased to do so during Black History Month.

Martha MacLeod is the Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design, Latin American Art, and American Art at the DMA.

From the Page to the Painting: Literary Connections

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2002, coal dust, printing ink, oil stick, glue, acrylic paint, and gesso on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2004.29, © 2002 Glenn Ligon

This work features the opening lines of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village.” The story traces Baldwin’s time in a Swiss village where the majority of residents had never encountered a person of African descent. 

As a fellow gay Black man, Glenn Ligon incorporated Baldwin’s words in hundreds of his works. (Learn more about the artist’s interpretation of this essay and his choice of materials here.)

Glittering coal dust glued to a black surface makes the words nearly impossible to decipher. Similarly, the author and artist share their experiences of being seen but not understood.

Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, 1952, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift via Charles Wylie to honor Catherine and Will Rose, 2007.62.2, © Estate of Gordon Parks

As a staff photographer for Life magazine, Gordon Parks created the photo-essay “A Man Becomes Invisible” in conjunction with the publication of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. Parks and Ellison were friends and shared an interest in raising the visibility of Black lives in postwar United States.

Ellison’s unnamed, Black protagonist lives in an underground room. He is protected from a racist society only by remaining invisible—hidden below ground.

Parks imagines Ellison’s protagonist warily emerging from his subterranean sanctuary, an event only hinted at in the book’s epilogue.

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

This work was first shown in “Darkening,” a 2019 exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York City. The exhibition opened with an excerpt from Robin Coste Lewis’s poem “Using Black to Paint Light: Walking Through a Matisse Exhibit, Thinking About the Arctic and Matthew Henson.”

The poem points to one of the many layers of meaning behind Lorna Simpson’s choice of subject. Matthew Henson was an African American explorer who made seven trips to the Arctic between 1891 and 1912.

The brilliant color of Blue Turned Temporal resonates with lines from Lewis’s poem that note the absence of white and whiteness in the frozen northern environment. “The unanticipated shock: so much believed to be white is actually—strikingly—blue.” (Read Lewis’s full poem.)

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

Thurmond Townsend: A Dallas Artist to Know

In early 1938, 26-year-old Thurmond Townsend was appraising his backyard and became intrigued by the now malleable mud, which had the consistency of clay. Though he had never tried modeling before, Townsend started working with the mud to create busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from pictures. The two sculptures were going well… except for the ears. On his way home from work as a bus boy, Townsend stopped into the Dallas Art Institute and asked instructor Harry Lee Gibson how to sculpt ears.

Taking Gibson’s advice that he try modeling from life, Townsend created a bust of his wife Marie. He entered this sculpture in the 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition (March 20-April 17, 1938). The Dallas Art Association, now DMA, started holding juried exhibitions for artists residing in Dallas and Dallas County in 1928 and did so annually through 1964.

Townsend’s mud Marie Townsend was not only accepted to the exhibition’s Sculpture and Crafts section, but was awarded a $25 prize sponsored by Karl Hoblitzelle, a DMFA Board member. Townsend’s sculpture was the first work by a Black artist accepted to the Dallas Allied Arts exhibition. This was notable enough at the time that TIME magazine reported on Townsend and his sculpture in the April 4, 1938 issue.

“Art: Marie in Mud,” TIME, April 4, 1938

It should be stated that the eligibility rules in the exhibition prospectus did not limit entries by race and identification of race was not part of the information on the entry card required with each submission.

Entry Form for 9th Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition

An interesting side note, the other sculpture award at the 1938 Allied Arts Exhibition went to Harry Lee Gibson, the Dallas Art Institute instructor who helped Townsend with his “ears” problem.

As the mud sculpture would crumble as it dried, Gibson made a plaster cast of the bust for the Townsends. The plaster cast would go on to be displayed at the Paul Laurence Dunbar branch of the Dallas Public Library.

The Dallas Morning News featured an image of Marie Townsend in its March 6, 1938 issue.

1938 continued to be a successful year for Townsend’s sculptures. His Self Portrait, a second mud sculpture, was selected for the juried Texas Section of the Golden Jubilee Exhibition for the 1938 State Fair of Texas. In her review of the DMFA State Fair exhibition, the Dallas Morning News’ Elisabeth Crocker calls Self Portrait “…amazing…” and goes on to describe the sculpture as an “…even more sensitively executed, life-size bust of himself” discounting any who thought his Allied Arts prize-winning Marie Townsend was a “flash in the pan.”

The Texas Section of the 1939 State Fair Art Exhibition was an invitational exhibition and Townsend was invited to submit a piece due to his selection for the 1938 Allied Arts exhibition. He submitted a sculpture titled Dog, that Crocker described as a “cunning dog’s head,” in her review of the show.

“Head of Dog,” Dallas Morning News, October 8, 1939

Townsend was awarded his second Allied Arts sculpture section win, a $25 prize sponsored by the Rush Company, for Girl Friend at the 12th Annual Allied Arts Exhibition in 1941.

The artist does not appear in any of the DMFA’s juried exhibitions after the early 1940s. The current location of the works mentioned here, or any other of his artworks is unknown. If you have any information on Townsend or his body of work, please let us know.

Thanks to former McDermott Intern Melinda Narro whose extensive research brought Thurmond Townsend’s story to our attention. Thanks also to Communications staff Jill Bernstein and Lillian Michel for additional research.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Under the Influence: What Inspired Picasso

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 Gósol. In Spain, Picasso was a different person, Olivier remembered: “As 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.” 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 recently saw: 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.

Pablo 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

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. The voluptuous body seems awkwardly twisted at its waist and shoulders, the 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; 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.

Pablo Picasso, Bust, 1907-08, 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, 1987.399.FA,
© Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bust, probably painted in the winter of 1907-08, looks fundamentally different than Nude with Folded Hands⁠—and much had happened in the meantime. In spring or summer 1907, he visited the indigenous art and culture collection at the Musée du Trocadéro in Paris, which was dusty and deserted, but opened Picasso’s eyes to a new influence: art from outside the Western canon, originating from European colonies in Africa and Oceania; this led 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 had a great influence on 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; the muscular woman in Bust, lifting her arms above her head and pulling her hair into a bun, is reduced to outlines and shading that is achieved through isolated application of color and expressive brushstrokes, rather than the traditional method of gradients from white to black. Her face, devoid of emotion, echoes the masks he saw at the Trocadéro, which might have looked like the Je face mask from the Yaure peoples.

Je face mask, Yaure peoples, about 1930-52, wood and pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2018.7.McD

The fragmented body is reduced to basic geometric shapes, with their contours opening so that the background and the foreground merged, like 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 perceptible to influences from outside the traditional Western canon, which makes these works compelling, even for the present-day beholder.

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

On the Road: A Public Art Tour

Embark on a tour of the great ARTdoors! This summer, we compiled a list of public artworks around Dallas—from sculptures, to murals, to memorials—that you can see from the comfort of your car. By popular demand, we are pleased to present a second edition. Follow these maps to discover how artists have brought North Texas to life.

Dallas: Art Outdoors (Part Two)

Dallas: Art Outdoors (Part One)

A Meaningful Mural: Then and Now

“I wish to commend you for accepting the commission to execute this painting which emphasizes the dignity of human nature. It is most appropriate that the people of the United States and Mexico are reaching one another’s cultures by mutual encouragement of the fine arts.” 

This quote is from a telegram sent by the governor of Texas to Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo on the installation of his mural painting El Hombre at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art in October 1953. The genesis of the mural, commissioned by the Dallas Museum of Fine of Art, is directly related to the statements embodied in this quote.

Rufino Tamayo, El Hombre (Man), 1953, vinyl with pigment on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association commission, Neiman-Marcus Company Exposition Funds, 1953.22

Stanley Marcus, a long-time supporter of the Museum and president of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, had been trying to convince the Board that collecting Latin American art was a golden opportunity in advance of what would become mainstream status. Marcus had become close with artist Rufino Tamayo and his wife, Olga, after meeting through friends in Mexico and invited them to visit Dallas. A visit was planned for October 1951, with Marcus hosting the Tamayos prior to four days of lectures and events at the Museum.

Rufino Tamayo speaking to the Dallas Art Association

They were expected to arrive in Dallas early in the evening from Amarillo, where Tamayo was giving a lecture. Marcus became increasingly concerned as the hours passed beyond their expected arrival time. When Rufino and Olga finally made it to the Marcus home late in the evening, they were clearly shaken and it was obvious something had happened. The Tamayos explained that their car had been hit, the other driver had called them by a racial slur, and the police charged them with the accident even though it wasn’t their fault. Tamayo was so appalled by the treatment they had endured that he didn’t think he wanted to do anything in the United States. Marcus responded that he thought it was a job for all of us to work to change the impressions that some Texans had of people from Mexico.

Marcus would go on to explain to Tamayo that one of his reasons for being interested in Mexican painting was because he thought that it was the key to establishing warm and understanding relations between the US and Mexico. Marcus once said in an Oral History interview in January 2002, “As you get to know more about the art and culture of the other countries, you begin to have respect for them. You have respect for the art, you have respect for the individuals who created it.”

Tamayo admitted that he had not thought of it that way. Marcus used this opportunity to extract a promise to create a large-scale painting, a mural, on a subject of the artist’s own devising. Tamayo even agreed to produce the mural for a fraction of his usual rate to accommodate the Museum’s lack of funds.

While Tamayo agreed to paint a mural for the DMFA in October 1951, he did not complete the work until the summer of 1953. El Hombre was briefly shown at the Salon de la Plastica Mexicana. In a review of the showing for the Mexico City newspaper Excelsior, Margarita Nelken wrote that the painting was a “transcendental work of the contemporary Mexican school.”

Rufino Tamayo and Stanley Marcus standing with Tamayo’s El Hombre
DMFA staff in front of Rufino Tamayo’s mural El Hombre before installation in 1953

The painting arrived in Dallas on September 18, 1953—after a four-week train trip that included a delay due to flooding—and premiered on October 8 during the State Fair of Texas.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the DMA.

Connections Across Collections: Latin American Influence

As Hispanic Heritage Month continues, we’re spotlighting artworks and objects in our collection that were created with influence from Latin American culture and artists. We asked curators from across departments for their picks, and here’s what they had to say:

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art

The year before settling in Taos, Emil Bisttram studied with Diego Rivera in Mexico. This painting’s volumetric forms and linear qualities evidence Rivera’s influence. It bears the hallmarks of Bisttram’s work from the early 1930s that often depicted Native Americans and the artist’s all-consuming interest in New Mexico’s architecture and landscape.

Emil J. Bisttram, Pueblo Woman, 1932, tempera and oil glaze on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Royal C. Miller, 1960.165

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas, and Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art

Keros (ceremonial wooden cups from the Andes) in the DMA’s collection range in date from the 15th century through the Spanish viceregal period. As on the elegant kero with palm trees and flowers, their decoration can recall the geometric designs favored in the indigenous art of the pre-contact Inka Empire (for comparison, see this ceramic kero and checkerboard tunic). The cups, however, could also feature complex narratives. The kero with plowing scene depicts a man driving a plow ox, followed by two women: the first woman is planting seeds, and the second is ceremonially raising a pair of keros in the air (for more detail, see the rollout photograph of the upper portion).

Upper left: Quero (qerokero) with palm trees and flowers, Peru, Inca, mid-17th–late 18th century, wood and pigmented resin inlay, Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.1849; Upper right and bottom: Quero (qerokero): plowing with oxen, Peru, Inca, 17th–18th century, wood, metal, cane, and pigmented resin inlay, Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.1851

Unrestrained Luxury & Unlocking Secrets: The 17th-Century Torre Tagle Cabinet

The Spanish Colonial Gallery on Level 4 at the DMA

This opulent cabinet is among the Dallas Museum of Art’s most glittering masterpieces—and one of my favorites. The marquetry and inlay that cover its exterior and interior is composed of thousands of intricately fitted pieces of mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, further accentuated with ivory and gilt wood elements, as well as brass wire and nails. This extravagant use of precious materials over the cabinet’s surfaces creates a sense of unrestrained luxury, signaling the wealth and status of its owners.

Scholars once believed that the cabinet was made in Goa, India, or perhaps in Manila, Philippines, but recent studies have revised that thinking. We now place its production in Lima, the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru during the Spanish viceregal period. This is in part because of the abundance of furniture with this style of decoration—writing desks, sewing boxes, chests, etc.—that can be found there today, in churches and in private collections.

Cabinet, about 1680–1700, mahogany, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and tortoiseshell, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation, in honor of Carol and Richard Brettell, 1993.36

Lima was a regional and global trade hub at the end of the 17th century. This gave furniture makers access to a wealth of precious materials, such as Spanish cedar and Central American hardwoods, which were often used for the interior structures of cabinets like this one. The precisely cut pieces of mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell may have also been imported, perhaps shipped in pre-cut standardized shapes.

Existing literature says the cabinet once belonged to Melchor Portocarrero, the third count of Monclova; I have found no concrete proof of this but am intrigued by the legend. It was thought that he commissioned the piece from Goa or Manila while living in Mexico City and acting as the viceroy of New Spain (1686–88), later taking the cabinet with him to Lima when he became viceroy of Peru (1689–1715). If the cabinet did belong to the count of Monclova, it now seems more likely that he commissioned the work directly from a workshop in Lima. Almost nothing is known about the furniture makers in Lima during this period, although there were almost certainly specialized makers dedicated to this style of decoration.

Cabinet (detail)

One important clue in the cabinet’s history can be found on its crest, which contains a painting of the coat of arms of the marquises of Torre Tagle, set in a double-headed eagle decorated with mother-of-pearl. Granted their title by King Philip V of Spain in 1730, the Torre Tagle family were prominent members of Lima’s aristocracy. The third marquis of Torre Tagle married a descendent of the count of Monclova, which was long thought to explain how the cabinet came into the family’s possession. It is possible, however, that the work’s original commissioners were the marquises themselves.

So, while there is much that isn’t known about the cabinet, the DMA is working to unlock its secrets. In the meantime, it remains the grandest example of this style of furniture in a public collection anywhere in the world, and one of the highlights of the Museum’s Level 4 galleries.

Take an inside look at the cabinet here:

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

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.


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