Archive for the 'Behind-the-Scenes' Category

Merry Macarons

Our annual staff holiday party brought some French flair to the Museum with this year’s Winter in Paris theme. The Holiday Party Committee started planning in September and pulled together a sophisticated soiree fit for any Francophile, complete with a cardboard-roll Eiffel Tower-building contest, a French-themed photo booth, and an abundance of delicious French cuisine, courtesy of our amazing Chef Craig. Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and resident DMA Frenchman, served as the party’s emcee, much to everyone’s delight. The Museum’s gracious trustees, along with local businesses, donated a plethora of gifts for the staff raffle, a seasonal highlight for our much-deserving employees. It was the perfect kickoff to a merry holiday season!

Sarah Coffey is the Education Coordinator at the DMA.

Bird Watching

The Wittgenstein Vitrine, designed by Carl Otto Czeschka and executed by the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) for the 1908 Kunstschau (Art Show), is the focus of the exhibition Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine, now on view in the Conservation Gallery. Upon entering the gallery, you will notice the vitrine’s enormous scale, its reflective silver surface, and its dark Macassar ebony veneered base. As you approach the vitrine, you will discern a multitude of details, most notably the fretwork that wraps the vitrine and forms an ecosystem teeming with plant and animal life.

The Wittgenstein Vitrine on view in Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine

The Wittgenstein Vitrine on view in Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine

Flora and fauna motifs, inspired by Central European folk art and Arts and Crafts design, reoccur throughout Czeschka’s designs in a variety of media—metal, lacquer, and textile, among others; however, the detail, diversity, and dynamism of the animals on the Wittgenstein Vitrine’s fretwork are unprecedented in the designer’s oeuvre. Birds of various sizes, shapes, and patterns perch amidst dense foliage, while squirrels, weasels, mice, and lizards scamper across scrolling vines in search of baroque pearl “fruits.”

These critters so captivated curators and conservators that the DMA turned to Dr. Marcy Brown Marsden, ornithologist and Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Dallas, in order to identify the avian, as well as mammal and reptile, species represented on the vitrine. Identification of birds in nature involves five qualities—shape, size, color, song, and behavior. Because the birds on the vitrine are monochromatic, static, and silent, their identifications as Central European species were based on physical features—such as bills, tails, crests, and feathers—and behavioral characteristics. Dr. Brown Marsden and University of Dallas undergraduate students Allison Rodgers and Nicole Stevens identified a total of twenty-four species, including a few of my favorites listed below!

detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Juan Lacruz Martín, Eurasian Hoopoe, photograph. The Internet Bird Collection, Web. November 24, 2014.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Juan Lacruz Martín, Eurasian Hoopoe, photograph. The Internet Bird Collection

The Eurasian Hoopoe (Upapa epops) is characterized by a prominent crest, a long tail, and a distinctive pattern on its feathers.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Andreas Trepte, Common Kingfisher, photograph. Wikipedia, web. November 24, 2014.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Andreas Trepte, Common Kingfisher, photograph. Wikipedia

With its plump body, short tail, and extended bill, the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) on the vitrine is nearly identical to its counterpart in nature.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Peter Trimming, Eurasian Red Squirrel, photograph. Wikipedia, web. November 24, 2014.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Peter Trimming, Eurasian Red Squirrel, photograph. Wikipedia

The Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), with tufted ears and a bushy tail, appears several times on the vitrine in various positions. This squirrel holds a baroque pearl “acorn” in its paws.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Marcel de Bruin, Weasel, photogrpah. Photo-marcelloromeo. Web. November 24, 2014

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Marcel de Bruin, Weasel, photograph. Photo-marcelloromeo

 

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Josef Lubomir Hlasek, Mouse, photograph. Sci-news.com. Web. November 24, 2014.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Josef Lubomir Hlasek, Mouse, photograph. Sci-news.com

The weasel (Mustela) is identified by the distinctive shape of its head, body, and tail. On the vitrine, it chases a mouse (Mus) with prominent ears and an elongated tail, its natural prey.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Garth Peacock, Common Nightingale, photograph. Bird Life International. Web. November 24, 2014.

Detail of Wittgenstein Vitrine; Garth Peacock, Common Nightingale, photograph. Bird Life International

The gaping position of this bird’s bill suggests it is a Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), a species renowned for its powerful and beautiful song and popular in European literature, poetry, and music.

To spot all twenty-four species represented on the Wittgenstein Vitrine, visit Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine and pick up the in-gallery guide “A Birder’s Guide to the Wittgenstein Vitrine.”

Samantha Robinson is the McDermott Graduate Curatorial Intern of American and Decorative Art at the DMA.

Image: Wittgenstein Vitrine (for the 1908 Kunstschau), 1908, Carl Otto Czeschka, Austrian, 1878-1960, designer; Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), Vienna, Austria, 1903–1932; Josef Berger, Austrian, 1874/75-?, goldsmith; Josef Hoszfeld, Austrian, 1869–1918, Adolf Erbrich, Austrian, 1874–?, Alfred Mayer, Austrian, 1873–?, silversmiths; Josef Weber, dates unknown, cabinetmaker; Wabak, Albrech, Plasinsky, Cerhan (unidentified craftsmen), silver, moonstone, opal, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, baroque pearls, onyx, ivory, enamel, glass, and ebony veneers (replaced), Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Installing Opulence

The amazing results of our conservation project (which we discussed here) to restore the DMA’s Wittgenstein Vitrine to its original beauty can now be seen as of this Saturday, November 15, in the DMA’s Conservation Gallery. Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine will not only put a major spotlight on this masterwork of 20th-century design but also provide information on the remarkable conservation efforts, additional work by Wittgenstein Vitrine designer Carl Otto Czeschka, his work for the Wiener Werkstätte, and the important patronage of the Wittgenstein family. Check out the installation process below, and if you want to learn more about this one-of-a kind work of art you can attend Saturday’s symposium; event details are online at DMA.org.
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Mind’s Eye from a Different Frame of Reference

You still have time to come to the Dallas Museum of Art to visit the exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne before it closes on October 26. The show is a rare opportunity to see exceptional drawings, pastels, and watercolors by many of the most acclaimed European artists in the Museum’s collection, as well as some from many local private collections.  Linger in a gallery and closely study exquisite works by Renoir, Gérôme, Pissarro, Bonnard, and Mondrian. Then, before moving into the next room, step back a bit to view the broad array of frames that surround these fabulous artworks. The various shapes, designs, and colors add a pleasant texture to the walls and bring an unmatched intimacy to the overall experience.

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Consider the fantastic tabernacle frame surrounding Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret’s little gem Portrait of Gustave Courtois. With its liner plinth (or base), columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and crowning entablature, it’s easy to see that this sort of frame employs a structure and ornamentation inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The intricate gold ornamental foliage patterns coursing over the narrow, flat groves of dark green couple with rich gilding to elevate the mystery of the distinguished sitter, who was a fellow artist.

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Nearby is Théodule Ribot’s Head of an Old Man with Beard and Cap. This little drawing from the DMA’s collection was in storage unframed, but we did not need to go any further than our own Reves Collection to find something perfect. Based on 17th-century Dutch frames with waffle or ripple style moldings that were darkly painted to simulate ebony, this frame is enhanced throughout by long passages of inlaid tortoise shell. Then, to bring perfect harmony to drawing and frame, we added a custom-designed mat embellished with strands of pale blue, silver, and brown marbling that echoes the frame’s tortoiseshell.
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Like museums, artists were often quite particular about their frames. For example, Edgar Degas most likely designed the frame on his drawing After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself. This frame has the hallmarks of his most inventive design, which includes a soft overall gilding over a lightly rounded profile, enhanced with rows of thin parallel grooves. Degas called this frame a “cockscomb” or “cushion” pattern. The frames’ characteristic gentle curves subtly reinforce the arc in the nude’s back, as well as the fleshiness of her torso, buttocks, and arms.

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Even simpler than Degas’s frame is the one that Swiss artist Ernest Biéler designed for his L’épine-vinette. He polished the wood (oak) to bring out its subtle grain, allowing it to serve as a backdrop to the small strips of wood that step down at the sight edge, drawing our eyes toward the lovely portrait. Biéler followed a similar design scheme when made the frame for his Self-Portrait, which hangs to the left. Thus we see both of these works just as he intended.
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In the last room of the exhibition, you will find a fantastic frame on Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Glass and Bowl. Although probably not designed by Picasso, its strong linear features and curvilinear gold leaf embellishments mirror those same aspects in the master’s drawing.

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If you are not ready to explore the rest of the Museum, return to the first Mind’s Eye gallery for a look at the one-of-a-kind mat surrounding Hubert Robert’s View of the Gardens at the Villa Mattei. The cartouche bearing the artist’s name is a work of art itself.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant for the European and American Art Department at the DMA.

Showcasing 40 Years: Installing Isa Genzken

Isa Genzken: Retrospective, the DMA co-organized exhibition with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, will open this weekend at the DMA as part of a successful national tour that has been described as “dazzling.” The DMA is the final stop for this first major U.S. exhibition of Genzken’s remarkable career. Her work contains many elements and the DMA crew has been installing the exhibition for weeks. Get a sneak peek below and then visit the exhibition, which is included in the DMA’s free general admission and is on view beginning this Sunday, September 14, through January 4.

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Conservation Timeline

Silver Vitrine (for the 1908 Kunstschau), 1908, Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), Vienna, Austria, 1903-1932, maker; Carl Otto Czeschka, Austrian, 1878-1960, designer; Josef Berger, Austrian, 1874/75-?, goldsmith; Josef Hoszfeld, Austrian, 1869-1918, Adolf Erbrich, Austrian, 1874-?, Alfred Mayer, Austrian, 1873-?, silversmiths; Josef Weber, dates unknown, cabinetmaker; Wabak, Albrech, Plasinsky, Cerhan (unidentified craftsmen), silver, moonstone, opal, lapis, lazuli, mother-of-pearl, baroque pearls, onyx, marble, ivory, enamel, glass, and Macassar ebony veneers (replaced), image courtesy of Richard Nagy Ltd, London, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

The Wittgenstein Vitrine (from the 1908 Vienna Kunstschau), 1908, Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), Vienna, Austria, 1903-1932, maker; Carl Otto Czeschka, Austrian, 1878-1960, designer; Josef Berger, Austrian, 1874/75-?, goldsmith; Josef Hoszfeld, Austrian, 1869-1918, Adolf Erbrich, Austrian, 1874-?, Alfred Mayer, Austrian, 1873-?, silversmiths; Josef Weber, dates unknown, cabinetmaker; Wabak, Albrech, Plasinsky, Cerhan (unidentified craftsmen), silver, moonstone, opal, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, baroque pearls, onyx, ivory, enamel, glass, and Macassar ebony veneers (replaced), Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

With fall just around the corner, here’s a brief sneak peek into the conservation treatment, made possible through the Art Conservation Project grant from Bank of America, of the DMA’s recent acquisition, a masterpiece of Viennese design known as the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

An exhibition dedicated to this spectacular addition to the DMA’s collection, Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine, opens November 15 in the Conservation Gallery. The display will examine the historical significance of the Wiener Werkstätte vitrine and include other examples of Viennese art and design from the period. It will also highlight the conservation treatment and technical analyses carried out during the past year.

Collaboration between curator and conservators – a discussion on original wooden base height, veneer, and finish

Collaboration between curator and conservators – a discussion on original wooden base height, veneer, and finish

Fitting the new curved glass side panel – the replacement of a missing element

Fitting the new curved glass side panel, replacing a missing element

The elaborate silver vitrine (or display case) stands roughly five feet tall and is encrusted with pearls, lapis lazuli, opals, onyx, and other gemstones. Each of these materials requires different conservation approaches and solutions. The overarching goal of the treatment has been to bring the piece closer to its original 1908 appearance, as well as to stabilize a number of fragile elements. The most stunning transformation has resulted from the reduction of blackened tarnish and the removal of layers of old silver polish residue trapped within the intricate metalwork.

Detail of old polish residue trapped between glass and metalwork

Detail of old polish residue trapped between glass and metalwork

Detail of old polish residue caught between the glass panes and silver decorative elements

Detail of old polish residue caught between the glass panes and silver decorative elements

Many painstaking hours of old polish removal and reduction of silver tarnish.

Engaging in many painstaking hours of old polish removal and reduction of silver tarnish

Conservation treatments do not take place within a vacuum, and an exciting part of the project has been the interdepartmental collaboration between the curatorial, conservation (including myself), and collections staff at the DMA. Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Dallas Museum of Art, and I have also been working with outside consultative experts, including silversmiths, specialty glassmakers, gemologists, research scientists, and even an ornithologist (to help identify the various birds depicted on the vitrine).

Detail of a pearl cluster with two birds.  Notice the old polish residue in the interstices surrounding the cluster.

Detail of a pearl cluster with two birds. Notice the old polish residue in the interstices surrounding the cluster.

During removal of silver tarnish, as seen in this image from left to right.

During removal of silver tarnish, as seen in this image from left to right.

Working almost daily on an intimate and intense level with an object has resulted in many discoveries, which we look forward to sharing with the public in both the exhibition and the opening symposium on November 15, 2014.

Fran Baas is the Associate Conservator of Objects at the DMA.

My Meaningful Moments at the DMA

Amanda Blake, Head of Family, Access, and Scholl Experiences at the DMA, during a Meaningful Moments program.

Amanda Blake, Head of Family, Access, and School Experiences at the DMA, during a Meaningful Moments program

There are many reasons I enjoy working with our Access Programs here at the DMA, but one of the big ones is the chance to form relationships—relationships with participants and, in turn, their relationship with works of art in our galleries. The Meaningful Moments program for visitors with Alzheimer’s disease and their care partner (usually a spouse or family member) creates opportunities for people to have transformative experiences with works of art and with one another. I feel lucky to be a part of this each month. As I have gotten to know the participants over the years and spent time with them each month, I am reminded of the importance to live in the moment and to cherish each day that we get to spend with our loved ones. The Meaningful Moments program reinforces my belief in love and in the kindness of humanity.

If someone were to pass by our group in the galleries, it would appear as if longtime friends were chatting and reminiscing. In the studio, there is often laughter and joking as participants create and share their artwork. Many of the participants get together outside of the program, for lunches or support groups. I have received gardening tips and holiday cards from individuals in the program, and I have even visited the woodworking shop of a participant to learn how to use a lathe. The group is social and very welcoming to newcomers, but is also a supportive bunch of familiar faces.

Viewing and talking about works of art can unearth past memories, especially those still accessible to a person with Alzheimer’s disease. I have witnessed this many times during Meaningful Moments. From a Native American cradle sparking recollections about vacationing with young children, an exhibition with a beautiful wedding gown triggering detailed stories about participants’ wedding days, impressionist works reminding attendees of a favorite nature spot from their youth, or a print by Andy Warhol generating a lively discussion of life in the 1960s, artwork often serves as a catalyst to connect with the stories from the past and with loved ones in the present. During our gallery conversations, spouses (even those married more than fifty years) occasionally learn new things about their loved one’s past.

Crucial to the Meaningful Moments program, socialization and simulation play a key role and have been proven to help improve mood and behavior, as well as dramatically enhance quality of life. The social interaction and exploration of works in the collection are as gratifying to the spouse or family member as it is to the attendees with Alzheimer’s disease. I have seen care partners lean on one another for support and bond over shared experiences. One woman who used to bring her husband to the program still occasionally attends, even though her husband passed away two years ago. A couple who has attended the program since the beginning even schedules their doctor’s appointments and vacations around the program dates. A wife who brings her husband has told me that she needs the program, as it is a time when she can connect emotionally with him and not think about the disease for the two hours that they are in the Museum.

Since the program began four years ago, two of my favorite people in my life have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I know how heartbreaking it can feel for this disease to affect someone you love, let alone how scary it must feel for the person diagnosed. The Meaningful Moments program is one of the best parts of my job and means so much to me as an educator—it is an honor to be welcomed into the circle of this small group of people and to become part of their experience as they journey through life navigating such a devastating disease.

Getting to know program attendees and seeing how much the couples genuinely and patiently care for one another, I have witnessed true love in action. To watch a husband gingerly fit a headpiece he designed around his wife’s head, to catch couples married fifty years holding hands in front of a Jackson Pollock, to be in the studio immersed in jewelry-making with attendees while listening to Duke Ellington and suddenly looking up to see an impromptu slow dance take place by one of the couples in the program are just a few of the many truly memorable experiences for me, and ones that I will always cherish.

To learn more about the DMA’s Meaningful Moments program, or for information on how to schedule a group from assisted-living facilities specializing in memory care, visit the Museum’s website or e-mail access@DMA.org.

Amanda Blake is the Head of Family, Access, and School Experiences at the DMA.


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