Archive for March, 2017

Bluebonnets in Bloom

With spring upon us, we can anticipate the sprouting of bluebonnets along Texas roads and highways. Bluebonnets can also be found in the DMA’s permanent collection. One of the best places to look is in the work of Julian Onderdonk, a San Antonio–born artist. Onderdonk is recognized for his portrayal of his home state’s landscape, in particular the Texas State Flower, the bluebonnet. Onderdonk so perfected the portrayal of bluebonnets that to this day his name is immediately linked to scenes of these blue and violet flowers carpeting expansive landscapes.

Onkerdonk in action. Image source http://nyti.ms/2nrmieC

After studying in New York at the Art Students League and William Merritt Chase’s Shinnecock Summer School, Onderdonk returned to Texas in 1909. Back in his home state, he found that he could combine the techniques he learned in New York with his environment in Texas. The bluebonnets were the perfect subject in which to manifest his interests. Appearing initially as subtle parts of his compositions, they dominated the artist’s work by the mid-1910s.

Field of Bluebonnets

Julian Onderdonk, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets), 1918–20, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Margaret M. Ferris, 1990.153

Although the bluebonnet became the state flower in 1901 and was represented by other artists prior to Onderdonk’s embracing them as a subject, his depictions of the flower increased their popularity and distinctive connection to the state of Texas. The bluebonnets also brought fame to the artist while defining Texas art as a regional school that paralleled other schools of regionalist art in America. The appeal of these paintings was twofold; on one hand, they played into Texas pride by giving importance to the state flower, and on the other hand, they highlighted Onderdonk’s painterly talents and ability to render nature.

Blue Bonnets

Bluebonnets in bloom.

For Onderdonk, these flowers were more than simply bluebonnets. They allowed him to find a balance between what he saw and a subject he knew well: in other words, a blending of his East Coast training and his connection to the Hill Country of Texas. Painted around 1918-1920, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets) is an example of Onderdonk’s dedication to the flower. Onderdonk learned from Chase the importance of painting outdoors because it allowed a closer observation of the light and shadows. Here Onderdonk responded to Chase’s emphasis on painting en plein air (outdoors before the motif) and capturing the changing effects of light and shadow in a field covered with the vividly colored blossoms. He paints the bluebonnets in rich blues and greens, making each bloom in the foreground individuated and then progressing into broad strokes of color to portray the pool of flowers.

Francesca Soriano is the McDermott Intern for American Art at the DMA. 

The Emperor’s New Groove: Llama Iconography and the Inca Empire

In his 1551 chronicle The Discovery and Conquest of Peru, Pedro de Cieza de Leon recalled the former glory of the great Inca temple known as the Qorikancha:

There is a garden in which the earth was of pieces of fine gold, and it was sown with corn of gold, stalks as well as leaves and ears . . . more than twenty golden sheep with their lambs, and shepherds, who guarded them, their staffs and slings, were made of this metal.

South American camelids at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia

South American camelids at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. image source commons.wikimedia.org : http://bit.ly/2ov0wXl

What Cieza de Leon did not realize is that these “golden sheep” were not sheep at all (sheep were introduced to South America through Spanish imperialism), but rather the most important animal within the Inca Empire: the llama.

Domesticated 6,000 to 7,000 years ago in the dry puna grasslands of Argentina, Chile, and southern Peru, llamas provided an important source of meat and of fiber used for manufacturing rope and bags in several early Andean communities. Andean artisans shaped and repurposed llama bones as tools and weaving supplies, while llama dung provided a source of fuel to heat homes. Llamas also allowed disparate cultures to interact and create trading networks by serving as the primary beasts of burden within the Andes region. Occupying the modern nations of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia, the Inca Empire (1438-1532) used llamas and llama imagery to unite their territory through trade and shared socially significant iconography.

Pair of llama figures

Pair of llama figures, Peru, north coast, Inca (Inka), 1400–1550, shell, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1972.23.5.1-2.McD

Map of Inca Empire

Our collection of Inca visual arts features several examples of llamas. These reddish-orange llamas were originally found in a Late Horizon (1400-1532) ceremonial cache on the southern coast of modern-day Peru with a variety of northern coast Chimú and southern coast Ica style feather and metalwork objects. Containing a mixture of elite items related to Chimú and Inca cultures, this bundle represents the fusion of cultures through Inca imperial expansion and trade.

Carved from the shell of a thorny oyster, or Spondylus, a mollusk imported from the tropical marine waters off Ecuador, these llama figures likely possessed multiple layers of social significance among the populations who created them. Visually, they represent the beasts of burden that enabled the extensive trade networks necessary to transport raw materials from locations that were several hundred miles away. As the inclusion of carved Spondylus shell figures in ceremonial bundles was specifically an Inca practice, these llamas may also represent South Coast groups incorporating certain aspects of Inca identity or religion into their own system of belief.

Camelid-form vessel

Camelid-form vessel, Peru, Inca (Inka), 1400–1540, stone, Dallas Museum of Art, collection of Andrew D. Christensen, gift of J. D. Christensen, 1983.632

Carved from a green and black stone, this ceremonial llama effigy, or illa, was used to promote agricultural and pastoral fertility in Inca communities. Inca religious leaders likely inserted a mixture of llama fat, blood, and other ceremonial objects into the hole located at the top of this vessel during various fertility rituals throughout the year. Several Inca-related groups concluded these fertility rituals by placing the illa in a pasture. Modern-day highland communities in the Andes continue to use illa during their fertility rituals to ensure the prosperity of their camelid herds.

Continue reading ‘The Emperor’s New Groove: Llama Iconography and the Inca Empire’

Mexico at the DMA: A History

Last week the exhibition México 1900-1950 opened to big crowds, but it is just the most recent DMA exhibition to focus on the art and artists of Mexico. The first known exhibition to feature Mexican art was a solo exhibition in February 1933 of paintings and drawings by Roberto Montenegro. Work by Montenegro is included in the current exhibition and the DMA’s permanent collection.

Roberto (Nervo) Montenegro, Mexican Woman (Tehuana), n.d., lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Dallas Print Society in memory of Edwin B. Hopkins, 1941.5

Over the 114-year history of the DMA, with the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts (1957-1963) exhibition history included, 38 known exhibitions (including México 1900-1950) have featured Mexican art and artists, ranging from ancient and pre-Columbian to modern and contemporary. Of the 38, almost half included work by Mexican modernists who also have pieces in the current exhibition. The DMA held solo and group exhibitions for artists Carlos Merida, Roberto Montenegro, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, Gunther Gerzso, Leonora Carrington, and Jose Posada, as well as numerous survey shows of work by Mexican modernists.

One of the largest exhibitions of the work of Mexican modernists was Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988.

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988

Like México 1900-1950, Images of Mexico was so large, that it needed to be installed in multiple galleries throughout the building. The main portion of the exhibition was located in the Level 2 European and American Galleries, with additional works in the Barrel Vault, Concourse, Focus I Gallery and the Print and Textile Gallery (now Focus II gallery).

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988 in the Barrel Vault

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988; Concourse

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988 in Focus Gallery I

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988 in Focus Gallery II

At least two works in México 1900-1950 are making their second visit to Dallas. Both Olga Costa’s La vendedora de frutas, 1951, and Saturnino Herrán’s Nuestros dioses, 1918, were part of Images of Mexico.

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988

Installation of Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art, August 28-October 30, 1988

Another primary feature of the México 1900-1950 exhibition is that it includes exhibition text and labels in both English and Spanish. The first DMA exhibition to include labels in English and Spanish was Maya Miniatures and Other Textiles for the Saints, November 19, 1985-January 19, 1986. The exhibition displayed Maya textiles from Guatemala.

Installation of Maya Miniatures and Other Textiles for the Saints, November 19, 1985-January 19, 1986

Installation of Maya Miniatures and Other Textiles for the Saints, November 19, 1985-January 19, 1986

 

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

 

Who Run the (Ancient) World?

In celebration of Women’s History Month, let’s look way back at a few leading ladies from the DMA’s collections who made their mark on the ancient world. Then join DMA curators Dr. Anne Bromberg, Dr. Kimberly L. Jones, and Dr. Roslyn A. Walker on Thursday, March 23 to hear more about Women of the Ancient World and the objects that tell their stories.

Red-figure column krater with Amazon, c. 470-460 B.C.E., ceramic with slip, Dallas Museum of Art, the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, 2008.10

The Amazons were fierce group of women warriors who, until recently, were thought to be purely mythological figures. To the ancient Greeks, Amazons were barbarian man-haters and a formidable opponent for any would-be hero. They were an object of disgust for their rejection of traditional feminine roles, but they were also a source of fascination, often portrayed in art as beautiful and brave.

Altar depicting the first female ancestor, Indonesia, 19th century, wood and shell, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, 1999.181.McD

While this work of art was made fairly recently, it honors the founding female ancestor of this Indonesian society who is seen as the ultimate source of fertility. She is rising out of a boat, a symbol for the womb. Her arms are outspread, symbolizing the ancestral trunk of a tree and subsequent generations of branches.

Mummy and cartonnage, Egyptian, 19th Dynasty or later, wood and polychrome, Lent by Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, 20.2002.1.a-c

On this lid of this cartonnage, or coffin, we see an elaborately dressed woman and symbols of the deities that would protect her mummy inside. Although her identity is unknown, the quality of the coffin suggests that she was a person of wealth and social status.

Wall panel depicting Ix K’an Bolon, Mexico: state of Tabasco, Pomona, Maya culture, Late classic period, c. A.D. 790, Limestone, stucco, and paint, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James, H. Clark, 1968.39.FA

The royal woman depicted in this Mayan relief sculpture is Ix K’an Bolon or “Lady Precious Nine.” The text on the panel and the iconography of her ornate clothing tell us she is depicted as a goddess. It is possible that this relief would have been balanced by a second showing her husband in similar dress, shedding light on the power and prestige of ruling women in Maya society.

Jessie Frazier is Manager of Adult Programming

Designing Mexico

This week we will open the doors to México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde, but work on the exhibition began weeks ago. Exhibition designers Jessica Harden and Skye Malish-Olson shared insight into the process of creating the gallery spaces that serve as home for the works of art during special exhibitions.

Jessica Harden: A lot of the work that Skye and I do is to plan for movement of people and objects and really take into account the overall visitor experience and how people interact with and participate in the exhibition.

Skye Malish-Olson: The planning process definitely varies from project to project. I think the most fun for us is always the color and graphics and how that comes together with the objects.

1Final

Image: Barragan House, Mexico City, 1948. Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland

JH: One of the first steps of working on an exhibition for us as designers is to talk through the checklist (the list of works of art that will be included in an exhibition) with the curators and to understand which objects are the most important. We can then take that information and use that to our benefit in the design.

SMO:  We’re also typically working with a lot of different eras, and lots of times we’ll start with a kind of mood board or just different visual references to give us a starting place, for color, and for how to portray objects in a way that tells a story.

2Final

Image: Luis Barragán’s San Cristóbal stables in Mexico City, 1960s. Credit René Burri/Magnum Photos

JH: With México 1900–1950, we worked off of a lot of the plans and designs that were developed for the presentation in Paris. This informed in many ways how we wanted to treat the checklist and some of the spaces, but then we had to take into consideration or own space and our own audience, so we made a lot of adjustments. The 10,000-square-foot exhibition is showcased in two separate spaces, a first during my time at the DMA. The exhibition begins on Level 4 in what has typically showcased works from the DMA’s permanent collection, and then continues on Level 1 in one of our main temporary exhibition spaces.

I met the challenge of a disconnected space with a visually strong and contextually relevant inspiration: the work of Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán, known for his combination of strong, vivid color with clean, modernist forms. Applied in our México 1900-1950 galleries, these colors and forms, offset from the DMA’s existing architecture, assert the entrances and designated areas of the exhibition. The paint application and dynamic forms help lead visitors through a space that is dense with powerful works of art, without feeling claustrophobic. Bright colored panels of wall frame and highlight the sumptuous color of a number of paintings, while creating visually fresh and exciting lines of sight as one moves through the space. An additional benefit is the way these colors work with the existing architecture and wood and limestone finishes, as Barragán was also known for his use of raw materials. From the big picture down to the smallest detail, the exhibition designer’s task is to facilitate an aesthetic experience from the exhibition content that is greater than the sum of its parts.

SMO: I am really excited about the scale and color in the México 1900–1950 exhibition. It is definitely a rare treat and we’re using all of our space and multiple galleries to house these really large and amazing works. I think having our space activated in this way will be really exciting for our visitors.

3Final

Image: Cuadra San Cristobal, Mexico City, 1968. Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland

Jessica Harden is the Director of Exhibition and Museum Design and Skye Malish-Olson is the Exhibition Designer at the DMA.

Knight Vision

We are in the final two weeks of Art and Nature in the Middle Ages and to celebrate we are sharing insight from stain glass artist Judith Schaechter modern experience with the medium featured in the Winter 2017 issue of Artifacts.

Installation views

Installation views

Art and Nature in the Middle Ages explores medieval works in a variety of media, including beautiful examples of stained glass. This particular art form was perfected during the Middle Ages, and little has changed in the practice of making stained glass in the ensuing centuries. While this once fairly common medium is not widely used by contemporary artists, Philadelphia-based artist Judith Schaechter is known for her work in stained glass. Artifacts asked her why she is drawn to working in this medium and what similarities she sees between modern stained glass works and those created in the Middle Ages.

Stained glass reached its peak in the 12th century and it’s been downhill since then. Perhaps stained glass is an odd medium to choose if one wishes to participate in the world of contemporary fine art, and, indeed, it is! Yet, I found it altogether irresistible.

Although I went to art school to study painting, I knew almost instantly when I tried stained glass that it was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. Why? I felt “in sync” with glass. When I was a painter, I painted fast and furiously, and ultimately threw everything out. This didn’t happen with glass because it was so labor intensive. By the time I managed to do something to the glass, I had developed feelings of attachment and was hardly going to throw it away.

I found the beauty of stained glass to be the perfect counterpoint to ugly and difficult subjects. Although the figures I work with are supposed to be ordinary people doing ordinary things, I see them as having much in common with the old medieval windows of saints and martyrs. They seem to be caught in a transitional moment when despair becomes hope or darkness becomes inspiration. They seem poised between the threshold of everyday reality and epiphany,
caught between tragedy and comedy.

My work is centered on the idea of transforming the wretched into the beautiful—say, unspeakable grief, unbearable sentimentality, or nerve-wracking ambivalence—and representing it in such away that it is inviting and safe to contemplate and captivating to look at. I am at one with those who believe art is a way of feeling one’s feelings in a deeper, more poignant way.

Medieval windows sought to confer inspiration and enlightenment on those who saw them. Beholding a stained glass window can enable, encourage. and literally enact the process of being filled with light. It sounds like some kind of preternatural phenomenon, but it’s a physical fact. While one is busy identifying and empathizing with the image, one also experiences physically the warming, filling sensations of light. It’s so persuasive not because the pictures are convincing narratives but because the colors are overwhelming and the light is sublime—and, by golly, it’s coming from inside you, it’s part of you.

Judith Schaechter has lived and worked in Philadelphia since graduating in 1983 with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design Glass Program. Her work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Ar t, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hermitage, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Renwick Galler y of the Smithsonian Institution, and numerous other public and private collections.


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