Archive for June, 2017

Starting with a Blank Canvas: Preparing Steichen’s Rare Murals for Display

If you have wandered past the Barrel Vault Quadrant Galleries during the initial stages of the Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers conservation project, you likely saw a lot of beige—new stretchers, plain cotton-duck fabric, and backsides of paintings—and five women hammering, measuring, and stapling away. A handful of visitors have asked us what we are doing or if we are the artists, so we thought we should explain a bit about the initial and necessary steps in the conservation of these magnificent murals. While the most glamorous parts of conservation treatments are usually the final steps like inpainting and varnishing, the beginning of a project often includes a lot of preparatory work and a healthy amount of elbow grease, and it is just as important that we are precise in these first stages of treatment as we are in the final steps.

The seven large paintings that make up Steichen’s In Exaltation of Flowers were commissioned by Agnes and Eugene Meyer for their townhouse in Manhattan. Due to financial difficulties, however, the murals were never hung in their intended environment (read more of the history here). The paintings were shown as a set only once, in 1915 at the Knoedler Gallery in New York City, and have not been shown in a series since. Records indicate that two or three of the paintings were shown individually in exhibitions between 1915 and the present, and one painting arrived at the DMA already stretched. Aside from this, the paintings were stored rolled before coming to the DMA, accumulating dirt and dust for over 100 years.

Keara Teeter using a soft brush and vacuum attachment to remove dirt and dust from the reverse of a painting.

In order to help remove a century’s worth of grime, we vacuumed the reverse sides of each unstretched painting. This process is likely not what you are picturing; we don’t take the Dyson out of the closet and roll it over the canvas, wheels and all. Instead, we use a soft-bristle brush to sweep particulates into a vacuum attachment nozzle, with the vacuum on a low setting. When the painting is unstretched and on the (clean, paper-covered) floor, as these are, vacuuming can involve a bit of body contortion and a lot of ab muscles to ensure the nozzle and brush reach all areas of the canvas while the motor of the vacuum and our knees do not.

Six out of the seven paintings came to the DMA unstretched, and with their original stretchers nowhere to be found. Shiny new stretcher bars were ordered from Simon Liu, Inc. in New York, and it took all of our project interns to assemble six of these massive supports for the paintings.

Diana Hartman and Keara Teeter assembling a stretcher.

Once the stretchers were assembled, we created what is known as a loose lining. This involves attaching plain cotton-duck fabric to each stretcher, using canvas pliers and arm muscles to make sure each one is taut, and securing each one with staples. Later in the project, we will stretch Steichen’s paintings over these loose-lined stretchers, and the first layer of cotton-duck fabric will serve as a sort of bed for the paintings. Even though the canvases are in very good condition for being centenarians, they are somewhat weak where they have been folded over stretchers in the past, and the fibers have aged and become more brittle. The loose lining provides support and protection for the original canvas, and ensures that we do not have to pull hard on the original canvases to achieve planarity when they are stretched.

The next steps in our treatment will involve attaching edge linings to the original canvases, stretching the paintings over the loose linings, and performing some analysis with X-Ray Fluorescence in order to determine what elements are present. Stay tuned to learn more about these processes!

Pamela Johnson is a Conservation Intern at the DMA.

 

 

 

What Not to Wear: The Frida Kahlo Edition

You may have heard that the DMA and the Latino Center for Leadership Development are trying to make history by setting the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as Frida Kahlo in one space on Thursday, July 6. Months ago, we submitted our application to Guinness World Records and received the green light to make our attempt. Guinness World Records, which has been documenting interesting and unique achievements and extremes since 1955, provided a list of costume rules that must be followed in order for the DMA and the LatinoCLD to set the record. Below are a few helpful guidelines when planning your record-setting outfit. The record attempt is all inclusive and open to everyone, see you on Thursday, July 6!

Museum Menagerie

Over the years, a variety of animals have visited the DMA, so, to continue the animals-in-the-archives-themed posts, here are a few of the wildest critters that have been seen around the Museum.

A young elephant named Baby Star made an appearance on Ross Avenue Plaza in the fall of 1984. Unfortunately, the reason for the visit is unknown.

A cougar was spotted in the Museum’s Ceremonial Court in 1990. The cat was here to film a commercial.

A snake attended Nancy Hamon’s Masquerade Ball on May 23, 1997. No costume was required.

This adorable African penguin from the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventure Program was a guest at the November 19, 2010, Late Night, to the delight of many.

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

Edward Steichen and His Seven Rare Mural Paintings: A History of “In Exaltation of Flowers”

Seven murals painted by Edward Steichen are undergoing conservation treatment this summer in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery. After treatment is completed, the rare and exquisite murals will be on view September 5, 2017, through May 28, 2018, as part of the exhibition Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers (1910-1914), overseen by the Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the DMA, Sue Canterbury.

Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy being unrolled from a travel tube

Edward Steichen, born Eduard Jean Steichen in 1879, was an American artist who was both a painter and photographer during his lifetime. Most of his paintings and photographs were produced for the American art market while he was living in the United States or France. He stayed in Paris for about a year in 1901 and then returned to Paris a second time in 1906; it was then that he joined the New Society of American Artists. One of his friends in Paris was an American student at the Sorbonne named Agnes Ernst, and she later played a large role in Steichen’s commission for In Exaltation of Flowers. In 1908, Steichen moved from Paris to his villa, L’Oiseu Bleu, in Voulangis, France. There, he cultivated a garden and built a small studio with a skylight.

In 1910 Agnes Ernst married Eugene Meyer and the couple traveled to L’Oiseu Bleu during their honeymoon. The three friends likely discussed the commission for In Exaltation of Flowers during that visit. This commission would include seven 10-foot-tall murals designed for a foyer in the Meyers’ new townhouse at 71st Street and Park Avenue, which the Meyers acquired in 1911. The commission was $15,000 and these artworks became Steichen’s most ambitious undertaking.

As Steichen worked on the Meyers’ commission from 1910 to 1914, many of their American friends visited Voulangis, including Arthur Carles, Mercedes de Cordoba, Katharine Rhoades , Marion Beckett, and Isadora Duncan. Some of these visitors identified with specific floral personifications, which became incorporated into Steichen’s tempera and gold leaf compositions. The In Exaltation of Flowers series consists of the following seven panels:

    1. Gloxinia – Delphinium: a kneeling woman (likely Isadora Duncan) with Gloxinia, Delphinium, and Caladium flowers
    2. Clivia – Fuchsia – Hilium – Henryi: one woman sitting (possibly Isadora Duncan or Marion Beckett) and another woman standing (likely Katharine Rhoades) with Clivia, Fuchsia, and Henry Lily flowers
    3. Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy: Florence Meyer (first child of Eugene and Agnes Meyer) with a butterfly and poppies
    4. Petunia – Begonia – The Freer Bronze: a Zhou Dynasty bronze (symbolizing Charles Lang Freer, a collector of Asian art and benefactor of the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC) with Petunia and Begonia flowers
    5. Rose – Geranium: Katharine Rhoades with a fruit-bearing tree, roses, and geraniums
    6. Petunia – Caladium – Budleya: two standing women (Marion Beckett and an unidentified woman in the background), with Petunia, Iris, Caladium, and Budleya (other spelling variants include Buddleia and Buddleja) flowers
    7. Golden Banded Lily – Violets: a standing woman (likely Agnes Meyer) with Golden Banded Lily and Violet (also identified as Begonia rex) flowers

Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery

Even before receiving the Meyers’ commission, Steichen had been painting and photographing women and flowers; however, his depiction of the subject matter and use of gold leaf in In Exaltation of Flowers alludes to influences from French couture designer Paul Poiret and Art Nouveau painters Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Denis.

All seven murals in In Exaltation of Flowers were completed by 1914. Even though they had originally been commissioned for the townhouse on 71st Street and Park Avenue, the paintings were never displayed in that building. Due to financial hardship, the Meyers had to sell their townhouse earlier in 1914, and Steichen’s intended sequence for the murals remains unknown today. The order listed above is based on a 1915 checklist from their presentation at the Knoedler Galleries in New York. Two of the murals were later displayed at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1921 and 1996, and at least one mural was displayed at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in 1988. The DMA’s presentation this fall of the murals, which are part of a private collection, will mark the first time the seven panels have been exhibited together since their debut at the Knoedler Galleries 102 years ago.

Rose – Geranium in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery

References
Murphy, Jessica. Portraiture and Feminine Identity in the Stieglitz Circle: Agnes Ernst Meyer, Katharine Rhoades, and Marion Beckett. Dissertation. University of Delaware, 2009.
Goley, Mary Anne and Barbara Ann Boese Wolanin. From Tonalism to Modernism: The Paintings of Eduard J. Steichen, October 4–December 9, 1988.  Washington, DC: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1988.
Haskell, Barbara. Edward Steichen. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2000.
Pusey, Merlo J.  Eugene Meyer.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Keara Teeter is a Conservation Intern at the DMA.

 

At an arms length

Are selfies a form of art? With the advent of the front facing camera, the digital age’s self portrait was born. Whether seeking social approval, documenting travels, or not wanting anyone to be left out of the picture, selfies give us a snapshot of life’s many moments. Much like paint and brush, filters, and editing apps allow one to dictate how the world see them. Genuine and doctored images are now so seamlessly intertwined that society is left to their own interpretations. Sound familiar?  How many times have you felt differently about a work of art than the person next to you?

Whether you are a proponent of selfies or adversely opposed, you have to admire the forethought and skill involved in taking the perfect one. Has the 45 degree upward tilt been achieved, the most flattering light found, and the perfect filter picked? Not to mention the caption, is it vague or descriptive? Like the text on a label, does it leave one wanting more or fully informed?

This National Selfie Day try your hand (literally) at this art form in the DMA. We promise plenty of beautiful backgrounds, ambient light, and free WiFi, all for your selfie taking adventures.

Julie Henley is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the DMA. 

Feline Mastermind

It’s undeniable that fuzzy four-legged felines are an internet sensation. Their mischievous whiskers and silly antics have all the making of a viral video. Cats are so trendy that there is an entire month dedicated to adopting them. Much like the social media moguls, clothing, and cosmetics brands that have jumped on the kitty bandwagon, American artist Thomas Sully was in the know. The 1830s and 40s were not without financial crises, and less money meant less desire for portraiture. Sully, who was highly regarded for his artistic talents, should be equally regarded for his keen marketing and forecasting abilities. He began making “fancy pictures” that flawlessly idealized and exaggerated fashionable society, appealing to those with means. He also recognized the popularity of Cinderella, a tale that had entered America only a few decades before; an opera based on the story had taken the US by storm, putting it at the forefront of respectable society’s polite conversations. It only took Sully around three months to complete Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, which features not only a popular subject but also a cat! Talk about a win-win situation! Sully was in tune with the world around him and knew what people wanted, over a century ago and today, and so he flourished during times of financial hardship. Celebrate Thomas Sully’s birthday and National Adopt a Cat Month by visiting this pristine picture of furry fairytale marketing genius this week at the DMA.

 

Julie Henley is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the DMA.

Artist Interview: Christopher Blay

This spring in the Center for Creative Connections, we invited C3 Visiting Artist Christopher Blay to work with us on a new design for our in-gallery activities. We hope you agree that our time was very well spent. Meet Christopher here and learn more about these imaginative and reflective activities designed for visitors of all ages.

Tell us about yourself in 50 words or less.
I am an artist, and I curate exhibitions at Tarrant County College. I also review art locally. I enjoy the process of making, and create installations that reflect a sense of place. I see value in art that meets both the artist and their audience where they live.

What motivated you to apply to the C3 Visiting Artist Project?
I thought it would be an interesting way to share my ideas with audiences, outside of a curated exhibition. This was about creating a space for reflection, and saying the things left unsaid, in that moment of reflection.

Tell us about the activities you’ve created in C3.
I created three rounds of participatory activities under the project name Machines for Intangible Communications for the Visiting Artist Project (sketches above). They all revolved around the idea that some of the things we want to say can no longer be heard by the people we hope are listening. Part A presented visitors with a desk, a typewriter, some writing materials, and a mailbox. Part B had walkie-talkies and satellites to relay what was spoken. Part C is a phone booth and a Morse code machine for dialing and relaying messages into the void. In each iteration of this project, visitors could reach out and say the things they wish they’d said to themselves, or others. It was a way of expressing the thoughts and words we’ve always wanted to express.

Do you have any favorite visitor responses you’d like to share?
I do. There was a man from Turkey who lost his grandfather when he was about a year old. He told me that it was difficult to speak into the walkie-talkie because he was suddenly at a loss for words; however, when he did speak, he thanked his grandfather for the gift of life, and wished that he was present to see his current life. It was a beautiful moment that I was happy to share with a stranger.

What did you enjoy most about this experience?
I enjoyed being able to make a gesture in a space for art that reflected real experiences. I was inspired to build these machines out of a sense of longing and personal loss, and from stories about loss. This is a human experience and one that I hope connects with visitors. I wanted to build an impossible bridge that maybe a whisper could cross.

Visitor responses from Machines for Intangible Communications Part A.

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Join C3 Visiting Artist Christopher Blay for the Teen Workshop Revolutionary Prints on Saturday, June 24, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The workshop is for ages 13-19; all materials are provided, and no prior experience is necessary. The cost is $8 for the public and $5 for DMA Members.

Jessica Fuentes is the Manager of Gallery Interpretation and the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA.


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