Archive for the 'Behind-the-Scenes' Category

Silver Rush

Changes are taking place in the Museum’s Conservation Gallery, and those changes include the move of the impressive Wittgenstein Vitrine. Though it only took up residence down the hall, numerous hours and many hands were required to move the turn-of-the-19th-century masterpiece. Watch how 200 pounds of silver and semiprecious stones travels.

 

 

 

Fashion in Vogue

Even though Irving Penn’s work in the exhibition at the DMA encompasses several subject areas (e.g., still life, portraiture, travel, and commercial photography), he is most widely known for his work in the fashion industry. His fame in this arena is well deserved, both for how he revolutionized the practice of the fashion shoot itself and for the simplified, bold, and elegant sophistication of the images he captured.

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Prior to Penn’s arrival at Vogue magazine in the 1940s, fashion shoots were organized around a contextual approach—meaning he had to design a “set” that provided a context or narrative for the clothes the model would be wearing. It was theatrical as well as being a lot of work. It didn’t take long before Penn abandoned that practice and adopted instead a stripped-down approach that peeled away all extraneous and distracting details. By using plain backgrounds, all the emphasis shifted to the models and the haute couture designs they wore. The designers loved it!

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When you look at Penn’s fashion photography, two strong characteristics dominate: an emphasis on form, or the silhouette, that is quite sculptural in its effect; and, the powerful sense of feminine independence of the modern woman. The latter was no accident. In Penn’s eyes, models weren’t just clothes hangers but rather intelligent and perceptive individuals for whom he had a great deal of respect. Consequently, these images come off as portraits, which is what Penn considered them to be, thus explaining why he always included their names in the titles.
The model for whom he likely had the greatest respect was the Swedish-born Lisa Fonssagrives, who is today considered to be the world’s first supermodel. The rapport and connection between them is palpable whenever she is looking into the lens of the camera. She was not just his muse; she also became his wife in 1950, just before they left New York to shoot the Paris collections.

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When Penn arrived in Paris in 1950, he set up on the top floor of a photography school. It was a daylight studio—meaning he used only the natural light that poured through the bank of north-facing windows. An abandoned theater curtain provided the softly mottled background for the shots. The studio and the stairwell up to it became a buzzing hive of activity as couriers arrived and departed. By bicycle, they ferried elaborate ensembles from the fashion houses of Dior, Balenciaga, Rochas, and Molyneux. Once the shoot was complete, they furiously pedaled their way back across town with their precious cargo.

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The photographs from that iconic Paris shoot are stunning for their simplicity and originality. Rochas’ curve-hugging mermaid dress and Dior’s wonderful nipped-waist black suit were all about the silhouette. Penn’s idea to concentrate on details of other designs was equally brilliant. His close-up shots of the gorgeous gathered sleeve of Balenciaga’s coat, or the distinctive pocket on a coat by Molyneux, drew attention to the superior design as well as the craftsmanship of the individuals who made them.

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Penn’s contribution to fashion photography set a standard that shaped not only the practice but also the industry itself. Many would adopt a simplified approach to the fashion shoot. Even today, other photographers, aspiring or established, stand in the long shadow of Penn’s legacy, borrowing his ideas or even re-creating some of his most innovative shots, like a nod of admiration to the creative genius of one of the 20th century’s greatest masters.

Celebrate Penn’s birthday tomorrow evening with the launch of our summer Thursdays and enjoy buy-one-get-one-free tickets to Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty. Strike a pose from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and take home your favorite Penn-inspired memories with free prints made onsite from your Instagram account.

Sue Canterbury is The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the DMA.

Frida in Fresco

In March the Level 4 galleries overlooking the Atrium warmly welcomed a familiar face: Frida Kahlo. The DMA is lucky to have on loan two self-portraits of the famed Mexican artist, but there is something that makes one of these portraits unique in the artist’s oeuvre and a rare treasure on view at the Museum. Self-Portrait Very Ugly, as Kahlo lovingly titled her work, is a fresco—one of just two prepared by the artist during her career, and the only fresco on view at the DMA.

Traditionally, fresco painting is done on wall surfaces; however, the 20th-century movement of Mexican muralism revolutionized the medium to allow for smaller, portable murals made up of plaster panels just like Kahlo’s. The fresco painter uses water-based pigments on a freshly plastered wall, painting only what can be completed in a work day, or giornata. The binding of the pigment with the surface of the wall results in a monumental, durable image. While Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, used the fresco technique in his practice as a muralist, Kahlo was unaccustomed to the speed and spontaneity required to complete a fresco. A slow, meditative process in oil painting better suited the artist, whose work is deeply introspective. The multilingual insults surrounding her face give us a hint of her displeasure with both her image and the technique, which she abandoned immediately.

The damaged fresco panel from 1933 presents a rare opportunity for visitors to see an underrepresented medium at the DMA, and an incredibly rare work by the well-known Mexican artist. See the loaned fresco work, and an accompanying Kahlo self-portrait, Itzicuintli Dog with Me, 1938, at the DMA for a limited time.

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Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Very Ugly, 1933, fresco on plasterboard, private collection

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Photograph of the fresco taken shortly after its completion in 1933 and before its damage.

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Color copy of the fresco painted by a friend of Kahlo and assistant to Diego Rivera, Lucienne Bloch. Notice her initials “LB” in the lower left-hand corner, above Kahlo’s shoulder. This color copy and the black-and-white photograph give us an idea of what the completed fresco looked like.

 

Erin Piñon is the Early Texas Art Research Associate for the DMA 

Interpreting Batiks

We are looking forward to Waxed: Batiks from Java, which will highlight the DMA’s fabulous collection of Javanese batik textiles later this fall. These works will continue the thread (pun absolutely intended!) of displaying textiles on Level 3; previously, Add to, Take Away: Artistry and Innovation in African Textiles explored textiles across Africa.

Batik is a technique of textile decoration that involves applying wax to a fabric by hand with a canting (wax pen) or a stamp. The fabric is then dyed, but the wax resists dying and creates pattern and decoration in the negative. Although the earliest and most simple batiks involved applying only dots of wax, the process has evolved to yield incredibly detailed and complex designs.

Batik tools, like these wax pens, will also be on display in Waxed.  

Batik tools, like these wax pens, will also be on display in Waxed.

Making a batik requires serious creativity, skill, and time. It took several months to complete a design like this cloud motif. If you look closely, you will notice that each cloud form includes six concentric outlines that shift in tone from a deep blue (the innermost line) to white (the outermost line). In order to achieve the variations in color, the cloth had to be dyed and waxed six separate times.

Wraparound skirt, (kain panjang) [pointed-ends cloud motif (megamenlang), Indonesia: Java, c. 1910, Cotton, commercial dye (?), Textile Purchase Fund, 1991.58

Wraparound skirt (kain panjang) [pointed-ends cloud motif (megamenlang)], Indonesia, Java, c. 1910, cotton and commercial dye (?), Dallas Museum of Art, Textile Purchase Fund, 1991.58

The job of “interpreting” textiles—or presenting them to the public in a way that facilitates understanding, piques interest, invokes appreciation, or inspires curiosity (among other things)—is a unique one. Because textiles are everywhere in our day-to-day lives, from mattresses, to clothes, to carpet and upholstery, it becomes necessary to very clearly convey what makes certain textiles so special. For our Inca exhibition last year, we collaborated with University of North Texas professor Lesli Robertson and the students in her class “Topics in Fiber: Community, Culture, and Art.” They created samples of textiles that reflected the very specific weaving techniques of textiles in the exhibition. We discussed the project in this blog post. These samples were such a success in the exhibition that we wanted to collaborate with our UNT colleagues once again for Waxed.

This time, we will work not only with Lesli and two of her recently graduated students but also with Amie Adelman, UNT professor of fibers, and one of her fall classes. The students will collaborate with DMA staff to design and develop an educational display that presents the steps required to produce complex batik designs. Together, we will further explore batik production in 19th- and 20th-century Java, including specific techniques, tools, colorants, and even wax “recipes.” The students will also have opportunities to visit the Museum’s textile storage and view some of the batiks up close, before they are installed in the galleries. By the fall, the students will produce eight to ten batik samples, each illustrating a different step in the process. By breaking down each individual step, our goal is for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the extensive time, creativity, and planning involved in producing batik. Visitors will be able to learn from looking at these samples, and also from feeling them and touching the wax applied to the fabric.

Sketch of preliminary ideas for educational display

Sketch of preliminary ideas for educational display

We look forward to working with our friends and colleagues at UNT this summer, and we cannot wait to see what they come up with! Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes pics of this exciting collaboration!

Andrea Severin Goins is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

Death Comes to the DMA

Portrait of a Gentleman, possibly a Member of the Deutz Family, Michael Sweerts, 1648–1649, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.25

Michael Sweerts, Portrait of a Gentleman, Possibly a Member of the Deutz Family, 1648–49, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.25

This Friday we will host our fifth Museum Murder Mystery Game—and the scuttlebutt going around the Museum is that Portrait of a Gentleman will be the unlucky victim.

It is unfortunate that this keeps happening at the DMA, but we are once again relying on our visitors to help bring a murderer to justice! For this one night only, the seven works of art suspected of the murder will be brought to life to answer questions about their relationship to the victim, possible motives, and their alibi for the time in question.

Without revealing who the suspects are, as they are innocent until proven guilty, these photos will give you a clue to their identities.

 

If  you solve who the murderer is, the weapon he or she used, and the room where the murder took place, you will be entered to win one of five great prize packs.

Stacey Lizotte is Head of Adult Programming and Multimedia Services at the DMA.

Proud to Be an American

Today the DMA was honored to host 49 individuals from 21 countries as they became U.S. citizens in the Museum’s fourth annual Naturalization Ceremony. The always touching ceremony included performances of our national anthem and America the Beautiful by Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts student Brittany Hewitt, followed by a reception in the DMA Cafe and tours of the American art collection. Here are some images from today’s ceremony.

 

Window Gazing

Art collector and longtime DMA supporter Dorace Fichtenbaum left a generous bequest of 138 objects to the Museum. We installed a selection of these works of art, selected by curators Olivier Meslay and Gavin Delahunty, to celebrate the extraordinary personality of their collector, who died last summer.

As an exhibition designer, I was struck by Ms. Fichtenbaum’s singular vision in her collecting practice, one that was defined by personal preference and spread over multiple genres. Her worldliness comes across in the breadth of the collection, which ranged from Abstract Expressionist prints to carved African figures. This juxtaposed style, once installed all together in her home, reminded me of Alfred Barnes’ manner of collecting for what is now the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Like Dr. Barnes, Dorace Fichtenbaum included in her collection new works by the  contemporary artists of her time, including Yayoi Kusama and Nam June Paik, among others. In my efforts to design a space to do justice to this special gift, I was inspired by the collector’s manner of dense display in her home.

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My idea for the space was to create intriguing sightlines that invite visitors inside, and also distinguish this gallery within the larger Barrel Vault area of the Museum, which is installed with other works from the permanent collection. To accomplish this, we created a gray foyer-like space to temper the disconnect between the interior installation and the large exterior white gallery. The central sightline when looking into the gallery is a window that provides a key vantage point into the collection installed on the far wall. A framed door on either side of the window asks visitors to engage in the space and treat it as a more intimate interior space, much like you would find in someone’s home.

That space uses color and architectural trim to distinguish it, and to suggest a domestic interior. A classic salon-style hanging of the artworks allows for aesthetic relationships to form easily between the works that are hung on one surface and use the full height of the wall. This type of “hang,” as we call the installation of artworks on a wall, is special in that it includes three-dimensional works mounted on the wall or displayed in museum casework.

To maintain a consistency with these design concepts, no museum labels have been installed in the space; however, there is much contextual information on the collection and on each individual piece in the “label” booklets we provide. The booklets use a diagram of the installation with numbered elements so that visitors can refer to individual objects.

Our skilled team of preparators installed the works based on this detailed diagram.

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As Olivier Meslay wrote in his article for the DMA Member magazine, Artifacts, “The walls and shelves of Dorace’s home were full of remarkable works that will now grace ours. Dallas is fortunate to have had a collector like her: generous, modest, tasteful, and passionate.”

Skye Malish-Olson is the Exhibition Designer at the DMA.


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