Archive for the 'Collections' Category

Making a List and Checking It Twice—A Day in the Life of a Registrar

The DMA recently installed Yayoi Kusama’s All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), one of the artist’s immersive Infinity Mirror Rooms. As its name suggests, the room features pumpkin lanterns that are reflected in mirrored panels, creating the illusion that they continue into infinity. The effect is both intimate (a maximum of two guests may enter at a time) and mesmerizing.

Yayoi Kusama, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016, wood, mirror, plastic, acrylic, LED, Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London, © Yayoi Kusama

A lot of planning takes place behind the scenes before works of art go on view to the public. That is where registrars (like me) come into play! Registrars (also sometimes called Collections Managers) are responsible for both the logistics and physical care of art as well as collection-related documentation.

For most exhibitions or rotations of works of art in the galleries, we’re working with multiple pieces that come together as a group; however, with installation art like Kusama’s, we need to keep track of all the details and components that make up the piece as a whole. For this project, it meant coordinating the safe transportation of the many room components and the 62 pumpkins that go into the space once constructed.

First, we double-checked that everything traveled according to the packing list and carefully examined every single pumpkin to ensure they were ready for installation. These condition reports are like an artwork’s health chart. It’s an important ongoing part of our job because a condition report records the object information (also known as tombstone data), a general description or photo of the artwork (or pumpkin in this case!), and, most importantly, a detailed summary of the overall appearance and condition at a specific point in time.

In the months leading up to install, registrars collaborate with team members in other departments to finalize the gallery layout, installation schedules, wall text (or didactics), and any special opening events. Once the installation begins, the registrar serves as air-traffic control to help make sure the team stays, to the best of our ability, on track according to the installation schedule.

Registrars also take step-by-step notes and pictures to document the process, especially for an installation like Yayoi Kusama: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, which requires very specific construction. Installations can be a little tiring but the end result is so rewarding! You get to see a project come together literally from the ground up and then share it with the community.

The pumpkin-themed mirror room will be on display from October 1, 2017, through February 25, 2018, with DMA Members getting a sneak peek up until the opening (DMA Member tickets are available here). Visit our website for details and to purchase tickets: DMA.org/Kusama.

 

Alicia Chavez is the Collections Assistant at the DMA.

Reflection

Today marks the 16th anniversary of 9/11, and as we take a moment to remember those who were lost, we reflect on the resilience of our American cities as they are celebrated in our Museum collection.

This work by C. Bertram Hartman celebrates the vibrant energy of New York City almost one hundred years ago. It captures the dynamism of the city and New York’s energetic expansion, which was as palpable then as it is today.

C. Bertram Hartman, New York Skyline, c. 1930, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Elizabeth M. and Duncan E. Boeckman, 2005.89.2

The painting includes a campanile-type tower, shown in the central-upper-left, that is likely the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, already a “historic” skyscraper in 1930, when this work was completed. Hartman was a native of small-town Kansas and trained in Chicago, Munich, and Paris. Munich-trained artists are often identifiable based on their muted color palettes, as opposed to the exaggerated colors of the French movements. This energetic landscape of buildings and their harsh shadows is a visual approach that we still associate with the characteristics of New York City. Hartman would have been familiar with Cubism and its numerous Synthetic Cubist inheritors, and in the case of this NYC scene, he uses this type of geometrical arrangement of the buildings. The application of fractured perspectives on an urban view champions that fast pace and spirit of excitement.

Skye Malish-Olson is the Exhibition Designer and Emily Schiller is the Digital Collections Content Coordinator at the DMA.

How to Install a Robert Smithson

A new rotation of artworks was recently installed in the Barrel Vault, our main contemporary art space. Included in this new installation are masterpieces by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Hans Hofmann, as well as several newly acquired artworks. One of the highlights of the gallery is Robert Smithson’s Mirrors and Shelly Sand. The work is composed of approximately three tons of sand and 50 mirrors (glued back-to-back in pairs of two) lined up in a row, creating the illusion of infinity when you gaze into them. This engaging piece invites the viewer in and encourages interaction (but just of the mental variety—please remember not to touch!).

The piece becomes even more interesting when you know the process required to install it. It takes a lot of work and skill to transform the 125 buckets of sand and two crates of mirrors into the finished work of art. There are specific instructions from the artist on how the piece should be installed, but there will always be variances due to the nature of the materials. Thankfully for us, one of our Senior Preparators, Mary Nicolett, has installed the Smithson eight times and is a pro.

First our crew constructs a massive tent made of plastic. This keeps all of the sand contained and ensures that other artworks in the area are protected. On installation day, our stellar team of preparators (professional art handlers) put on their protective gear and prepare to get dirty. After the Registrar (me!) completes a condition report on all the mirrors, they are lined up based on the artist’s specifications and a small pile of sand is poured over them to keep them in place. Once all of the mirrors are in place, the real fun begins. Each preparator grabs a bucket of sand and begins pouring. Once all the buckets are empty, Nicolett begins smoothing the sand into the appropriate shape. At the end of the day, the dusty crew exits the tent to let the dust settle. The next day, the tent is removed and the finishing touches to the sand are completed.

Installation works like Mirrors and Shelly Sand allow our prep team to flex their creative muscles. While we do follow the instructions provided by the artist, the preparators are the ones who physically create the artwork as you see it. A good prep team is vital to any art institution as they are the ones who know the intricacies of a piece and how to safely install it. Thankfully for us, we have one of the best!

 

Katie Province is the Assistant Registrar for Collections and Exhibitions at the DMA.

Finding Yourself at the DMA

As an art museum educator, I live for the tales of visitors who have had meaningful, inspirational, life-changing experiences in museums—perhaps because it was exactly this kind of personal experience that propelled me down the career path I’ve taken. Working in the Center for Creative Connections (C3), a participatory educational space for visitors of all ages, I have the privilege of hearing these kinds of statements often; however, a few months back I was surprised to hear from a visitor who literally found herself in a photograph by Geoff Winningham currently on view in the C3.

Geoff Winningham (artist), The Cronin Gallery (publisher), U.T. Cheerleaders, negative 1972, print 1976, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Prestonwood National Bank 1981.36.6

During a Late Night event, Laura was walking through C3 with her husband when they both stopped dead in their tracks as they walked by the photograph. “I think that’s you,” her husband stated. “I know it’s me!” Laura exclaimed.

I had so many questions for her. What was it like seeing yourself in a work of art in a museum? Did you know this photograph existed or that you were being photographed at the time? Can you recall the other cheerleaders in the photograph? Luckily, Laura was happy to meet up to discuss her experience.

As you might imagine, Laura was quite surprised to see a photo of her college-age self in the Museum. As a University of Texas cheerleader, she was aware they were photographed in action from time to time—once her image ended up as part of the opening montage of ABC’s Wide World of Sports for a full year—but she never imagined she would make it into a work of art in the DMA’s collection. Laura is uniquely well versed in the DMA collection, but until recently she had never seen this photograph before. Not only is Laura a DMA Member, but she was also part of the PM Docent class for five years, starting with the charter class under the leadership of Gail Davitt.

Both the University of Texas and the Dallas Museum of Art have loomed large in Laura’s life, but she never imagined that the two worlds would collide. In fact, UT Cheer isn’t just a distant memory as Laura regularly attends the Cheer Reunions and keeps in touch with fellow cheerleaders, including some of those captured alongside her in Winningham’s photograph. In the image below, the woman on the far right is the same woman on the far left of the UT Cheerleaders photograph by Winningham.

Now that Laura knows of the existence of this photograph, she comes back to visit it from time to time. She was also keen to meet the photographer, Geoff Winningham, and looked him up immediately to learn more about him and his work. Fortunately, Winningham was at the DMA in April to lead a Gallery Talk about the series this photograph is part of—A Texas Dozen.

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

Picture Yourself

Self-portraits are compelling images because they appear to show us the person behind the artwork, offering us a special peek into who the artist was. We hope that by looking at the self-portrait, we can learn something about the subject. Yet, much like the selfies we post on social media, the artists were presenting themselves how they wished to be seen.

Just as selfies allow our friends and family to feel like they’re sharing in our daily lives, they are ultimately the result of our own conscious decisions, just like a self-portrait. The self-portraits we see in museums are images that exist somewhere between how we see the artist and how the artist wanted us to see him or her.

My upcoming exhibition Multiple Selves: Portraits from Rembrandt to Rivera, opening this weekend in the Museum’s European Galleries on Level 2,  focuses on this play between how we want to be seen and how we are seen. The majority of the images are self-portraits, ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries in a variety of media, including etching, lithography, and drawing.

Just as we use objects and clothing in our selfies to identify ourselves (think college t-shirts to mark us as alums or pictures in front of tourist landmarks to show where we’ve been), artists in these self-portraits use different objects and costumes to help us identify the person we see in the portrait as an artist.

Koloman Sokol, Self-Portrait, mid-20th century, wood engraving, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift, 1949.11

In many of the works, these objects are tools of the trade, or items that are specific to an artist’s working life. This includes palettes, canvases, mahl sticks (used by artists to keep their painting hand steady), drawing implements, and jewelry, which historically marked an artist’s inclusion in a professional guild or within a royal court.

One work in particular offers an intriguing example of this complex dynamic. Self-Portrait by Koloman Sokol is this type of double self-portrait. Sokol, a Slovakian artist by birth who worked extensively in Mexico and the United States, probably created this self-portrait sometime in his 30s. In it, we see not only the completed self-portrait but also the artist caught in the act of creating a self-portrait. At the bottom of the print, the outlines of this second self-portrait take shape. This second self-portrait is being created just as the first one was, through a printmaking process known as wood engraving. To help us identify the work he is doing, he includes his tools—the wood block he is carving on and a burin, a tool used in printmaking to cut into the metal plate or wood block.

Detail of Self-Portrait

In the works that feature artist tools, like Sokol’s, the artists are manipulating their own image to ensure that we as an audience recognize the duality of their self-portrait, that we recognize the artist as an artist through both the self-portrait as a work of art and through the artist’s self-presentation as an artist.

For more about self-portraits, join me for a free Gallery Talk on Wednesday, May 3, at 12:15 p.m. in the exhibition. For another type of double self-portrait, be sure to visit The Two Fridas, now on view in the exhibition México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde, on view only at the DMA.

Amy Wojciechowski is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Graduate Intern for European Art.

Installing 13 Centuries in One Gallery

Art is on the move with less than a week to go before the Museum’s permanent gallery space dedicated to the long-term loan of the Keir Collection of Islamic Art opens on Tuesday, April 18. The largest public presentation of this renowned collection will feature works that range from rock crystal to metalwork, ceramics, textiles, carpets, and works on paper.

 

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. 


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