Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category

Dashing Paint

John Singer Sargent, Dorothy, 1900, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Leland Fikes Foundation, Inc., 1982.35

On an afternoon in London, a two-year-old girl posed for the American artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Dorothy Williamson was the granddaughter of one of Sargent’s American patrons, and sat before one of society’s greatest portraitists. But how long could a toddler sit still? What might that studio visit have been like?

Sargent would have painted Dorothy in his Tite Street studio in London (Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler had also lived on the street). Behind the imposing bricks, the room was packed with antique silks, Chinese screens, and a gramophone to play music for clients.

Dorothy herself was perched on one of the chairs the artist kept around the studio. Sargent was already familiar with painting upper-class children: to keep them entertained and holding a pose, he might bribe them with oranges, whistle a tune, or recite a limerick.

First, he would place the easel next to Dorothy so he could step back and visualize sitter and canvas together. Sargent advised his students to place lots of paint on the palette in order to create a thick layer on the canvas. With the brush, he would start to add flesh colors, apply dark tones for contours around the eyes and mouth, and finish it off with white highlights along the nose and rosy cheeks.

Rather than create preparatory sketches, he often worked ideas out on the canvas—even painting a portrait in one afternoon. To capture the wriggling toddler, Sargent set up a fast-paced sitting, seen in his sketchlike brushwork. As he looked at tones and shadows, suddenly a face would miraculously emerge from the background. He tried to use the fewest strokes, perhaps a single mark for Dorothy’s bangs or pursed lips. He dashed a blue line for a shadow under the pudgy cheeks and left bits of the cream canvas untouched to suggest voluminous feathers on the hat. Sargent also added a single mark of white to the hat for a flamboyant detail.

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He took breaks to play a song on the piano, and then jumped up to finish a few brushstrokes. Sitters described how he would run toward the canvas with a loaded brush of paint, balance a fragrant cigarette in his mouth, and suddenly make a single stroke on the canvas. Looking closely, you can almost see Sargent’s gestures, when he arched his brush, twisted the wrist, and finally made a stroke on the canvas. He described wanting to create portraits that were “alive”—capturing a sitter in the midst of moving or speaking. The result is Dorothy’s hand—energetic and vibrating strokes for the fingers.

Sargent would hold his brush in the air and then place it down upon the canvas exactly where he wanted it to fall. As described by one of his students, “The stroke resounded almost like a note in music.” My personal favorite is the gray line that travels down the pinafore, just one stroke to suggest the folds of the dress.

Finally, he added the finishing touch—the signature. On the upper left side of the canvas, Sargent playfully signed his name with the butt-end of the brush by scratching into the paint layers. Come visit little Dorothy in the Level 4 galleries and marvel at Sargent’s dazzling skill.

Lea Stephenson is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the DMA.

Who’s the Boss

Today is national Boss’s Day so we decided to look back on the legacy of one of the DMA’s former bosses, Jerry Bywaters.

Jerry Bywaters with his painting On the Ranch

Jerry Bywaters was the figurehead for the Dallas Nine, a group of artists from the 1930s who all focused on individual styles while working together to present unique aspects of the Texas landscape. Throughout his career, he was an art critic, professor, museum director, and, of course, a Texas artist. From 1943 to 1964, Bywaters served as Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, which would merge with the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts to create the DMA in 1963. He believed museums should be responsible for inspiring and cultivating art within the community, something that is still very important to the DMA today.

Jerry Bywaters, Self-Portrait, 1935, oil on Masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Duncan E. Boeckman in honor of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 1990.5

The DMA is fortunate to have a number of his works in our collection, including his paintings Share Cropper (1937) and On the Ranch (1941). Celebrate one of the DMA’s bosses with a visit to Level 4 to view Bywaters’, and his contemporaries’, work.

Kimberly Daniell is the Senior Manager of Communications, Public Affairs, and Social Media Strategy at the DMA.

 

Loving Vincent

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most well known names in art; despite that fact, there is still a veil of mystery surrounding the artist’s life, specifically his final days. This is the purpose of the film Loving Vincent, which will be screened at the DMA this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. for its Texas premiere. Through “the world’s first oil painted feature film,” you can see over 65,000 frames painted by 125 artists to mimic van Gogh’s style. You can watch the trailer here and see just how beautiful an oil painted movie can be. Around 130 frames in the movie are landscapes or portraits copied from actual van Gogh paintings, a few of which have a direct tie-in to two works on paper in the Museum’s collection.

The first is a preliminary drawing for van Gogh’s famous work Café Terrace at Night. This piece is re-created in the film for a scene between the main character, Armand Roulin, and his brother, Joseph Roulin, played by Douglas Booth and Chris O’Dowd. This particular frame mimics van Gogh’s painting, but adds in the two characters to the scene.

Vincent van Gogh, Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, September 1888, chalk, ink, and graphite on laid paper, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.79

Café Terrace at Night by Marlena Jopyk-Misiak (image from lovingvincent.com)

The second work from our collection re-created in the film is the etching made by van Gogh after painting Portrait of Doctor Gachet. This was his first and only foray into the artistic technique of etching. The frame from the film shows Doctor Gachet, played by Jerome Flynn, with the same contemplative look and handsome mustache.

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, 1890, etching, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.81

Dr. Gachet – Keyframe by Piotr Dominiak (image via lovingvincent.com)

Come by the Museum on Saturday, October 7, for a Vincent van Gogh-filled day! Enjoy the free lecture at 3:00 p.m. with one of the artists and animators for the film, Dena Peterson, and the film screening at 7:00 p.m.

Katie Cooke is Manager of Adult Programming at the DMA.

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.

You’re Invited

On September 21, the DMA will host a special Decorative Arts Symposium, and you’re invited! The morning of the symposium will begin with coffee, breakfast bites, and stimulating conversation until attendees sojourn into Horchow Auditorium for a delightful round of renowned speakers.

The Decorative Arts Symposium features garden designer, author, television host, and conservationist P. Allen SmithJohn Hays, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s America and specialist in American Furniture and Decorative Arts; and Ann Pailthorp, Farrow & Ball’s leader of the North American Colour Consultancy Program for British craftsmen in paint and paper.
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At the culmination of all the speaker’s presentations, guests are invited to attend an intimate book signing. Publications by the speakers will be available onsite the day of the symposium in case you don’t own them yet!

It’s not too late to secure you tickets for this enchanting morning – after all, how often do you get to listen to speakers of this caliber in one room together? http://bit.ly/DMADecArtsSymposium 

The Two Käthes

Join us for Late Night this Friday when we will host artist Käthe Kollwitz of the feminist activist art collective the Guerrilla Girls as part of a celebration of women artists featured in Visions of America. For more than thirty years, women artists from across the country have donned gorilla masks and joined the ranks of the Guerrilla Girls to produce public art campaigns that raise awareness about gender and ethnic discrimination in the art world and beyond. Having decided early on that the members of the Guerrilla Girls would remain anonymous, they took this opportunity to shine some limelight on great women artists of the past by assuming the names of pioneers like Käthe Kollwitz, Frida Kahlo, and Zubeida Agha.

Guerrilla Girls at the Abrons Art Center, 2015

In an interview for the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art Oral History Program, Käthe explained the origin of their pseudonyms.

“Eventually we realized that we needed individual names within the Guerrilla Girls.  When we went places in a group or in pairs, we needed to be individuals in some way.  So this idea came up to have dead women artists as pseudonyms, and it was a useful idea because art historians were re-finding and representing the work of a lot of women artists from history.  Most of the pseudonyms that people took were artists they’d never heard of before they started and only discovered when they read up on women artists, looking for a name.”

Käthe’s own namesake, Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), was a German printmaker and sculptor who also addressed social injustice in her work. She also happens to be well represented in the DMA’s collection

Kollwitz’s work is at times touching and heart-wrenching with intimate portraits of mothers with their children as well as genre scenes depicting the plight of the urban poor. Her subjects are often gaunt figures whose shadowy eyes and pained poses speak volumes about the dire circumstances under which they lived. Having endured multiple personal tragedies and both world wars, she was an artist who did not shy away from showing the realities of war, poverty, and loss.

Käthe Kollwitz, Revolt (Sturm), 1897, Etching, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts, The Alfred and Juanita Bromberg Collection, bequest of Juanita K. Bromberg, 2000.192.FA

Remarking on how she arrived at the pseudonym Käthe Kollwitz, the artist said, “It’s very personal for everybody.  Käthe Kollwitz is not my all-time favorite artist, but she’s a great role model.  She was an activist as well as an artist.  She didn’t believe in the expensive, fancy art system.  She did a lot of cheap prints that she gave and sold very cheaply.  She did a lot of work about working people, about women and children, even work about sex.  She was a fierce woman artist.”

Over 70 years after Kollwitz’s death the Guerrilla Girls are continuing the practice of using art to raise awareness. Reflecting on their own 30 year legacy, Käthe will speak about favorite projects and how the group has approached activism in their work. For more information about this and other Late Night programs, visit DMA.org.

Jessie Frazier is Manager of Adult Programming 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.


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