Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category

A Deeper Look: John Thomas Biggers

As the McDermott Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching at the DMA, every Friday morning I am lucky enough to lead Go van Gogh® outreach programs in elementary school classrooms across Dallas. Each lesson is rooted in the DMA’s collection, and one of the works of art that I have grown particularly fond of teaching is a painting called Starry Crown by John Biggers.

John Thomas Biggers, Starry Crown, 1987, acrylic and mixed media on masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum League Purchase Fund 1989.13, Art © Estate of John Biggers / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

John Thomas Biggers, Starry Crown, 1987, acrylic and mixed media on Masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum League Purchase Fund, 1989.13, Art © Estate of John Biggers/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The patterns of Starry Crown reflect images and symbols from African life and culture. The string held within the mouth of the three women represents the spoken word that passes tradition, knowledge, and history from one generation to another.

It is Biggers’ own history—his story—that, to me, makes this painting all the more significant.

John Biggers’ story begins in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1924. Growing up as a black child during a racially segregated time in the southern United States deeply influenced his perspective of the world. According to Olive J. Theisen’s A Life on Paper: The Drawings and Lithographs of John Thomas Biggers (2006), individuals with darker skin tones were allowed to enter art museums only one day of the week. Although there were talented and skilled black artists at the time, recognition, and thus financial success, was often denied to artists of color.

When Biggers entered college at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1941, he registered with the intention of learning a more practical trade, like plumbing; however, Biggers’ intentions dramatically changed within his first year when an art course taught by Viktor Lowenfeld empowered him to take ownership of the culture and creativity of his own heritage through the arts.

Image via Hampton University Archives

Image via Hampton University Archives

With Lowenfeld’s encouragement, in 1946 Biggers left Hampton Institute as a dedicated artist with a clear mission: to tell the honest story of the black American through art—to make the once invisible known and respected.

Flash forward to 1952: Biggers submits one of his finest drawings, Sleeping Boy, to the fifth Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the precursor to the DMA.

Biggers describes how Sleeping Boy came to be:

Sleeping Boy was drawn in the doctor’s office on a scrap of paper. I had carried my mama to the doctor’s office, was waiting there, saw a little child asleep on a chair, sketched him on a scrap of paper. When we got home, I immediately transferred the sketch to a large sheet.

(from A Life on Paper: The Drawings and Lithographs of John Thomas Biggers, by Olive Jensen Theisen)

John Thomas Biggers, Sleeping Boy, 1950, conte crayon, Dallas Museum of Art, Neiman-Marcus Company Prize for Drawing, Fifth Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1952 1952.1

John Thomas Biggers, Sleeping Boy, 1950, conte crayon, Dallas Museum of Art, Neiman-Marcus Company Prize for Drawing, Fifth Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, 1952, 1952.1

Biggers did in fact win the Neiman-Marcus Prize for drawing and was invited to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts for the awards presentation; however, as noted by former DMA staff member curator Philip Collins, once the committee discovered that Biggers was black, his prize was handed to him without ceremony at the Museum’s door. This was Biggers’ first experience with the Museum. Thirty-seven years after this incident, his painting, Starry Crown, was shown as part of the Black Art, Ancestral Legacy exhibition in 1989. During the opening, Biggers not only received red carpet treatment, but he also gave a talk—a talk that was prefaced with his very first experience at the DMA.

The knowledge of Biggers’ history with the DMA makes presenting Starry Crown to students that much more meaningful to me. By teaching this work of art with the artist’s story in mind, I encourage tolerance and acceptance for individuals of all backgrounds within the students in Dallas.

To learn more about John Biggers and his work:

  • A Life on Paper: The Drawings and Lithographs of John Thomas Biggers (2006) by Olive Jensen Theisen
  • Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa (1996) by John Thomas Biggers
  • Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience (1978) by John Thomas Biggers, Carroll Simms, and John Edwards Weems
  • John Biggers: My America (2004) by Michael Rosenfield
  • Black Art-Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art (1989), Editors: Robert V. Rozelle, Alvia Wardlaw, and Maureen A. McKenna
  • DMA mobile resources: Link

Angela Medrano is the McDermott Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching at the DMA.

Listen Hear

The Center for Creative Connections (C3) has been working closely with our Manager of Access Programs, Emily Wiskera, to create new sensory activities at each of the Pop-Up Art Spots. This month we have added a new activity to our Pop-Up Art Spot in the 18th-Century European Gallery. The works of art on view in this gallery are so epic they feel like they are straight out of a movie. So, we invited local musicians Clint Niosi and Claire Hecko to compose one-minute “film scores” for four of the works of art on view. Here’s a sneak peek of two of them:

Claude-Joseph Vernet, A Mountain Landscape with an Approaching Storm, 1775, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund 1983.41.FA

Claude-Joseph Vernet, A Mountain Landscape with an Approaching Storm, 1775, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 1983.41.FA

Jean Antoine Theodore Giroust, The Harp Lesson, 1791, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund 2015.10.FA

Jean Antoine Theodore Giroust, The Harp Lesson, 1791, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund, 2015.10.FA

Stop by the Pop-Up Art Spot on Saturdays between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. or on Late Night between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m., check out an iPod, and listen to these mesmerizing sounds as you look closely at these works of art.

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

Mask Mysteries

Before I arrived at the DMA, I wasn’t quite sure what my daily tasks as the McDermott Intern for African Art would entail. I certainly never expected to be sitting in on a biomedical engineering lecture at UT Southwestern studying a CT scan—but this was no ordinary CT scan: it was a scan of the DMA’s helmet mask (komo) from the Senufo peoples of Côte d’Ivoire.

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The purpose of this scan was to discover the contents of the horns that decorate the mask, as well as any other ritual materials that may have been placed within the structure. The scan showed the horns contained many small objects, including animal jaws and a variety of organic matter. With this information in hand, I hit the books in an attempt to understand why these objects would be chosen for use in a mask such as this one. As the Komo society is a secret knowledge society, details of masking traditions are not frequently shared; however, I was able to compile some information from Boureima T. Diamitani, scholar and Komo society member, to help contextualize the mask and the mysterious contents of its horns.

Helmet mask (komo), mid–20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, and mirrors, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley 1997.24

Helmet mask (komo), Cote d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples, mid-20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, and mirrors, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley, 1997.24

The komo is believed to be a spirit above humans who possesses supernatural powers and is sent by God (Kle) to protect members of the secretive Komo society. The komo performs a masquerade that today functions as both a divination ritual and a form of entertainment.

The origin of the Komo society is found in a story in which a hunter and his dog encountered and killed a frightening beast in the forest. The hunter brought the beast’s head back to the village to entertain the townspeople, thus becoming the first komotigui, or owner of the Komo. The mask form is taken from the appearance of the beast killed by the hunter. Today, the mask is most often worn during performances by the son of the komotigui or the son of the blacksmith who carved it.

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Blacksmiths carve komo masks from one piece of bugusulu softwood, a tree used exclusively for this purpose. As females and uninitiated males are not permitted to see the mask, the blacksmith must himself be a member of the Komo society and must carve the mask in the forest, out of sight of the village. The mask, carved over the course of three days, is sculpted with small wooden horns, which are then fitted with animal horns. The choice to carve the mask with horns is an important one: since relatively few animals have horns, the addition of horns emphasizes the strangeness and power associated with this creature. Upon completion, the carver relinquishes all responsibilities for the mask to the new komotigui, who may choose to add porcupine quills, more horns, feathers, or any other element he chooses; these additions distinguish particular masks from one another. A competitive spirit between komotiguis is a catalyst for artistic production and the various styles of many komo masks.

Due to the personal preference involved in decorating the mask, we cannot be sure of the significance of each element that was found in the horns. Many komotiguis chose to place powerful substances such as medicine or poison inside of the horns due to the aggressiveness and fear associated with them. This implies that the substances that filled the horns likely held some type of ritual significance to Komo society members and were believed to increase the potency of the Komo society as well as the mask itself.

Although we do not yet have all of the answers regarding the materials contained in this mask, or the reason that each specific item was chosen, we are on our way to a better understanding of the context of this mask’s creation. Further, this experience has immensely broadened my outlook on the ways in which science, technology, and the arts can work together to draw important cultural conclusions.

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Megan Zembower is the McDermott Intern for African Art at the DMA.

References:
Diamitani, Boureima Tiekoroni.  1999.  Identities, Komo Societies, and Art Among the Tagwa Senufo of Burkina Faso (Doctoral Dissertation).
Diamitani, Boureima T.  “The Insider and the Ethnography of Secrecy:  Challenges of Collecting Data on the Fearful Komo of the Tagwa-Senufo.”  The African Archaeological Review 28, no. 1 (2011):  55-70.
Diamitani, Boureima Tiékoroni.  “Observing Komo among Tagwa People in Burkina Faso:  A Burkinabe Art Historian’s Views.”  African Arts 41, no. 3 (2008):  14-25.

Genre Bending

Walter De Maria

“Every good work of art should have at least ten meanings,” remarked Walter de Maria, one of the major figures in the history of Minimal, Conceptual, Installation, and Land, in 1974. One thing I admire about his work is how complex and multifaceted it is (literally and figuratively); it invites us as viewers to hold in mind a few ideas at once and to consider it from a variety of perspectives.

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, January 18 to do exactly that, and to celebrate the DMA’s recent co-acquisition with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of Large Rod Series: Circle/Rectangle 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 by De Maria at a DMA Arts & Letters Live event.

Top: author Geoff Dyer Bottom: DMA curator Gavin Delahunty

Top: author Geoff Dyer
Bottom: DMA curator Gavin Delahunty

This Artful Musings event will feature senior curator Gavin Delahunty who organized the Walter De Maria: Counterpoint installation and will provide an overview of the artist, his work, and importance; award-winning author Geoff Dyer who has written about De Maria’s work in his newest book White Sands; and percussionist Stockton Helbing, who will perform some of the artist’s rare musical compositions.

After 5:00 p.m., you can linger in the installation before it goes off view on January 22 — it’s the perfect opportunity in a quieter setting to experience the artist’s work. As Caitlin Haskell notes in her catalogue essay, “it takes time to come to know them.” There is rich resonance between El Greco’s painting of Saint Francis Kneeling in Meditation (1605-1610, on loan from the Meadows Museum) and De Maria’s sculpture. The juxtaposition of these two works creates a rich meditation on the themes of minimalism, mathematics, progression, and sensory perception.

Walter De Maria, Counterpoint

Walter De Maria: Counterpoint, 2016

Shortly after 7:00 p.m., percussionist Stockton Helbing will perform of one of De Maria’s musical compositions, with Gavin Delahunty’s and Geoff Dyer’s insights and conversation kicking off at 7:30 p.m. Dyer will then sign copies of his books, and Delahunty will sign copies of the newly published exhibition catalogue.

demaria-jackets-05

Both artist and author defy easy classification or categorization in their respective fields. De Maria was a painter, sculptor, illustrator, and composer. The New Yorker calls Dyer “a restless polymath and an irresistibly funny storyteller. . . . adept at fiction, essay, and reportage, but happiest when twisting all three into something entirely his own.”

Dyer’s newest book, White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World, showcases his series of fascinating adventures and pilgrimages across the globe. They range from searching for Gauguin’s notion of exotic paradise in Tahiti to nearly freezing and being trampled by a dog sled on a quest to see the Northern Lights. Weaving stories about recent travels with images and memories from his childhood, Dyer tries to discern what a certain place and, like De Maria, what a certain way of marking a landscape, means; he explores the power and attraction that certain places hold and what we seek in them.

My favorite chapter in White Sands is the one in which Dyer, his wife, and friends experience De Maria’s The Lightning Field in western New Mexico, where the only way to visit is to reserve a cabin on the property and stay overnight, allowing you to experience the 400 rods in at various times of day and in varying degrees of sunlight.  Reading it made me want to prioritize this as my next road trip.

Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, Quemado, New Mexico

Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, Quemado, New Mexico

For those who want to delve further into this topic and artist, don’t miss the opportunity to hear Walter De Maria in his own words about his land art installations as part of a free film screening of The Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art on Saturday, January 21 at 2:00 p.m. at the DMA. Explore Arts & Letters Live’s lineup of more than 30 events over the next six months here.

Carolyn Bess is the Director of Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.

A Fête to Remember

Tomorrow evening the DMA will kick off an Annual Fête celebrating 18th-century French masterpieces from the Michael L. Rosenberg Collection and the release of a new publication, French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art. Join us for performances, talks, art making, and a tres magnifique menu.

Before we step back in time and party like it’s 1799, I asked each of the past and present curators of the Rosenberg Collection to share a favorite work of art or a fond memory of working with this group of objects. Catch up with them at the Annual Fête, where they will be available to answer questions about your favorite Rosenberg artworks.

Nicky Myers, The Lillian and James H. Clark Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, DMA

“It is truly a privilege to be able to display and study such an important collection of 18th-century French artwork. Beyond its art historical significance, beyond its extraordinary quality and condition, the Rosenberg Collection is simply stunning. Lush colors, sumptuous costumes, and elegant figures welcome you to the Michael L. Rosenberg Galleries of 18th-Century Art, some of my favorite rooms in the Museum. When we enter these spaces, we are instantly transported back in time to a rare moment when the decorative and fine arts shared the same aesthetic, and when patrons and artists shared similar sensibilities. It is hard for me to choose a favorite work within the Rosenberg Collection, but I’m particularly drawn to the Greuze, Boilly, and Largillière paintings.”

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Dreamer, 1765–1769, 29.2004.10, Lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Dreamer, 1765–69, oil on canvas, lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 29.2004.10

Heather MacDonald, Program Officer, Getty Foundation

“What I enjoyed most about working with the Michael L. Rosenberg Collection and its annual lecture series was the opportunity to invite amazing scholars, whose work I’ve admired for years, to come to Dallas and share their research. They’re like historical detectives, piecing together bits of evidence gathered over a lifetime of research and close looking.

I don’t like to choose favorites among works of art in the galleries, but I will confess to an adoration of François-André Vincent’s portrait of the playwright Desforges. It’s such a modern, informal portrait: Desforges is shown in his (beautifully painted) shirtsleeves, with a five-o’clock shadow, looking off in the distance as if caught in a moment of creative inspiration. Vincent painted Desforges on the cusp of the Revolution, which offered new kinds of individual freedoms to French citizens, but this portrait also says so much about how the modern individual had been reimagined by the Enlightenment. There is a whole story about the 18th century contained in this image!”

François André Vincent, Portrait of Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Choudard (called Desforges), 1789, 29.2004.1, Lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation

François André Vincent, Portrait of Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Choudard (called Desforges), 1789, oil on canvas, lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 29.2004.1

Eik Kahng, Assistant Director and Chief Curator, Santa Barbara Museum of Art

“What I remember most fondly about Michael was his sincere love for the works of art that he collected. Before it came to the DMA, the collection was installed at Michael’s house. He very kindly allowed for private tours from time to time, which everyone greatly enjoyed. Michael would routinely ask me to lead the tours, starting in the living room, where the great Lemoyne Bather and the wonderful Oudry animal painting of a water spaniel confronting a heron were on view. However, about five minutes into my talk, Michael would invariably interrupt and start adding his own, detailed commentary. He was so passionate about each and every object and could speak eloquently and informatively about each one. I always teased him that he didn’t need me to be there at all, since he was more than capable of providing his own overview of the collection. It’s always such a pleasure to listen to collectors who really love their art.”

Jean–Baptiste Oudry, Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron, 1722, 29.2004.8, Lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation

Jean–Baptiste Oudry, Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron, 1722, oil on canvas, lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 29.2004.8

 

Jessie Frazier is the Manager of Adult Programming at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Off the Wall: A New Experience

What do David Bowie, James Bond, The Karate Kid, Bon Jovi, and dragons have in common? They all served as inspiration for our newest program, Off the Wall.

This spring and summer, the Adult Programming team spent many hours brainstorming themes, program ideas, and the best format for a new evening event. We wanted to be playful in our approach, making sure everyone would have a fun and unexpected experience—thus Off the Wall was born.

From 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month, Off the Wall will offer a unique way to explore our collection with a pop culture twist. We will launch Off the Wall tomorrow with an exploration of space, astronomy, and the 60s with our take on Space Oddity.

Each member of the team brought her own area of geeky pop culture knowledge to the table, for example, but not limited to, 80s TV, movies, and music (Stacey); movies and all things sci-fi and fantasy (Jessie); Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and over the top action movies (Katie); and all things 90s with a specialty in rap from the early 2000s (Madeleine).

So stop by and geek out with us, revel in the pop culture madness with us, and boldly go on this new adventure in the DMA collection with us.

October 13: Space Oddity 

Robert Rauschenberg, Skyway, 1964, oil and silkscreen on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund, The 500, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Mark Shepherd, Jr. and General Acquisitions Fund

Robert Rauschenberg, Skyway, 1964, oil and silkscreen on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund, The 500, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Mark Shepherd, Jr. and General Acquisitions Fund, 1986.8.a-b, (c) Rauschenberg Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY 

November 10: Gogh Your Own Way 

Vincent van Gogh, Sheaves of Wheat, July 1890, Oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

Vincent van Gogh, Sheaves of Wheat, July 1890, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.80

December 8: Winter Is Coming

Finial: Dragon head, 11th–14th century, Bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1963.24

Finial: dragon head, Iran, 11th–14th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1963.24

January 12: Plot Twist

Thinking Bodhisattva, Asian, 4th-6th century C.E., terracotta, Dallas Museum of Art, Wendover Fund, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, and General Acquisitions Fund, 2010.17

Thinking Bodhisattva, Afghanistan, 4th-6th century C.E., terracotta, Dallas Museum of Art, Wendover Fund, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, and General Acquisitions Fund, 2010.17

February 9: Shot Through the Heart

Yinka Shonibare, M.B.E., A Masked Ball (Un ballo mascherd), 2004, high-definition digital video, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund, 2008.26

Yinka Shonibare, M.B.E., A Masked Ball (Un ballo mascherd), 2004, high-definition digital video, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund, 2008.26, (c) Yinka Shonibare

March 9: Et Tu, Brute?

Ceremonial Knife (Metal Inlaid Grip), African, 19th-20th century, wood, steel, nickel-silver, Dallas Museum of Art, The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.79

Ceremonial knife, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th-20th century, wood, steel, and nickel-silver, Dallas Museum of Art, The Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, 1969.S.79

April 13: Shaken, Not Stirred

William Waldo Dodge, Jr., “Skyscraper” cocktail shaker with cups, c. 1928-1931, silver, Dallas Museum of Art, The Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, gift of Patsy Lacy Griffith by exchange, 2008.48.1-12

Skyscraper cocktail shaker with cups, William Waldo Dodge, Jr., designer, c. 1928-31, silver, Dallas Museum of Art, The Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, gift of Patsy Lacy Griffith by exchange, 2008.48.1-12

May 11: Wax On, Wax Off

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): cloud design (megamenlang), Indonesia, Java, c. 1910, cotton and commercial dye (?), Textile Purchase Fund, 1991.58

June 8: Make It Work!   

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1867-1868, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.59

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Lise Sewing, c. 1867-68, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.59

 

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

Annual Declaration of Awesomeness

Thomas Eakins is overwhelmingly considered one of the most important American artists. The Pennsylvanian would have been a whopping 172 years old today. His art was deeply influenced by his interest in the anatomy of the human form and the study of motion. The realist painter, photographer, and sculptor took to educating aspiring artists later in his career, and he was both admired and admonished for his controversial and progressive teaching methods.

The painting below—like almost all of Eakins’ portraits—is not a commissioned work, but was done out of friendship. The pensive subject is Gertrude Murray, the sister of one of the artist’s most loyal friends and with whom he shared studio space. As is typical of his extraordinarily moving late portraits, Eakins has isolated his sitter against a neutral background, showing her absorbed in thought. He sets up a tension between his sketchy, bold handling of paint and his intensely observed realism.

Cheers to Thomas!

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Thomas Eakins, Miss Gertrude Murray, 1895, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Margaret J. and George V. Charlton, Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, The Jonsson Foundation, and an anonymous donor, 1975.1.FA

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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