Archive for the 'Contemporary Art' Category

Holding Up a Mirror to Texas Icons

If you’ve visited the DMA lately, you likely noticed the large red mural created by Minerva Cuevas in our Concourse. For those unfamiliar with Cuevas’s art, she is known for her conceptual multi-media installations, and the way her images, language, found objects, and sculpture work together to create political critiques. Some of her projects reformat the visual language of advertisements, using it to harness advertising’s power to affect cultural narratives. For example, see Cuevas’s morbid reimagining of the Del Monte logo. What makes her work so interesting and accessible is the way it explores the relationships among socioeconomic systems, indigenous identity, and the environment with a sense of dark humor. Sometimes, as we see in Fine Lands, her work is downright playful.

Fine Lands, on view at the DMA through September 2, transforms the Museum’s central Concourse into a dystopian Texas landscape, rendered in a powerful comic-book style. Familiar silhouettes of oil wells become menacing, insectlike forms, while crude oil spewing from a derrick morphs into a cloud of bats filling the sky.

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Alongside cacti and desert scrub, a tortoise’s shell is reimagined as a backpack, a reference to the northward journeys of migrants. A tough, muscled armadillo and wide-eyed prairie dogs wear bulletproof vests. It’s easy to imagine these critters as comic book characters with individual personalities.

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Meanwhile, enormous ants represent industrial and agricultural labor. Echoes of the Texas State Fair’s midway evoke the quintessential cultural icons of Dallas. Framing the mural at one end of the Concourse are the words “LAND LIBERTY LIFE,” a message that is equally evocative of the American dream and of indigenous struggles for autonomy and food sovereignty.

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Fine Lands Press Preview, May 11, 2018

This imagery and its layers of associations allow us to imagine unfolding narratives, or to insert our own memories of the Texas landscape. Although the mural clearly references hot-button issues such as pollution, migrant labor, and the power of the fossil fuel industry, there is no single overarching message. Rather, Cuevas holds a mirror up to Texas culture, reflecting it back to us with the added insights that creative metaphor brings. For example, she treats oil in several ways: as a natural resource, as an element of our economy (for better or worse), and as a visually fascinating substance that oozes and seeps across the landscape. More than a simple warning about the dangers of oil as a pollutant, this imagery evokes the role of fossil fuels as the bedrock of Texas industry and an important component of our deep-rooted sense of independence.

Through its examination and reframing of common cultural stereotypes surrounding our state, Fine Lands offers a new way of seeing and understanding subjects such as immigration, the politics surrounding natural resources, and ideas about Texan identity. The presence of bright white crosshairs distributed throughout the mural lends an undertone of menace. The sight of these crosshairs hovering on the wall just ahead implies an immediate threat, lurking right behind us. How we understand that implied threat, and the extent to which we participate in Cuevas’s reflection on the Texas landscape, is up to each of us.

Chloë Courtney is a Digital Collections Content Coordinator at the DMA.

What’s next in the Quadrant Galleries?

We bid farewell to Edward Steichen’s In Exaltation of Flowers this week. The lavender walls and gold-leafed canvases will go off view on May 13 and the space will be prepped to hold a selection of newly acquired posters from the Guerrilla Girls Portfolio Compleat (opening May 26, more details provided in a future Uncrated post).

Fortunately, two new installations of contemporary art will open the same weekend the Steichen exhibition comes to a close. In the Stoffel Quadrant, eleven large sculptural works will adorn the walls and floor. Lynda Benglis’s Odalisque (Hey, Hey Frankenthaler), a colorful river of poured latex, is representative of the scale and non-traditional materials explored by this selection of artists. Elise Armani, the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art, chose these works, all of which were created by women whose work resists the crisp geometries associated with the male-dominated Minimalist movement. Instead, Armani wants viewers to recognize the ways each piece interacts with its surrounding and raises questions about the relationship between works of art, physics, anatomy, and psychology. Contemporary culture, environmentalism, and daily routines are critiqued in works by Annette Lawrence and N.Dash. Lawrence draws attention to the proliferation of junk mail and wasted materials by transforming strips of paper into a wall relief. Dash’s blackened, folded paper sculpture is the result of her methodical handiwork aboard the New York subway.

Another group of works by women artists will be on view in the Stoffel Quadrant (formerly home to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room). The installation, Soft Focus, will contain nearly thirty photographs drawn from the DMA’s permanent collection and local lenders. Some images, like Kunie Sugiura’s Central Park 3, broaden the traditional understanding of photography by relying on alternative applications of light sensitive materials. Also included will be an example of Diane Arbus’s iconic approach to portraiture. Other photographers whose works will be on view are women who participated in mainstream art movements but rarely received equal critical acclaim as their male counterparts.

images: Lynda Benglis, Odalisque (Hey, Hey Frankenthaler), 1969, poured pigmented latex, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2003.2 © Lynda Benglis / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Annette Lawrence, Free Paper 12 / 05, 2006–2008, mixed media, Dallas Museum of Art, Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund 2008.100.A-E © Annette Lawrence; N. Dash, Commuter (New York, 2013), 2013, graphite and paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Bonnie L. Pitman in honor of Deedie Rose and Catherine Rose 2016.63; Kunie Sugiura, Central Park 3, 1971, photo emulsion and acrylic on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund 2016.11.1; Diane Arbus, Untitled, 1968, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Polaroid Foundation grant 1975.82 © Estate of Diane Arbus

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA

Contemporary Additions

With 93 exhibitors, the 2018 Dallas Art Fair left no dearth of fantastic work to purchase through the Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition program. For the Dallas Art Fair’s 10th anniversary, and the third year the DMA has participated in this exciting partnership, the contemporary collection gained eight new works by seven artists. This year, perhaps more than ever, we are reminded how much representation matters. The curatorial team (Anna Katherine Brodbeck, me, and the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art Elise Armani), under the leadership of our Director, Agustín Arteaga, used the funds this year to select works that further diversify the contemporary collection. The artists range in age and background as well as the variety of mediums that they use.

Brie Ruais’s large wall-based ceramic was created from the same amount of clay as the artist’s own body weight. In her process-driven practice, Ruais spreads and molds the clay with her hands and feet, marks still evident once the pieces are partially glazed and fired. The DMA’s holdings in contemporary ceramics do not quite reflect the multitude of ceramic work being produced today, and we felt that this work was a striking addition to demonstrate the use of the medium expanded beyond traditional forms.

Brie Ruais, Broken Ground Red (130 lbs of clay spread out from center), 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Albertz Benda [image source: brieruais.com].

In Sanford Biggers’s Sirroco from 2016, the artist repurposes an antique quilt to use as the substrate of this incredible painting. Interested in the inherent geometry and varying textures of the quilts, Biggers references a historical, though unproven, narrative that on the Underground Railroad quilts were used as signposts to guide escaping slaves. Sanford Biggers is a cousin of the painter John Biggers (1924-2001), who is already represented in the DMA’s collection. Acquiring Sanford Biggers’s work provides a great opportunity to explore artistic lineages and make connections between generations.

Sanford Biggers, Sirroco, 2016. Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo Milan | London |Hong Kong [image source: massimodecarlo.com].

This was also the first year we purchased from a local gallery, and we were pleased to select Alicia Henry’s mixed-media work Untitled, 2017, from Liliana Bloch Gallery here in Dallas. In this portrait of a man, Henry uses stitched thread and ink to comment on identity and notions of beauty. Some of the marks appear, hauntingly, like scars and allude to some form of violence previously endured. With this truly powerful work, we further expand our holdings by contemporary African American artists.

Alicia Henry, Untitled, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Liliana Bloch Gallery [image source: lilianablochgallery.com].

In addition to the works above, we are pleased to have also acquired Matthew Ronay’s sculpture Condition, 2018; Tony Lewis’s drawing Nes, 2018; two gelatin silver prints from Geraldo de Barros’s series Fotoformas Sao Paulo, 1949/2008; and Shara Hughes’s painting Gusto, 2018. It is difficult not to write about every work since they all bring something unique to the conversation. I encourage anyone interested in these acquisitions to visit the gallery websites to learn more about the artists.

Thank you to the generous donors to the Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition program for their time and enthusiasm in making these acquisitions happen!

Chelsea Pierce is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant for Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Some Truths on Time-Based Media

Truth: 24 frames per second is the DMA’s first exhibition dedicated to time-based media and showcases many works from the Museum’s growing collection. But what is time-based media and why is it relevant? How do we experience it (and don’t forget you can experience it for free for the final week! The exhibition is on view through January 28)?

Time-Based Media (TBM) refers to works of art that have a fourth-dimension: time. Any artwork that changes meaningfully over a period of time can be considered TBM. Typically, TBM works are made using video, sound, film or slide-based installations, or computer technologies. As a viewer, a key aspect of experiencing TBM is observing it over time.

Nam June Paik, Music Box Based on Piano Piece Composed in Tokyo in 1954, 1994, Vintage TV cabinet, Panasonic 10 TV model 1050R, Panasonic mini video camera, incandescent light bulb and 144-note music box mechanism, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Dorace M. Fichtenbaum 2015.48.113

Beginning in the 1960s with the invention of the portapak (the first portable video equipment), artists who were losing interest in material objects turned to video and sound. Experimental artists like Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, and Joan Jonas were attracted to the transitory, immaterial qualities of sound and the moving image and the medium quickly spread.

TBM was viewed as an egalitarian art form, due to the medium’s relative affordability as well as its unchartered nature. Because TBM was not initially considered by art historians to be a valid art form, artists considered it a “founding father free zone,” where there was no canon against which to be measured. Video art, in particular, was used by many artists involved in social movements. Through its capability for wide distribution, video art offered opportunities for raising consciousness through documenting injustices and representing communities previously under or misrepresented. In Truth: 24 frames per second, Arthur Jafa’s work, Love Is the Message, the Message is Death, speaks poignantly to the role of media and representation in contemporary society.

Arthur Jafa, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, 2016, HD video, color and black and white, sound, 7:30 min., Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, NY

Unsurprisingly, over the following decades TBM works have evolved in step with technology. Contemporary artists produce TBM works with everything from cellphone footage to crowd sourced YouTube clips. One example of the influence of technological advance on TBM is Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas), a work by John Gerrard in the exhibition. Though it presents as a video, Gerrard’s work is actually an eternally generating digital portrait coded to change in response to the time of day and year in Spindletop, Texas. As the sun sets and rises in Spindletop, Gerrard’s software mimics the change of light in on the screen.

Because of its reliance on technology, TBM presents unique challenges to museums who collect it. Most works are allographic in nature, meaning they only exist when installed and functioning, and each time they are installed can be considered an iteration of the work. As a result, there are conceptual considerations as to where, how, and with what technology individual works can be realized. TBM also presents complex challenges to conservators, who are tasked with considering and combating issues such as technological obsolescence, digital preservation, and even broken hyperlinks.

John Gerrard, Western Flag (Spindletop Texas), 2017, 2017, simulation, Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York & Thomas Dane Gallery, London

TBM works can be intimidating to engage with, but one important thing to realize is that you don’t need to be present for the duration of the work to experience it. If a work catches your attention, stick around for it to restart and watch it in entirety. Wall labels include a run time, noting how frequently each work repeats. The ideal way to experience an exhibition like Truth: 24 frames per second is to see it multiple times in order to engage with the works at different moments. But hurry in, because the exhibition closes this Sunday, January 28.

Elise Armani is the McDermott Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA

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

UPDATE: Yayoi Kusama: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins has been extended and will now close on April 29, 2018!

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 [UPDATE: the exhibition will now close on April 29, 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.

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.


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