Posts Tagged 'McD2017'

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.

Adventures with Stephen Tobolowsky

On April 18, Stephen Tobolowsky will return to the DMA Arts & Letters Live stage to celebrate the release of his second memoir, My Adventures with God. In preparation for his visit, I had the privilege of interviewing Stephen about his acting turned writing career and some of the things he learned along the way. His answers are insightful, relatable, and as always, humorous. From the aspiring artist to the admiring onlooker, Stephen offers advice, intentionally or not, for anyone interested in advancing his or her own path to success and level of self-awareness. So, what did I glean from our interchange, you might wonder? Well, as a young professional embarking on a long career ahead of me, this interview reminded me that I do not need to have all the answers, That I can trust my instincts, and that, even in times of doubt, I should cling to what gives me strength and a sense of what makes me, me. Below you can read just a snippet of our discussion and get a glimpse into what’s to come on the night of his much anticipated appearance at the DMA:

Sara: In this book, you continually return to Judaism as a kind of grounding force throughout the vicissitudes of your life. Can you speak broadly about how you understand the role of faith, religious or not, factoring into one’s lived experience?

Stephen: This is the question from which all questions come. We like to think that we are fixed quantities that move through time. We are not. We are equations with more than one unknown. I think this fundamental uncertainty about our existence is why we cling to things we feel are certain. Like science. Like art. It’s why people like cats. We are certain of their uncertainness.

The only protections we have from false prophets and the despair that grips us all at one time or another is beauty and in embracing a good philosophy. Judaism provides both.

We live in an age that popularly views religion as primitive and elevates science. I like science, even when it is wrong. I find the pursuit of answers inspirational. But for my money, I don’t care how smart Steven Hawking is or how interesting a black hole may be, if he doesn’t understand the Holiness code of Leviticus, not to curse the deaf nor put an obstacle before the blind, it doesn’t add up to much.

Judaism is a layer cake built over thousands of years. The different layers reflect that age’s relationship to truth. In some ages, it was popular to think that truth can be known. You end up with the Ten Commandments. In other ages, it was popular to think the truth was hidden. You end up with mystical works like the Zohar and the Midrash. There are very few creations of man that have existed through so many conflicting times and have survived so many hardships. The wisdom embodied in Judaism has endured. The philosophy in a nutshell? From Hillel over two thousand years ago: “What is hateful to you do not do unto your fellow man. The rest is commentary. Go and study.”

To read the entire interview, you can visit Stephen’s website, where he posted the exchange in two parts: Part I and Part II. The Museum is excited to welcome Stephen back to DMA Arts & Letters Live, so go grab a copy of My Adventures with God in the DMA Store and join us for an evening full of inquisitive minds, entertaining anecdotes, and rip-roaring laughter.

Sara Beth Greenberg is the McDermott Graduate Intern for Adult Programming and Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.

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. 

The Emperor’s New Groove: Llama Iconography and the Inca Empire

In his 1551 chronicle The Discovery and Conquest of Peru, Pedro de Cieza de Leon recalled the former glory of the great Inca temple known as the Qorikancha:

There is a garden in which the earth was of pieces of fine gold, and it was sown with corn of gold, stalks as well as leaves and ears . . . more than twenty golden sheep with their lambs, and shepherds, who guarded them, their staffs and slings, were made of this metal.

South American camelids at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia

South American camelids at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. image source commons.wikimedia.org : http://bit.ly/2ov0wXl

What Cieza de Leon did not realize is that these “golden sheep” were not sheep at all (sheep were introduced to South America through Spanish imperialism), but rather the most important animal within the Inca Empire: the llama.

Domesticated 6,000 to 7,000 years ago in the dry puna grasslands of Argentina, Chile, and southern Peru, llamas provided an important source of meat and of fiber used for manufacturing rope and bags in several early Andean communities. Andean artisans shaped and repurposed llama bones as tools and weaving supplies, while llama dung provided a source of fuel to heat homes. Llamas also allowed disparate cultures to interact and create trading networks by serving as the primary beasts of burden within the Andes region. Occupying the modern nations of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia, the Inca Empire (1438-1532) used llamas and llama imagery to unite their territory through trade and shared socially significant iconography.

Pair of llama figures

Pair of llama figures, Peru, north coast, Inca (Inka), 1400–1550, shell, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1972.23.5.1-2.McD

Map of Inca Empire

Our collection of Inca visual arts features several examples of llamas. These reddish-orange llamas were originally found in a Late Horizon (1400-1532) ceremonial cache on the southern coast of modern-day Peru with a variety of northern coast Chimú and southern coast Ica style feather and metalwork objects. Containing a mixture of elite items related to Chimú and Inca cultures, this bundle represents the fusion of cultures through Inca imperial expansion and trade.

Carved from the shell of a thorny oyster, or Spondylus, a mollusk imported from the tropical marine waters off Ecuador, these llama figures likely possessed multiple layers of social significance among the populations who created them. Visually, they represent the beasts of burden that enabled the extensive trade networks necessary to transport raw materials from locations that were several hundred miles away. As the inclusion of carved Spondylus shell figures in ceremonial bundles was specifically an Inca practice, these llamas may also represent South Coast groups incorporating certain aspects of Inca identity or religion into their own system of belief.

Camelid-form vessel

Camelid-form vessel, Peru, Inca (Inka), 1400–1540, stone, Dallas Museum of Art, collection of Andrew D. Christensen, gift of J. D. Christensen, 1983.632

Carved from a green and black stone, this ceremonial llama effigy, or illa, was used to promote agricultural and pastoral fertility in Inca communities. Inca religious leaders likely inserted a mixture of llama fat, blood, and other ceremonial objects into the hole located at the top of this vessel during various fertility rituals throughout the year. Several Inca-related groups concluded these fertility rituals by placing the illa in a pasture. Modern-day highland communities in the Andes continue to use illa during their fertility rituals to ensure the prosperity of their camelid herds.

Continue reading ‘The Emperor’s New Groove: Llama Iconography and the Inca Empire’

Looking at Law

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017, HD video, 17 mins 58 secs. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, © Carey Young

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017, HD video, 17 mins., 58 secs., Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, © Carey Young

London-based artist Carey Young’s new video Palais de Justice is a cinematic glimpse into the Brussels courthouse of the same name. The video begins with a lone man walking down a vast staircase. Hands in the pockets of his track pants, he appears far more casual than the 19thcentury architecture that surrounds him. Over time, the video shifts from distant shots of people walking through the interiors to more intimate views of female judges at work. Observing them through smudged portholes in courtroom doors, the camera captures the judges in moments of authoritative posturing during trials: they stroke their chins, remove their glasses, and gaze across the room deep in thought.

The women we see through the portholes are, in fact, actual judges and not actors. Young shot Palais de Justice “guerilla” style for three weeks over a period of two years, catching the daily activities that occurred throughout the building. She did not begin the project with a preplanned narrative but instead pieced her footage together afterwards to form a more poetic picture of the courthouse. Young especially wanted to highlight the presence of the female judges to subvert common assumptions about who holds the power of law. Rather than seeing men in charge, we see only women occupying these prestigious societal roles.

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017, HD video, 17 mins 58 secs. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, © Carey Young

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017, HD video, 17 mins., 58 secs., Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, © Carey Young

In a brief conversation, Young explained to me that Palais de Justice marks an artistic departure for her. While her work often takes the form of conceptual text, performance, and photography, the video is much more metaphorical and dreamlike. Young further explained that she wanted the video to highlight the intent of the architect to express the “sublime scale of the law.” This is apparent in how Young has installed the work inside the gallery: the projection takes up an entire wall and, as a result, immerses the viewer. Surrounded by a soundtrack of vocal echoes and footsteps playing alongside the video footage, one sees the landmark building itself as another character among the judges and courthouse visitors.

The Palais de Justice was designed by architect Joseph Poelaert in celebration of Belgium’s independence from the Netherlands. A massive structure—over 200,000 square feet with 27 large courtrooms—it remains one of the largest courthouses in Europe. For Young, the monumental qualities of the building made it a perfect case study for her ongoing meditations on the performative nature of law. The architectural elements, especially the oculi through which we gaze, draw attention to our own roles as witnesses to the law in action. It makes us think not only about  the institution of law but also about who has the power to exercise it.

With this in mind, Palais de Justice makes me think about how buildings shape our attitudes and behaviors. How does architecture command this kind of power? Does the architecture of a courthouse differ from, for instance, that of an art museum? What might a courthouse of the future look like?

These are only a few of the questions that Young’s powerful video raises. See it yourself at the DMA, along with other new and existing works by Carey Young, in Carey Young: The New Architecture, now through April 9.

 

Kelly Filreis is the McDermott Graduate Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA.

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.

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.

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