Wednesday, February 18, 2015

DALLAS: THE MUSEUM OF BIBLICAL ART / FORT WORTH: AMON CARTER MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

What is it about art museums that I love so much? Maybe part of it is that good art, like good literature, makes me ask questions because it challenges me to see the world through different eyes. Or maybe it is that every time I look at a painting or a sculpture, I find a different answer to those questions, the same way I see new things in a book with each reading.  

Take, for example, this crucifixion scene by American artist Gib Singleton. I've seen lots of variations on this theme, and most artists put women at the base of Christ's cross, not a watchful shepherd. The way the shepherd is posed looking upward brings to mind the angels' visit to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born and one angel's words: "Fear not: for behold, I bring to you good tidings of great joy."

Where is that joy now? And what of the way Christ hangs from the cross on strips of cloth rather than by nails through his hands? Are those pieces of fabric Jesus' burial clothes, or do they have another meaning?

That crucifix was our first exposure to the Dallas Museum of Biblical Art, a museum about which I have mixed feelings. It's purpose is to display works related to the New and Old Testaments. Unfortunately, there was a fire here in 2005 that pretty much burned the place down, and I think they are still in the process of rebuilding their collection. I thought there were a few too many copies and not enough originals.

My other gripe is that the museum doesn't allow photography of most of the art inside. I've taken pictures in almost every museum I've been in, from the Louvre to the Prado to the Hermitage to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Why not here?


I was allowed to take this photo of Adolf Schmitz's wonderful painting The Denial of Christ (1853), but I think it hangs in the entryway before the ticket booth.
There is some interesting art inside, including more sculptures by Singleton that I quite liked and some beautiful Jewish menorahs. Since I couldn't take pictures, I looked for postcards of my favorites in the gift shop, but with no success. There are also some really incredible Biblical manuscripts from a range of centuries and origins on display. Again, I would have liked to take some memorial photos, but it is forbidden. Sigh.

Photography of two very large murals is allowed, neither of which I was especially fond of, but of which I took pictures anyway because, well, because I could! The first is The Resurrection, a 12' x 40' mural by Ron DiCianni.
David, Isaiah, and Abraham are among those heralding the risen Christ on one side of the painting.
Elijah, Noah, Esther, John the Baptist, and Daniel are present on the other side,
and Golgotha can be seen in the distance.

The other major artwork that guests are allowed to photograph is a 9' x 18' painting by Vladimir Gorsky called Tapestry of the Centuries. Major historical figures from the birth of Christ through 1999 are depicted. At the center is the image of Christ on the cross. (The two photos below show the two halves of the painting. For orientation, locate the Christ figure about 1/4 of the way in from the right edge on the first picture and the same distance from the left in the second photo):

There is a nice interactive tool at the museum that names and describes each figure, and the same tool is available online.

Unfortunately, that's about it. Honestly, not too memorable.

Our final museum visit was the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.
Amon Carter (1879-1955), born in a Texas log cabin, grew up to be the Renaissance Man of Fort Worth. He was involved in newspaper publishing, radio, oil, and aeronautics, and he was a serious art collector, especially of works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. (He owned nearly 400.) Above all, Carter was a philanthropist, and he left a large sum of money to create a museum of Western art that could house his collection.
The museum does have a formidable collection of Remington and Russell artwork, which means there is an amazing amount of testosterone on display.
Coming Through the Rye (1902) by Frederic Remington (Bronze cast #12, 1916)
This is notable for the number of hooves off the ground--an engineering feat (no pun intended). 
The horses and riders always seem to be coming right at the viewer, and I kept wanting to step aside.
A Dash for the Timber (1889) by Frederic Remington
The Bronco Buster (1895 and 1909) by Frederic Remington
The one below is my favorite. I love the tension in that back right arm, the stumbling hooves and forward ears of the horse, the impossible rocky grade:
The Mountain Man (1903) by Frederic Remington 
A caption on the painting below notes that "One of the cowboy's most effective supporters was the artist's friend Theodore Roosevelt, who viewed the wild riders of the range as the final players in the epic drama of the American frontier and 'as hardy and self-reliant as any men who ever lived.'"
The Cowboy (1902) by Frederic Remington
An Indian Trapper (1889)
In addition to the Remington collection (I don't know why I don't have any photos of Charles Russell's work), there is plenty of other art to see, such as these paintings by local artist Benito Huerta of pieces from a Mexican game of chance called Loteria:
. . . and Huerta's charcoal and graphite drawing of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers after the first plane hit but before the second, which he ironically entitled Intermission
Information on the painting notes that "The use of a term from show business reminds us that our current events are immediately broadcast, blurring the distinction between real-life experience and the entertainment we watch on the screen."

Every museum of American art must have a painting of George Washington, and it's best if it is by Rembrandt Peale, one of the most prolific painters of George's visage.  Even better, here we have the lovely Martha at the General's side.
The museum gives us both Washington the Man and Washington the Myth. I love this painting by Grant Wood (painter of American Gothic) celebrating the man who created the myth of young George, who "could not tell a lie," confessing to his father that he had chopped down the cherry tree. Note that George's face is the all-grown-up George as painted by Gilbert Stuart. It is the face that graces our $1 bill.
Parson Weems' Fable (1939) by Grant Wood

As long as we are discussing art depicting presidents, how about this angel? She was not only created by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial, but she was designed the same year the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated:
Benediction (1922) by Daniel Chester French

Ah, my favorite portraitist of all time, John Singer Sargent, also has his place in this museum. On the left is Alice Vanderbilt Shepard (painted in 1888), the 13-year-old great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She led an incredibly interesting life that included fracturing her spine when she fell out of a tree and being permanently deformed, eloping with a man who fell in love with her at first sight and whom her father disapproved of, bearing six children, attending Radcliffe and Harvard, and becoming a world-respected linguist.  The painting on the right from 1890 is American actor Edwin Booth, forever overshadowed by his infamous brother John Wilkes Booth.

I love anything and everything by Winslow Homer, but I especially love his paintings of children:
Crossing the Pasture (1871-72) by Winslow Homer
"Aha! A Diego Rivera!" I thought as I entered the room.  No such luck, but a nice painting nevertheless.
Calla Lily Vendor (1929) by Alfredo Ramos Martinez
But I was right about this one. It's hard to mistake Georgia O'Keeffe for anyone else:
Red Cannas (1927) by Georgia O'Keeffe
I'm drawn to the simple honesty of Maynard Dixon's paintings. I just learned he was married for a time to famous photographer Dorothea Lange, known in part for her stark photography of Dust Bowl families. They must have made a cheerful couple.
The Wise Men (1923) by Maynard Dixon
Alexander Calder explored space, time, balance, and motion in his mobiles and stabiles, some of the earliest forms of contemporary installation art.
Untitled (c. 1942) by Alexander Calder
We saw another version of Edward Hicks's painting Peaceable Kingdom. We had seen a different version in the Dallas Museum of Art just a day before. This one, painted 21 years before the other, looks much less modern, but both have a cameo appearance by William Penn in the background:
The Peaceable Kingdom (1826) by Edward Hicks
Thomas Moran's romantic view of the unsettled West contrasts sharply with Remington's gun-toting, hard-riding cowboys, doesn't it?
Cliffs of Green River (1874) by Thomas Moran
Coming from an orange growing town, I couldn't take my eyes off of this painting by someone I'd never heard of (which means absolutely nothing as I am no expert). I love it!
Wrapped Oranges (1889) by William J. McCloskey
I'll end with a few more portraits that I found especially compelling. The one on the left is the self-portrait of Murray Bewley (ca.1912), the artist who painted the portrait on the right entitled Resignation/Marielle (1925).  I am struck by how different the style is between the two; I never would have guessed it is the same artist.


There is a tender story behind the painting of the wan and frail woman. She is not Marielle but Bernice, Bewley's wife. He painted her just after they lost their first child, Marielle. The words in the painting's title, Resignation/Marielle, refer first to their feelings and then to the cause of those feelings. Perhaps painting this portrait was a way for Bewley to work through his grief.

For whatever reason, I really love this final self-portrait--the messy hair, the open-neck shirt, the pensive stare, the textured surface. And I LOVE the title.
I'll Sit a Little While (2008) by Sedrick Huckaby
Overall, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art was a great place to spend a few hours on a rainy December day in Fort Worth.
View of Forth Worth from the Carter Museum window

3 comments:

  1. An Indian Trapper was my favorite piece. It reminds me of the landscape above tree-line on the 14ers. Amon Carter Museum was by far my favorite on the trip. I enjoy Remington very much.

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  2. I hate museums that don't allow photography. Grrr. Lots of beautiful, emotional art here.

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  3. I really enjoy your commentary.

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