Sunday, February 8, 2015


I recently came across an intriguing study that determined that art viewed in a museum has a much greater impact on the viewer than art looked at in a book or online. This is certainly true for me. In addition, I think the effect of visiting so many art museums during the last year is that seeing original art hung on the wall or standing on a pedestal has made me want to see more and more and more. It's addictive.

My husband has been a saint. I'm not sure he would choose to go to art museums if I weren't along, at least not six in a single trip as we did on our latest trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas.
Of all the museums we visited, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMOA) is the most prestigious. The facility and the collection are both terrific.

Even the driveway, lined by this 60-foot-long Venetian glass mosaic created by Mexican muralist Miguel Covarrubias, is spectacular.
Genesis, the Gift of Life is based on a Mexican world-origin myth about four gods who controlled the four elements--water, earth, fire, and air. The world was created four different times, and each time one of the gods used his element to destroy it, but then the four gods finally worked together to create the world we have now.
On the other side of the driveway is Two Piece Reclining Figure, No. 3 (1961) by British Sculptor Henry Moore. It looks like a relaxed museum guest with a front row seat for the Creation happening across the way.

DMOA's front window is festooned with Chihuly glass, our third exposure to Chihuly in less than a week:
The main hallway is surveyed by the brooding queen of Assyria, Semiramus (1873), carved in marble by William Wetmore Story (who, although an American and son of a Supreme Court Justice, lived as an expatriate in Rome for most of his adult life).
Semiramis murdered her husband and seized power, only to be killed by her estranged son. She looks far too relaxed if you ask me.

What we had seen thus far did not prepare us for the special exhibit on the main floor: an Isa Genzken Retrospective. I had never heard of Genzken, a German artist born in 1948. Her work is pretty bizarre, and I sent a text to my son, who has a BA in art, asking if he'd heard of her. He was quite excited to hear that we were seeing her exhibit. Apparently she is one of the most influential artists of the past thirty years. This is the first retrospective of her work ever in the United States, and includes almost 200 pieces:

My favorite installation was this suitcase exhibit:

Suspended above the suitcases are three astronauts:
The description on the site reads: "With its accumulation of roller-board suitcases, the installation calls to mind a transit station that has suddenly been abandoned, perhaps due to an unforeseen threat. Three astronauts, identified as NASA employees by the insignia on their uniforms, float overhead as if exploring the ruins of a devastated culture."

Moving on to . . .  whatever this is. A coat hanger? An extraterrestrial? An old Christmas tree? A very complex lightning rod? 

In comparison to the Genzken Retrospective, this Reclining Mother and Child (1976) by Henry Moore looks pretty sedate and almost traditional:
. . . as do these two works that might look familiar: Spaniard Pablo Picasso's The Guitarist (1965) and Dutchman Piet Mondrian's Place de la Concorde (c. 1943):

I'm going to interrupt the flow here by inserting a poem Billy Collins wrote in response to a work of his choice in the Dallas Museum of Art's permanent collection.  He chose the above Mondrian painting

             Lost in Paris 

Of all the citizens to arbitraily trap 
It was Piet Mondrian whom I chose 
To ask directions to Place de la Concorde.

In the time it took to set up his board 
I could have found one of those 
Kiosks that sell Gauloises and maps. 

But he had already prepped 
The whole canvas white
 And painted the first of the rectangles blue. 

Without their names, every rue 
Looked like the others, and what did the bright 
Red and yellow zones represent? 

No matter-- once I had thanked him for 
His aid and turned a sharp corner to the left, 
There was no way to go wrong. 

I zigzagged like a man following a song 
And thanks to his geometrical gift, 
Ended up, as you can see, precisely at your door.

 --Billy Collins ©2004 

I love Billy Collins.  Okay, now back to the art.

The Reveler (1964) by Frenchman Jean Dubuffet reminds me of those coloring book pages where a child uses a different colored crayon in each space, and I am trying but I can't see the Guitar and Pipe (1913) in the painting on the right by Spaniard Juan Gris:

Ah, finally something I understand! (Not.) A pair of trousers standing up by themselves on a table! In his typical head-scratching fashion, Belgian artist Rene Magritte entitled this Persian Letters (1958):

In case you are wondering, the Dallas MOA is not just about modern and contemporary art. It has a very broad, impressive international collection that includes one of the 250 versions of Water Lilies (1908) painted by Frenchman Claude Monet:

River Bank in Springtime (1887) by Dutchman Vincent van Gogh:

The Bugler (1882) by Edouard Manet and Winter (Woman with a Muff) 1880 by Berthe Morisot, both French:

The Masseuse (cast in bronze posthumously in 1911) by Frenchman Edward Degas doesn't deviate too much from the artist's usual fixation. The person being worked on is a dancer. In the center is The Shade, or Adam from the Gates of Hell (1880) by another Frenchman, Auguste Rodin (sculptor of the famous The Thinker), and on the right is Victory (1813) by the great Italian sculptor Antonio Canova:

One of my favorite pieces in the museum is Silence (1942) by Frenchman Antoine-Augustin Preault:

Having seen the actual castle, this painting of Denmark's Frederiksborg Castle (1817) by Norwegian artist Johan Christian Dahl caught my eye:

As far as painting style goes, however, I much prefer British J.M.W. Turner's painting of the Alps entitled Bonneville, Savoy (1803):

I also quite like The Icebergs (1861) by American artist Frederic Edwin Church. This painting, when first exhibited at a Civil War fundraising exhibition, was hailed as "the most splendid work of art that has been yet produced in this country." However, during the ensuing years it was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1970s. In 1979 it sold for $2.5 million, the highest price ever paid for an American painting at the time. The buyers, Lamar and Norma Hunt of Dallas, donated it to the Dallas Museum of Art:

Dallas MOA and other large art museums give visitors the opportunity to examine the evolution of painting styles. For example, compare the four landscapes below, all painted by Americans during a 35-year period and presented here in chronological order.

Impressionist Childe Hassam painted Duck Island in 1906:

Edward Hopper painted Lighthouse Hill in 1927: 

Alexander Hogue painted Drouth Stricken Area (Oklahoma's Dust Bowl) in 1934:

And Thomas Hart Benton painted Prodigal Son in 1941:

The Dallas MOA also has some wonderful religious art, including The Sacrifice of Isaac (1659) by Spanish painter Antonio de Pareda. In this scene, Abraham is not yet aware that God will intervene:

I like this very crowded scene by Italian artist Paolo de Matteis, The Adoration of the Shepherds (1728). How is a mother supposed to get her baby to sleep with all those people looking on?

It sure beats this early 18th century painting The Virgin of the Rosary by Bolivian artist Melchor Perez Holguin. Truly, that is one of the ugliest depictions of the Christ child I have ever seen:
If I have to choose a favorite piece of art from the Dallas MOA, this would be it, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures (1909) by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. He used his Swedish-American wife and son as models for this tender portrait. Tanner, who died in 1937, has been called the greatest African-American artist to date. I love his work.

In 1620 Italian artist Giulio Cesare Procaccioni painted the scourged Jesus with bound hands and a crown of thorns and entitled it Ecce Homo, Latin for Pilate's words "Behold the man":

I really like this emotion-laden triptych altarpiece, The Conversion of St. Paul (1786) by American Benjamin West:

If you think you've seen this painting by American Quaker Edward Hicks before, you probably have, or at least something pretty close. Hicks created more than one hundred versions of The Peaceable Kingdom (1847) based on a scripture in Isaiah about animals lying down together and being led by a little child. In this rendition, on the far left side William Penn signs a treaty with Native American inhabitants of the Delaware Valley, the ultimate example of peaceful co-existence:

On to another genre: portraiture.

I fell in love with Alphonse Mucha when we visited Prague a few years ago. His Art Nouveau stained glass window in the St. Vitus Cathedral will always be one of my favorites, and I will never quite forgive the Mucha Museum for closing just as we arrived at its front doors. Until I return to Prague, I will have to settle for Mucha's posters seen in random museums around the world:

These portraits of Woodbury Langdon and his young wife Sarah were painted in 1767 by American John Singleton Copley:

American artist Rembrandt Peale was born just two years after the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. His father, himself a painter, named his son after Rembrandt van Rijn. (He named another child Rubens and another Raphaelle.) The tactic worked, at least for the child he named Rembrandt, who completed over 600 paintings and became very famous. He is especially known for his portraits of George Washington, whom he first painted from life in 1795. Peale revised that original portrait over 70 times, including this one painted in 1850:

I love this marble sculpture of Lady Godiva (c. 1864) by American Anne Whitney. It appears to portray the moment of decision as the good lady begins to remove her belt while looking heavenward:

And now for my favorite portrait painters, beginning with American Thomas Eakins, who painted Miss Gertrude Murray in 1895. She was the sister of one of Eakins' best friends, a sculptor with whom Eakins shared studio space.

Although an American, the amazing portrait painter John Singer Sargent spent most of his life as an expat in Europe. Dorothy (1900) is a painting of the granddaughter of one of his first patrons:
I'm guessing this was a willful child. She looks like someone who gets whatever she wants, even at age two or three.

Mary Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania but spent much of her life in France. The Reading Lesson (1901) is a typical example of her favorite subject: women and children:

At least forty-three of Cassatt's paintings feature this beautiful little girl named Sara, the daughter of the former president of the French Republic and a frequent model for Cassatt.

Boy in Short Pants (1918) is the work of Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian who, like so many other artists of his day, spent much of his life in Paris.

And that's it for the Dallas Museum of Art, wonderful ambassadors of all things cultural in the northern Texas region:

We visited two more art museums in Dallas, the Biblical Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Posts on both of those are coming up later, but first we have to eat.


  1. I confess. I tend to giggle at the works of many of the modern artists, and much prefer the "traditional" style of art. I love that mosaic at the beginning, as well as Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures and the Peaceable Kingdom. So many artists to love here!

  2. We did see a lot of art on this trip, much of it not very memorable for me. Probably no surprise, my favorite thing was the DAM food trucks lined-up across the street. I guess we didn't have to really give at DAM to go to them, but in my eyes they were pretty DAM good (that is, the food was as good for me as the art was for you).