Art Jaunt to Dallas-Fort Worth

A few months ago, my art pal, Tom Mueske, called and said, "Amy, I think we need to go to Dallas."  I'd been so immersed in the studio that I hadn't been aware that the Dallas Museum of Art would be the only U.S. venue for Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, a comprehensive survey of Pollock's black paintings (1951-53). While we were on the phone, I did a quick web search of the other museums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  We set a date, made our travel plans and, a couple of months later, met at Dallas Love Field on a Friday afternoon.  We checked into our hotel, walked over to the DMA (which is free, except for special exhibitions) and headed straight for the exhibition.  Our exhibition tickets allowed for multiple entries, so we went through the show on Friday, twice on Saturday and once more on Sunday, spending about 6 hours total with the black paintings. 

In addition to the DMA, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Contemporary and a few galleries.  It was non-stop art for two and a half days, with Tex-Mex and cocktails in the evenings.

I allowed this art pilgrimage to really settle in before writing about it. With these five venues,  the Dallas-Fort Worth area is rich in truly spectacular art and architecture.  So much of what we viewed has stayed with me.  Here are a few highlights:

Dallas Museum of Art.  The DMA is one of those old-fashioned general museums, full of families and school children.  Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots was a special exhibition.  The galleries were were designed to resemble a New York gallery in the 50s: intimate, carpeted spaces with Le Corbusier chairs and Mies van der Rohe benches.  In general, the black paintings have been under-appreciated.  Some regard the move away from the dense and intricate poured paintings toward a more open, pseudo-figurative approach as a step back for Pollock.  However, seeing these paintings together, along with a gorgeous installation of works on paper and a few small sculptures, I was extremely aware of Pollock's technical mastery and willingness to experiment with techniques and materials, and his ability to expand upon the techniques he had previously developed.  The fluidity of line is perfectly confident, varied and purposeful.  The hints of figuration are integrated with pure abstract elements. Christopher Knight reviewed the show for the Los Angeles Times, and I agree with his assessment: Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots is the rare exhibition that triggers a revision of one's long held beliefs about an artist and his work.  One thing that really struck me was the patina of the raw canvas.  It is pleasantly aged and tawny (almost golden)  creating an aura of authenticity and historical import.  I wish I could go back in time and see these works when the canvas was new and just barely off-white.  Did the paintings have a different impact? 

Echo (Number 25, 1951), 1951

Echo (Number 25, 1951), 1951

Convergence: Number 10, 1952, 1952

This painting is the perfect blending of the techniques of the black paintings and the earlier poured paintings.  It literally sizzles with opticality. 

[detail] 

[detail] 

The catalogue for the exhibition is an excellent resource.  I was so saddened to read this on the first page:

If only he knew...

[detail] Silver Square, c. 1950   This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

[detail] Silver Square, c. 1950  

This piece was painted on the rough side of a piece of Masonite.  I love the silver ground and the lively line work.  I also enjoyed Pollock's experiments on various papers: Japanese, mulberry and Howell.  He treated each so differently, with absolute sensitivity to the surface texture and absorbency. 

Orignal exhibition poster.

After a couple of hours in the exhibition, we went back to the hotel, had dinner and went to bed early.   

Kimbell Art Museum. The Kimbell is one of my "bucket list" museums.  The original Louis Khan (1972) building is complimented by the Renzo Piano Pavilion (2013). Both are wondrous.  The Khan building is possibly the most perfect building I have ever seen.  The materials, the proportions, the light.  Oh, the light!  The natural light enters in a way that is gentle and diffused.  The entire space is luminous.  The museum is small, and filled with high-quality, mind-boggling treasures.

The vaulted ceiling lets in diffused light that floods the space. 

Giovanni Bellini, Christ Blessing, c. 1438-1516

Tintoretto, Portrait of Doge Pietro Loredan, 1518-1594

The ermine cape is so incredibly rendered.  The brushstrokes are so loose that it is impossible to discern the image when you are close to the painting. 

Picasso, Nude Combing Her Hair, 1906.  This painting really stayed with me.  The concrete awkwardness of the figure, mass of hair, mask-like face, soft brushy background and the placement of the figure within the picture plane gave me a sense of physical tension and compression.  

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  This museum was the biggest surprise of our trip.  The building was designed by Tadao Ando in 2002, and it is hands-down one of the best museums I've seen for contemplating works of contemporary art: galleries are perfectly proportioned, works of art have plenty of room to breathe and sight lines are excellent.  The museum is situated near the Kimbell.  We were there on a Saturday, and the museum was pleasantly quiet, allowing for private, extended engagement with the art.  Works from the permanent collection were on view.  WOW!  I could include a hundred things, but here are few highlights:

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1986

The placement of this painting could not be better, with Andy presiding over the museum with an eerie Wizard of Oz effect.

The museum has many single-artist spaces.  I love this Ellsworth Kelly installation. 

A small, but terrific, painting by Roy Lichtenstein. The museum also holds Lichtenstein's Mr. Bellamy in the collection, but I particularly enjoyed this simple yet powerful piece. 

One of the best Pearlsteins I have ever seen: Two Female Models on Eames Chair and Stool, 1976. The use of color, diagonal figure-eight composition, strong vectors and repetition of linear elements (fingers, stomach, breastbone) make for a very dynamic picture. 

Lynda Benglis, For Carl Andre, 1970.  This terrifc Benglis looks so fresh, as if it had been made yesterday.  The foam is in great condition. 

Morris Louis, Dalet Kaf, 1959.  The Modern has two Louis paintings, both absolute exemplars.  This is probably the best of the Veil series works that I have seen.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1961.  A really wonderful Mitchell with a great palette of purples and earthy golds. 

[detail] It was timely for me to see these color relationships as I am working on two paintings with strong yellow and purple elements. 

A small gem by Howard Hodgkin. 

Tom, with an enormous stunner by Mark Bradford. 

Dan Christensen, Pavo, 1968.  We weren't allowed to photograph this painting.  I've seen it in reproduction a lot. It is really spectacular in person. The ground is luminous and metallic, glittering in its iridescence.  It is one of those works that, had it not been so perfectly executed, would be meaningless. 

I could go on, but let it suffice that the Modern is a destination museum, and the fact that it is next door to the Kimbell makes Fort Worth a necessary stop for any art pilgrim. 

Dallas Contemporary.  After a full and satisfyingly mind-boggling day in Fort Worth, we made it back to Dallas in time to see the Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting exhibition space in the warehouse district.  We were delighted to find Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics on view.  The exhibition included four radical feminist artists active since the 1970s: Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins and Cosey Fanni Tutti.  As scholar Richard Meyer has written, they "eroticized the male body in ways that conformed neither to heterosexual convention nor to mainstream feminist thought at the time...The art they produced reminds us that sexuality cannot be made to align with politics, including the politics of feminism." Photos were not permitted, but here is a terrific overview of the exhibition by curator Alison M. Gingeras.  Tom and I agreed that some of the work, while important and radical in its time, appears dated now.  However, Betty Tompkins' work looked fresh and timeless.  It was great to see such a fine selection of her Fuck Paintings from the early 70s.  Much like the Tintoretto we saw earlier in the day at the Kimbell, the images fall apart when you stand in close proximity to the work. All you see is paint, surface and technique, until you move back far enough to perceive the image. The Dallas Contemporary was a perfect, jarring, gritty end to our day. It was really wonderful to experience this 70s feminist time-capsule exhibition.  It reminded me how much can be--should be!--at stake in art making.

Betty Tompkins and her work, c. early 1970s.

On Sunday, we went to see the Pollock show one last time, first thing in the morning when the museum was still quiet.  It was great to have the opportunity to see the show multiple times over the course of two and a half days. I really had the chance to let the works burn into my eyes and memory.  

As it turned out, a beautiful Rebecca Warren exhibition, The Main Feeling, opened that very day.  While some of the DMA's galleries are a bit dated and stodgy, the Warren exhibition was in a suite of light, airy, beautifully proportioned galleries, and included three different bodies of work: blobby works in clay and bronze, some small and painted, displayed on plinths, and some tall. thin and figurative (here is a short Art Forum piece in which Warren discusses her recent bronze works); works from her vitrine series, which employ wall-mounted cabinets, small objects and neon light; and large works made of welded steel slabs.  I respond most favorably to the first group, which heavily draw from de Kooning, Degas and Giacometti. While the other two bodies of work are also interesting, Warren's divergent approaches prompted me to wonder about a particular (unfortunate? problematic?) phenomenon of postmodernism: the gratuitous diversity of practice.  Or, phrased differently: at what point does the extreme diversity of practice become gratuitous, a mere market strategy? This has nagged at me a bit, even though I greatly enjoyed this exhibition. 

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren.

Rebecca Warren. 

From there, we went to the Nasher Sculpture Center. Another spectacular building filled with the best of the best; too many treasures to count.  Here are a three of my favorites:

Willem de Kooning, Clamdigger, 1972.  After seeing the Rebecca Warren exhibition, it was great to see de Kooning's large plaster sculpture.  I love this piece.  It is simultaneously scary, sad, pathetic, powerful...so expressive, with a lively surface and a patina made of linseed oil and soap.  It's mesmerizing, lumpy, barely a figure, but terribly human. According to the wall text, de Kooning wore three pairs of heavy work gloves, one over the other, so that his hands and his gestures would be bigger.  Brilliant. 

[detail]

[detail]

Okay, I like Richard Serra as much as the next person, but this is the first time I ever had a truly spiritual experience with a Serra.  Why?  Well, this piece, My Curves Are Not Mad, is in the Nasher's beautiful garden.  The day was gorgeous, warm and sunny, and the light was dappled and brilliant in spots, animating the surface of the piece. Trees swayed in the breeze, casting elegant shadows on the Cor-Ten steel surface. The brilliant green of the lawn reflected off the steel. And then, the church bells rang for three full minutes, providing a soundtrack for the moving shadow forms. Unbelievable.  I was lucky to capture a video. 

Somehow, the brilliant green grass cast a reflection on the inside of the piece. It was a hovering cloud of bright green, impossibly beautiful. 

Last, but not least, I enjoyed at terrific piece by Ann Veronica Janssens, Blue, Red and Yellow, 2001, an outdoor box-like room made of translucent walls, colored with blue, red and yellow films, illuminated by natural light, and filled with thick fog.  Upon entering, one immediately loses one's bearings.  The viewer is enveloped in colored fog and is unable to see more than a few inches.  Really, there is nothing to see but color and light. Magical, fun, and disruptive.  In a way, it is similar to the experience of being inside a pitch-dark cave, but one is lost in light rather than darkness. I watched viewers going in and coming out. Some people were terrified (losing all sense of their visual control, not knowing whether anything else would "happen" to them as they stumbled about in the space) while others found it relaxing, peaceful and enjoyable. I found it to be a unique, pleasurable and pure sensory experience. 

Somehow, the colored films shift and mix, producing a soft and playful cubic form. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

This is what it looked like inside, but the color is variable and the piece shifts through the color spectrum,  Beautiful. 

After the Nasher, we popped into the DMA one last time to peruse the permanent collection, which contains a number of gems. I will end with this piece, a painting by an  artist unfamiliar to us, Sadamasa Motonaga.  It surprised and delighted both of us and looks particularly fresh and timely, as if a young LA artist made it yesterday. Ah, nothing is new. 

Sadamasa Motonaga, ine, Line, Line, 1979. 

We headed back to Dallas Love Field, had a beer and boarded our respective planes. What a great, unforgettable trip.