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Big Shows, Big Prizes, Backstage Dramas: The Visual Arts In North Texas, 2015
by Jerome Weeks 1 Jan 2016

Jackson Pollock, ‘Convergence,’ oil on canvas, 1952

This past year saw a major art prize established in Dallas – and a major art prize fail to get a foothold here. Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks talks to Justin Martin about how 2015 in the visual arts was a little like that. There was great art out front – and some real drama backstage.

In our year-end conversations about North Texas arts, you’ve avoided top 10 lists. Instead, you told me you wanted to take a wider look at local cultural trends. But now with visual arts, you want to start touting the year’s best shows?

JWBecause they’re part of the same story. The big drama and some of the best shows – they’ve all been at the Dallas Museum of Art. The current reappraisal of Jackson Pollock has gotten raves nationwide (it was a year for looking at Pollock anew, the Modern in New York just opened two shows about him and his legacy). And there was the superlative Michael Borremans exhibition – his first significant retrospective in the U.S. (that’s the show being installed in the image, above — with Borreman’s 2013 painting, ‘The Angel.’)

But the DMA also opened a new art-history research center with UTD, and they re-did the entire Arts of Africa gallery. Roslyn Walker, curator of African art, has re-installed the best of the museum’s some 2,000 African masterworks and added videos and music clips. The results are fresh and bright and smart and definitely worth a new visit from visitors.

I want to ask a question, but I think I hear a ‘but’ coming.

JWThat would be the abrupt departure of DMA director Maxwell Anderson. In September — boom — he was out the door, with no explanation from him or the board. He headed to Manhattan to eventually take over the New Cities Foundation. In only three years, Anderson spurred incredible advances there – like creating a conservation program and getting the major Islamic art trove, the Keir Collection, on loan.
max and jesus

Maxwell Anderson is the one on the left.

But I hear he had ‘difficulties’ with the staff and board.

JWYeah. To get a sense of Anderson’s chutzpah with money and launching projects the museum wasn’t really ready for, recall his 2012 attempt to buy ‘Salvator Mundi,’ a less-than-perfect Leonardo da Vinci. He’d been director for only six months yet he tried to get DMA donors to pony up $200 million – that’s enough to buy an entire second building. The upshot? The painting went to a Russian oligarch for $127.5 million. And he’s suing the Swiss art dealer who sold it for overcharging him by some $50 million.

So it’s probably best the DMA didn’t buy it.


But you can’t say Anderson wasn’t exciting.

JWNo. Max’s signature achievement was the free admissions policy tied to digitalized audience research. It was a great PR move but also a real innovation. Unfortunately, the anonymous, multi-million-dollar donation that funds it runs out in a year or so. That means, bigger than whether Max was bold or reckless is the question: Will the DMA continue free admissions – long-term?

So what was this about two art prizes?

JWIn October, the Nasher Sculpture Center announced its first award – of $100,000. It’s the only major international prize in sculpture, and the winner, Doris Salcedo, will be here in April. But that same month, the plug got pulled on the ArtPrize. You might have heard of the ArtPrize?

Yeah, I’ve heard of it.

JWIn Grand Rapids, Michigan, judges award $100,000 while regular folks vote for another $100,000 winner — and the city-wide event draws something like half-a-million people to this small-to-medium-sized town in West Michigan, previously best-known as the birthplace of Gerald Ford.

The plan was to franchise this idea to Dallas. Despite its obvious populist appeal and the tourist-trade cash-flow it would generate for downtown Dallas, the plan met with strong resistance from some art establishment types. What you have are competing visions, whether we import a successful idea or generate our own. And the imported one died. Whether anything comparable in terms of widespread buy-in or media attention or tech ingenuity (audiences could vote via cellphone) will ever come out of North Texas remains to be seen. Recall how the Aurora festival fumbled things this year with timing (on the same night as a Mavericks game and the last weekend of the State Fair) with hard-to-see artworks and maddeningly over-crowded transit.

alba detail

Francisco Goya, ‘The White Duchess,’ oil on canvas, 1795 (detail).

Anything else worth mentioning from 2015?

JWThe Meadows’ 50th anniversary. The SMU museum had already been expanding its collection of Spanish masterworks and significantly expanding its pocket change. But this year they brought in big guns like ‘Treasures from the House of Alba,’ which, by the way, closes Sunday. As a show, it’s a jumble — it’s organized according to the dukes who collected, so it helps if you know something about the Alba family history. But as a glimpse into one of the grandest private collections in Europe, it’s simply overwhelming.

And while I’ve returned to touting shows: This week, I re-visited the Kimbell’s exhibition of the painter Gustave Caillebotte. I was struck again with the rewards of going deep into the work of a single artist from the Kimbell’s well-worn visits to Impressionism — instead of offering another grand survey of the period. Whatever you think of Caillebotte’s work (I find his silent contemplation of solitary humans — working-class and fashionable types — profoundly modern), you can’t deny it’s a beautifully mounted show.


Gustave Caillebotte, ‘The Rue Halevy Seen from the Sixth Floor,’ oil on canvas, 1878. Owned by a private Dallas collector.

I also re-visited the Modern Art Museum’s Kehinde Wiley exhibition. Wiley does offer the same idea over and over again – giving contemporary black people the visual glory of traditional, high-art portraits as a way of claiming history and cultural presence for them — but his results are eye-popping. It’s worth noting: At the Kimbell, I overhead Japanese, German and French voices among the holiday visitors crowding the show. At the Modern, I saw a distinctly younger and wider racial range than typically found in our major art museums. And they were basically just across the street from each other.

Oh, and the Wiley show closes next weekend.

Thanks, Jerome.

JWHappy New Year, Justin.