For years outside the Dallas Museum of Art, there’s been a large-scale, super-poster size image of Watch (1925) by Gerald Murphy, one of my favorite pieces in the museum’s entire collection. To borrow a line from Peter Schjeldahl’s Aug. 6 review in the New Yorker of the show of Murphy’s works, “Making It New” at Williams College, “Usually, I’m unbeguiled by the rich and glamorous, and I attended “Making It New” in a resisting mood. Then I looked. Gerald’s paintings are a gold standard that backs, with creative integrity, the paper money of the couple’s legend.”
Watch manages to be elegantly cubist, to anticipate Pop Art (as did Murphy’s earlier Razor at the DMA), to suggest an “exploded” rendering in a technical manual and to make the abstracted everyday object into a talisman of shining power and fascination. It is also, simply, a gorgeous piece of work.
The DMA was instrumental in rekindling the Murphys’ fame with a 1960 show of the handful of his works that remain — not surprisingly, then, the “Making It New” exhihbition is coming to the DMA next June. The Murphy legend — wealth, fame, physical beauty, sexual dalliances, artistic patronage and a brief, glittering foray into creative genius — the Murphy legend, after all, ends in loss: the death of both sons, the end of the Lost Generation, an unwanted return to the family business and an almost careless loss of many of Gerald’s works. In this regard, critics, for all their praise of Watch, have never seemed to notice its theme: the measurement and passing of time. Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust.
Every so often, I will duck into the DMA’s gift shop and ask whether there are any plans to sell Watch as a poster. That thing outside certainly looks like a giant poster. The shop clerks are always befuddled by my question. No, they don’t have one, haven’t heard anything about one.
Too bad. It’d probably sell. Perhaps someone at the DMA might reconsider — now that the museum’s literary series, Arts & Letters Live, will be presenting “Blithe Spirits: Songs, art, poetry and letters celebrating the legacy of Sara and Gerald Murphy” on June 14.
I’d buy a copy.