William Jordan turned SMU’s Meadows Museum into one of the world’s great collections of Spanish art, then went on to build and influence collections elsewhere, from Texas to Spain. Jordan died this week at 77, and KERA contributor Quin Mathews interviewed and filmed Jordan over the years. He remembers this remarkable authority on art.
“El filántropo, mecenas e historiador,” – the Philanthropist, patron and historian – reads the story in Spain’s newspaper El Pais, as word spread that Bill Jordan had died.
He was an art superstar, a scholar who wrote books, organized exhibitions, and built collections, the first in Dallas in 1967.
“When I was very young, just having finished my doctorate at NYU, I was approached about being the director of the Meadows Museum,” he told me in an interview.
“And I had never heard of it. I came to Dallas to look into it and was amazed that it was not very good. Finally the University and Mr. Meadows reached the same conclusion and agreed that they would like to start over with the Museum, and they offered me the job, and I took it… to essentially build from scratch building a collection of Spanish pictures that would live up to the expectations that Mr. Meadows had had originally when he thought that’s what he was doing several years before.”
After 14 years, Jordan became deputy director of Kimbell Museum where we filmed this interview in 2007:
“I went from what had been one dream job to another one and to be able to build an institution that had never put on or organized exhibitions of its own until that point. Uh we began doing that in a big way and we began an aggressive exhibitions campaign to rebuild and expand the collection.
“Finally in 1990 at the age of fifty I decided to follow my father’s example who had retired at the age of 49. And I’ve been having the third time of my life ever since. I have published my most important books, done my most important exhibitions uh at institutions like the National Gallery of London, Museo del Prado and the Patrimonio Nacional in Madrid.”
Jordan was a trustee of the Nasher Foundation, The Dallas Museum of Art and Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa. A collector of modern and contemporary art, he nonetheless held some art-making in disdain.
“Well there’s a lot wrong about art now. I mean so much of the art today is silly. It is It’s hard to find art of very great quality today. But it does exist.”
In 1988 Bill Jordan, the art detective, purchased a work of rare quality. As he suspected, and years later it was confirmed, it was by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez. He donated it to the Prado, a fitting act of generosity from a man who came to Dallas over 50 years ago and built a lasting connection to Spanish art.