Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Art Museum Visits

Lately I've been popping into museums.

The Dallas Museum of Art has instituted a new free-entry policy which I think is wonderful... and probably good business too.  Until recently there was a charge to just stick your head in any of the galleries of the permanent collection, plus an extra charge to see any traveling exhibits.  Now those traveling shows still require a ticket: a hefty $16 to view three, I think, shows... one of them of Greek statues from the British Museum however, so cheaper than the usual plane ticket to see the Discobolus.

But now the permanent collection is FREE.  A price anyone can afford.  Museums, supported as they are by civic money and centers of civic pride, really should be accessible to all citizens.

There did now seem to be more people in the museum than has been true.  (Once inside the door, I bet more end up paying for the traveling exhibits too.)

I took my intern 'round a few weeks back to see the DMA's furniture and decorative arts.  The DMA really is a great teaching aid!  Their furniture collection got a serious start with the Bybee Collection of early American furniture and for years they've been adding pieces from other periods and places.  Recently they revamped a room of Craftsman and Arts and Crafts objects that includes a spectacular Tiffany stained glass door and sidelights (almost) looted from Greene and Greene's Blacker House.

Now that these collections are free, folks like me or my student can afford to visit and revisit to really study these objects.  This past weekend - having a little extra time - I visited the Dallas Museum of Art just for fun and said hello to all my favorites.

Love, love, love the new free entry policy.

The most exciting traveling exhibit I've seen lately - for free yet - was yesterday at Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum of American Art.  This museum has had an interesting development too, from its start with a collection of excellent Western art (The Old West, like cowboys), adding/building a serious photography collection, to its present impressive collection of American art (like N. American).  The permanent collection is well worth a visit.  And always free.

The traveling exhibit?

Poseidon by Romare Bearden - believed fair use as this is a review 
and for educational purposes, image found HERE.  Copyright, of course, Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.  Now I have to admit to a shameful ignorance of Mr. Bearden until almost ten years ago when the DMA had a show of his collages.  Since I make collages myself, I was absolutely fascinated with his work.  The colors!  The shapes!  The meticulous craftsmanship.

He goes about his art differently...  Where I use "found" pictures to create my narratives, he sometimes does that - usually to create human figures - but mainly uses cut/shaped colored paper in a Matisse-like, mosaic-like way.  One technique that intrigued me was that he sometimes sands the glued down papers to abrade and soften colors and edges.  The work in that show concentrates on the history and experience of African-American life, often with an urban flavor, and always with an emotional sound-track of jazz and blues... music which the artist said inspired his collage technique.

The show at the Amon Carter featured Bearden's ink drawings inspired by Homer's The Illiad and his images, both collage and later watercolor, for The Odyssey.  These are not exactly illustrations of Homer's story so much as a retelling of the legend, emphasizing and underlining elements that spoke personally to Bearden, who had long studied the story.  The first, most obvious, difference in interpretation is that Bearden has made the characters black and often specifically African, like his impressive Poseidon.  (All kinds of societal/historical commentary with that choice... also much bolder graphics, having crisp black cut-outs instead of wimpy pinky-tan ones.)  The Odyssey becomes here a metaphor for the African diaspora.  Another striking re-emphasis is the strength of all his female characters.

There is little use of found images, instead Bearden uses those strongly Matisse-like fragments of paper but in colors even Matisse might not have dared.  Gorgeous!

There's a quote in the explanatory film about use of color in Bearden's career: "He wouldn't let himself use color until he could use color 'that would walk around like the big men.'"

There are big men and women in his Odyssey.

The Smithsonian's explanatory film is a You Tube video HERE.

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