Review: ‘Mind’s Eye’ at the Dallas Museum of Art

07/06/2014 12:00 AM

07/02/2014 12:19 PM

The Dallas Museum of Art is hoping you will be so inspired by its summer exhibition that you will begin collecting art and someday show your appreciation by bequeathing all or part of your world-famous collection to the DMA.

The inspirational pieces that are hung to jump-start your collecting urges are the most affordable of artworks: drawings. By showing drawings from 70 artists, including such giants as van Gogh, Picasso, Degas, Modigliani and Pissarro, the museum is suggesting that buying on budget and purchasing early in an artist’s career is the collecting plan that will eventually necessitate a museum home.

Apparently there are a number of Texas families that did exactly that, as the works on exhibit are from the DMA vaults, but even more are from private collections. Some of the families desire to be named on the gallery walls; more of them shun the attribution. It’s a shame, as there are obviously some very astute collectors in our midst.

Unless DMA director Max Anderson is in the galleries to pitch his collection plan, no one would know this is the underlying impetus for the exhibition, as it is a sweet confection, perfect for the summer audience. There are big-name artists to headline, sightings of rarely exhibited works, oddities from some of the artists’ oeuvre and valentines to the local collectors who have given works to the Dallas museum and may have more to bequeath.

The DMA’s senior curator of European and American art, Olivier Meslay, and William B. Jordan, former director of the Meadows Museum of Art and former deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, organized the exhibit of more than 120 works on paper.

Meslay said originally they were looking at all of the DMA’s holding of works on paper but found that the strength was in the 150-year period from the French Revolution to the advent of modernism, so those periods became the bookends.

The backbone of the exhibition is from the DMA’s Wendy and Emery Reves collection, which consists of more than 1,400 works by impressionists, post-impressionists and early modernists. The Reveses also collected frames, often searching for works of art long after the frames had been purchased.

Some of these frames without designated artworks were used to give more modestly framed pieces a greater presence.

Most of the drawings in the DMA’s show were envisioned as finished works, and they are framed with the same fanfare given paintings of the same period. Colorful pastels and watercolors help engage the visitor’s eye. There is nothing on display that suggests studio scraps.

In comparison, the Meadows Museum of Art in Dallas has a drawing show running concurrently of older works by Spanish artists. The pieces in the Meadows’ galleries are rarely finished compositions; they are explorations for future paintings or prints, and are presented in less-elaborate frames. The difference in presentation is quite startling.

Standouts in the DMA show are the drawings by Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne, which is no surprise, as they were assiduous draftsmen.

But there are pieces by lesser-known artists who deserve an equally long look, such as the magnificent renderings of harvest workers by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, the incomparable details of a slightly seedy soldier by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, the portrait of a frustrated woman who is chewing on her hair by Frederick Sandys and the profile of a beautiful young woman against a riotous floral background by Ernest Bieler.

Meslay and Jordan authored a lively catalog to accompany the exhibition. It is a pleasure to read and includes essays by curators from the DMA and other North Texas institutions, such as George T.M. Shackelford, deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, and Jed Morse from the Nasher Sculpture Center.

The economic pinch of the past several years is showing in the museum’s exhibition schedules. As exhibits are often three to five years in the making, the belt-tightening has caught up to the calendar.

When faced with a lack of traveling exhibitions or roaming blockbusters, the DMA had to conceive its own from its storehouses and from the living rooms of its patrons. The result is one of its most successful enterprises of late.

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