Curators were the stars of this year’s roundup of most worthy visual art events. Their perseverance and insightfulness brought succinct, informative exhibitions to Dallas and Fort Worth.
Then there was the generosity of the families that allowed the best of their art collections to be taken off the walls and shipped worlds away for the enjoyment of strangers.
From tightly edited exhibitions to galleries filled with excess, it was a heady year of exhibitions, and seven on this list opened in the fall. So good news if you haven’t had a chance to see them: They are still on view.
1. “Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots”
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On display at the Dallas Museum of Art, this is the year’s most revelatory exhibition.
Curator Gavin Delahunty amassed the largest survey ever assembled of Pollock’s all-black paintings and prints made between 1947 and 1953. These paintings followed the famous drip paintings that brought Pollock to national attention and were so reviled that he didn’t sell a single one during the gallery showings.
Since then, they have come to represent a crucial chapter in his canon and to subsequent generations of painters. Over the past six decades, some works were believed to have been lost; others had never traveled. There were gaping holes.
Delahunty tracked down the missing and presented a group of 30 black paintings with a few precursors and a few that came after, and displayed them in galleries that were reconfigured to look like New York art galleries of the mid-20th century. It’s a walk back to a forgotten time.
The exhibit will be on view through March 20. 1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas. $16. 214-922-1200; www.dma.org.
2. “Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye”
In 1876 and 1877, at the second and third impressionist exhibitions in Paris, Gustave Caillebotte stole the thunder. He was the painter everyone noticed; Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were also-rans.
Then, just as quickly as he rose, he fell from view. Not because he quit painting; quite the contrary, he kept producing art for the next 18 years.
George Shackelford, deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, wrested the best of Caillebotte’s paintings from museums, private collectors and Caillebotte’s heirs to justify reinserting the painter as a member of excellent standing among the impressionists.
As most of the artist’s paintings are privately held, this exhibit is a rarity. “If you want to see Caillebotte’s paintings, you have to go to a retrospective,” says Shackelford.
Fortunately, the Kimbell’s retrospective will remain in town through Feb. 14. 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. $14-$18. 817-332-8451; www.kimbellart.org.
3. “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic”
The last time Wiley was at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, it was 2008 and he was here for a Focus show, one of those three-gallery installations introducing artists who are tracking to be the next big noise.
Wiley proved to be a symphonic crescendo, as can be seen seven short years later at his mid-career retrospective — approximately 60 paintings, sculptures, videos and stained-glass works in “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic.”
This is a spectacular exhibition, curated by Andrea Karnes. It includes his early paintings of young African-American men inserted into the historical portraits of emperors, kings and saints. Lately he has been including women, and their dynamic is very different than that of the men.
In speaking about the contrast, Wiley says, “Within art history there is a type of sexuality that exists when people talk about portraiture. The idea of female beauty is a facile notion. The idea of male beauty in painting is represented by strength, and domination with ease.”
The exhibition is on view through Jan. 10. 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth. $4-$10. 817-738-9215; www.themodern.org.
4. “Being the River, Repeating the Forest”
It has been 30 years since Giuseppe Penone had an exhibition in the United States, and the Nasher Sculpture Center rectified that oversight with this lovely display curated by Jed Morse.
The title is a combination of two of his most famous sculptures. Being the River is two pieces of marble, one tumbled by a river, the other carved by Penone to replicate the block created by water erosion. The chunk rendered by Penone looks Photoshopped; it’s whiter, brighter, less bumpy.
The other work, Repeating the Forest, is a group of large timbers, firs and cedars that were stood on end and had the top half whittled away to reveal the saplings within.
“Observing the wood, its veins, its knots, I am able to imagine the tree that contained and produced the mass of wood, but it is only through slow and careful cutting and following the growth rings that I am able to make the shape of the tree emerge,” the artist says.
Fewer than 20 sculptures are on view, and each is different. It is an inspiring exhibit, quiet and contemplative.
It will be on view through Jan. 10. 2001 Flora St., Dallas. $5-$10. 214-242-5100; www.nashersculpturecenter.org.
5. “Castiglione: Lost Genius. Masterworks on Paper From the Royal Collection”
The Kimbell Art Museum has mounted one of the exhibitions for which it is best known, an exploration of a little-known artist with a great deal to offer.
The artist, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, was a 17th-century Italian thug who was always one step ahead of the posse.
“Just when he was on the verge of establishing himself, he would screw up spectacularly,” says Martin Clayton, head of prints and drawings for the Royal Collection Trust. “We know more about him from courts cases than we do from paintings.”
Almost all of the known biographical information about him is in the 17th-century arrest records of Genoa, Rome, Naples, Venice and Mantua.
When Castiglione died in 1664, at age 54, he left a huge collection of magnificent drawings and a few unremarkable paintings. England’s Queen Elizabeth II owns 250 of the drawings, and it is from the Royal Collection that the exhibit was made.
“Castiglione” will be on view through Feb. 14. 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd. Free. 817-332-8451; www.kimbellart.org.
6. “Treasures From the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting”
The Meadows Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a huge way. To culminate the yearlong celebrations, the museum has brought more than 140 objects from the Alba collection, with thousands of works amassed by marriages, astute acquisitions, commissions and, in one case, almost ruinous collecting.
The story of the Alba family and its intrigues is filled with alliances and marriages with most of Europe’s dynasties, and the record of these is illustrated in the collection’s portraits, created by the most notable painters and sculptors of the time.
The paintings, furnishings, documents, tapestries, drawings, prints, maps and antiquities are from the three Alba palaces in Spain — the Liria in Madrid, Las Dueñas in Seville and Monterrey in Salamanca. There is such a glorious excess that even Fra Angelico’s The Virgin of the Pomegranate, c. 1426, with its eye-catching gold leaf and brilliant colors, is lost among the Titians, Goyas, Riberas, Murillos, Rubenses, Ingreses, Renoirs and Sorollas.
Of the 41 extant documents by Columbus’ hand, the Alba family owns 21. They include a sketched map of his journey to the New World and a log of the sailors who joined his voyage on the Santa Maria in 1492.
They will only be in Texas for a few more days; the exhibit closes after Jan 3. On the Southern Methodist University campus, Dallas. $4-$12. 214-768-2516; www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org.
7. “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures From the American Folk Art Museum”
“Self-Taught Genius” is a collection of the very best items from New York’s American Folk Art Museum that no longer have a home. The treasures are on perpetual tour or in storage.
It is a sad state of affairs, but one that benefits us, as the very best paintings, textiles, needleworks, ceramics, sculptural pieces and drawings — all sorts of things that were made in the early years of North American settlements — are now ensconced at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. These were made by people not trained in the classical art tradition, but out of necessity, and they had a skill or flair.
The works go from sublime to slightly ridiculous, but all of them have a profound sense of purpose. Some of the pieces are utilitarian objects made beautiful with extra care and intent, such as Flag Gate, from around 1876. Others are exquisite artworks, such as Ammi Phillips’ Girl in Red Dress With Cat and Dog.
There are more famous artworks, such as Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks. The proportions are a bit wonky, but the details of the flora and fauna are beautiful. Even the neighborhood kooks are included: Marino Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace/Palazzo is a huge model he built out of junk parts in his back yard. He patented his design for the museum that was to house all the world’s knowledge and inventions.
This exhibit is nearing its end — it will leave town after Jan. 3. 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. Free. 817-738-1933; www.cartermuseum.org.
8. “Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces From the National Galleries of Scotland”
“Botticelli to Braque” was presented at the Kimbell Art Museum over the summer.
The National Galleries of Scotland are actually three entities with holdings of Western art from the Renaissance to the present. They are the Scottish National Gallery (early Western art through the 19th century), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (all portraits) and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (art from the 20th century on). As a family of institutions, it has a fractious history of infighting and territorial disputes, as its members have had to compete for monies and gifts.
In the 1980s, they got a needed financial boost when the British government agreed to accept artworks in lieu of taxes. This has benefited the collections greatly, as pieces by Bernini, Botticelli, Canova, El Greco, da Vinci and Raphael have been added to the index.
The hits from this exhibit neatly paralleled the Kimbell’s own works, so it was like seeing an expanded version of the Kimbell’s impeccable collection.
9. “Indigenous Beauty”
When the Amon Carter Museum added “of American Art” to its masthead five years ago in anticipation of its 50th anniversary, the museum’s holdings of the breadth of American art had a pitiful hole: There was no Native American art on display.
As is so often the case with American history and American art museums, the story of the Americas begins when Christopher Columbus sailed off course.
The Carter began making amends with “Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art From the Diker Collection,” an exhibition of objects from across North America that also included contemporary works from Native American artisans who continue using the media and the iconography of their tribes.
The exhibition has moved on, but in the future, if American art museums would combine contemporary art that acknowledges its roots or its debt to Native American arts, the whole concept of American art would be enriched.
10. “Cultural Affairs, Gallery Night”
While this gallery exhibit was not of the weight of the museum exhibitions, it was another production by entrepreneurs J.W. Wilson and Lauren Childs, who have added a huge jolt of adrenaline to Gallery Night in Fort Worth.
Their three exhibits at the Tilt Room have been a mashup of art, music, fashion, spoken word or something special that brings out the crowds. They have given a needed boost to Gallery Night, as it had become very flat and uninspired. As the gallery numbers shrank, the evening became predictable.
No longer. Through the efforts of Wilson and Childs, the evening has an element of surprise. Look for their productions at Fort Works Art (www.fortworksart.com).
2015 A&E year in review
Friday: Movies, pop music and concerts
Today: Visual art
Dec. 27: Dance, books
Dec. 28: Classical music and opera
Dec. 29: Theater
Jan. 1: Dining