December 23, 2011

Take a look at our timeline and you will agree: It was a very good year for the visual arts

A look at the best art museum exhibits of 2011 suggests that Fort Worth and Dallas institutions synchronized their calendars to provide an uninterrupted string of great shows.

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A look at the best art museum exhibits of 2011 suggests that Fort Worth and Dallas institutions synchronized their calendars to provide an uninterrupted string of great shows. There was a brief lull during the summer, which was understandable as it was so beastly hot, but the spring shows continued through most of the meltdown, and when fall finally arrived, there was another round of stellar exhibitions -- most of which are still on display.

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth began the greatness in January with "Ed Ruscha: Road Tested," and the Dallas Museum of Art closed 2011 with "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk."

The year was not without turmoil, as there were significant upheavals in the management echelons at the local museums -- many more than in years past. The ramifications of the comings and goings will be felt dramatically in the years to come.

And even though the economy seemed to be in a continual downward spiral, there was an acquisition of major proportions at the Kimbell Art Museum, and a new gallery opened in Fort Worth.

All of the major museums had a standout exhibit during the 12-month period, so the Best-Of list is chronological, not qualitative.

Each of these exhibits was exemplary -- a perfect fit with its host institution. And amid the calendar of great exhibits, there were moments of sadness and exaltation.

January : "Ed Ruscha: Road Tested" opens at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The Oklahoman who traveled to California found his greatest inspiration behind the wheel of a car.

February: "The Lost Manuscripts From the Sistine Chapel: An Epic Journey From Rome to Toledo:" Forty illuminated manuscripts made for the Sistine sacristy or pope's library, which were saved from Napoleon's sacking of Rome, go on display at the Meadows Museum.

"The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision" at the Amon Carter Museum of Art presents some of the most glorious landscapes of American art. The timing of this exhibit coincides with the arrival of the Carter's new director, Andrew Walker, who takes up residence just as the museum began a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary.

March: Brand 10 art space opens in Fort Worth, breathing new life into a decimated gallery scene in the city.

April: Bonnie Pitman announces her resignation, for health reasons, as director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

May: "Picasso and Braque: The Cubist Experiment, 1910-1912:" A tough-to-love art movement is made palatable with deft illustrations and insight by the Kimbell Art Museum's staff of curators and conservators.

June: "Silence and Time," at the Dallas Museum of Art, provides a contemplative discourse on the way we experience time.

July: The Kimbell announces the hiring of curator George Shackelford, who will report for duty as the senior deputy director next month.

August: "African Headwear Beyond Fashion" opens at the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibit of head coverings that signify status, gender, military rank, hunting prowess and religious or tribe affiliation runs through Jan. 1.

September: The Kimbell Art Museum buys Nicolas Poussin's Sacrament of Ordination for $24.3 million.

Supremely talented Fort Worth artist Kirk Hayes has a rare gallery exhibition at Conduit Gallery in Dallas.

The Nasher Sculpture Center mounts its best exhibit to date in "Tony Cragg: Seeing Things." It closes Jan. 8.

October: The Kimbell Art Museum does the impossible, bringing in 10 paintings by the Italian baroque master Caravaggio and more than 40 works by artists who were highly influenced by him. "Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome" proves to be a crowd-pleaser; it will remain on display through Jan. 8.

Talented contemporary British artist Nigel Cooke brings a large group of his most recent paintings to the Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas; they will be in residence through Feb. 18.

The Dallas Museum of Art announces hiring visionary director Maxwell Anderson away from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He arrives with the new year.

November: Malcolm Warner, the highly creative and beloved deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, is lured away by the Laguna Art Museum in Southern California to be its director.

"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk," something entirely new and different for the Dallas Museum of Art, opens. The retrospective of the wildly creative designs of the French fashion designer, along with a rare glimpse of the sublime artistry of French couture, runs through Feb. 12.

Gaile Robinson is the Star-Telegram art and design critic, 817-390-7113Twitter: @gailerobinson

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