With two intimate exhibitions featuring contemporary artists and a reinstallation of its European galleries, the Dallas Museum of Art is hosting the dinner party of an art lover's dreams.
Now on view through March 22 in the DMA's Hoffman Galleries, "Focus On: Alex Katz" and "Focus On: Ragnar Kjartansson" explore the world of two contemporary artists from different generations through their most engaging works.
Alex Katz is one of his generation's most widely recognized artists and will be honored at TWO x TWO for AIDS and Arts annual gala on October 26. At the center of the gallery is Katz's 1968 "One Flight Up," a series of cut-out portraits of the artists closest friends. "This is a static party," Anna Katherine Brodbeck, the DMA's Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, said. "It's a snapshot of the artistic milieu that Alex was a part of in New York in the 1960s."
Among the portraits are Ada Katz, the artist's wife, and dancer and choreographer, Paul Taylor. Ron Padgett, a poet and editor, appears with his wife and young son. Walking around the collection of portraits reveals the subjects' personalities and relationships with each other.
"'One Flight Up' conjures going up a flight of stairs in a New York City apartment building. People look like they are frozen mid-conversation. There's an ambiguity between whether or not they are in deep exchange or if they are looking out into the distance. Either way, you are immersed into this scene," Brodbeck said.
On view alongside "One Flight Up" are Katz's landscape paintings, including a 2019 painting the DMA will acquire and four works from private Dallas collections. Katz intends his landscapes to be deeply engaging. "He talks about them being environments for the visitors to walk into," Brodbeck said.
Katz paints quickly, knowing exactly how much paint to load on his brush. He doesn't let his age deter him from creating large-scale works. "This painting is 12 feet high. Alex is 92 years old and he still gets on a ladder to paint," Brodbeck said. "It shows what's available to artists after painting for so many years."
"Focus On: Ragnar Kjartansson" opens with "Postcards to Marguerite," a series of postcards Dallas arts patron Marguerite Hoffman commissioned from the Icelandic artist. Kjartansson created the 415 postcards over 14 months between 2010 and 2011. The postcards are a snapshot in the day in the life of the artist, depicting everything from what he ate one day, his anticipation of the birth of his first child and his anxiety about his blossoming career. "You see a lot of very personal moments in the artist's life," Brodbeck said. "This gives a real sense of how the personal intertwines in Ragnar's work."
Recently selected by "The Guardian" as the #1 pick in the publication's "Best Art of the 21st Century," "The Visitors" plays on a continuous loop in an adjacent gallery. The nine-channel video was filmed at the 200-year-old Rokeby Farm, a magnificently aging home in Hudson Valley, New York. At the DMA, screens featuring musician friends of the artist, the artist in a bathtub, and gathering of people on the home's porch line a long, darkened gallery.
The artist and his friends repeatedly sing plaintive lyrics from a poem by Ásdis Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson's former wife, "Once again I'm falling into my feminine ways." "There are stars exploding around you/And there is nothing/Nothing you can do."
Nothing much happens in "The Visitors" and yet it is hypnotic. At the beginning of the 64-minute film, the musicians perform in separate rooms. Eventually they move through the house, congregating in one room before heading outside to frolic. The artist eventually leaves his bathtub and never wears anything more than a towel. It is a bohemian house party of artists, a communal melancholy and a romantic elegy on idealism. "There's always a sense of heartbreak that you see in the work," Brodbeck said.
On the second floor of the museum, the newly reinstalled European galleries offer fresh insight into the DMA's holdings of European art. The prompt for the reinstallation was the final bequest of 32 works from Margaret and Eugene McDermott's collection. The nineteenth and early twentieth-century artworks strengthen the DMA's collection of Impressionist and Modern art.
The McDermotts intended the gifted works to be incorporated into the collection, allowing curators to tell new stories within the European galleries. "I was given an incredible challenge and not a lot of time and also really very little construction to rethink the galleries and try to figure out how to incorporate the great McDermott gift while keeping masterpieces on the floor. What you're going to find as you go throughout is that it is a much denser hang," Dr. Nicole R. Myers, the DMA's Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art, said.
Adding to the McDermott gift are artworks in the museum's collection that have not been seen in years. "It also gave me an opportunity for me to rethink things that have been in storage for a variety of reasons, including sometimes condition. We identified works to be restored expressly to have them come back on the floor. So, you'll see sculptures and paintings that our conservators have been happily working on for nine months," Myers said.
The combination of a denser hang, the McDermott bequest and the restored works result in a different kind of party where artists speak through artistic developments of the era, constantly evolving the conversation through the centuries.
Like all the best parties, "Focus On: Alex Katz," "Focus On: Ragnar Kjartansson" and the European galleries do not cost anything to enjoy. The exhibitions are part of the DMA's free admission policy.
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