‘To Be Determined' Brings Together Dallas Museum of Art's Departments to Explore Pandemic Days

Cross-department exhibition on view through December 27

To Be Determined at Dallas Museum of Art
John Smith/courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art

“To Be Determined”, now on view at the Dallas Museum of Art through December 27, is as unusual as 2020. When the Dallas Museum of Art closed to the public in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the curators continued to work from home, exploring the museum’s encyclopedic collection for works that resonate with current era of uncertainty and determined resilience.

“To Be Determined” is in the Chilton Gallery and borrows the same layout of “speechless: different by design,” an interactive exhibition forced to close early. Ini Archibong modified theoracle, an interactive sound installation originally commissioned by the museum for “speechless: different by design,” wrapping it in yellow caution tape and keeping visitors at a distance.

To Be Determined Dallas Museum of Art Sound, Silence, Discord
John Smith/Courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art
Ini Archibong modified theoracle for the "Sound, Silence, Discord" gallery of "To Be Determined" exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The museum’s entire 12-person curatorial collaborated during the pandemic to bring together diverse works of arts exploring themes of resilience, identity and racism magnified by the crisis of the pandemic. The pandemic forced the curators to work in a different way: virtually. “This is a first: to be installing partially by video call,” Nicole R. Myers, Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art, said.

The exhibition features 13 new acquisitions and three major paintings by Dallas-based artists, including the debut of two large-scale paintings by Jammie Holmes in the exhibition’s central gallery. The Dallas-based artist creates paintings that reflect on his childhood memories of growing up in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The works, Four Brown Chairs and Tired, depict scenes from the day of his cousin’s funeral and reveal the intimate sorrow of a grieving family.

Dominating a gallery focused on “Endure, Dream, Awaken,” D’mba, a headdress of the Baga peoples, represents the universal mother. “It represents a woman, a mature woman. We know that she is a mature woman who gave birth and nursed many children because her boobs are sagging,” Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa and Americas, and the Pacific and the Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, said.

A strong young man wore the large headdress during ceremonies celebrating life. “She is the kind of spirit you would want present in happy times because she is inspirational and aspirational,” Walker said. “She’s going to be here no matter what, to inspire, to encourage, to make sure life goes on.”

To Be Determined Endure Dream Awaken
John Smith/courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art
"Endure, Dream, Awaken" at Dallas Museum of Art's "To Be Determined"

In the same gallery is the dramatic painting, The Sacrifice of Isaac, attributed to Antonio Pereda y Salgado. “It’s this big powerful work of art that is really a moment of faith,” Myers said. “It really is about spiritually, about how artists find hope – whether it is in religion, whether it is in nature – what is it in the environment around them that gives them strength and allows us to move through dark times.”

Near D’mba is the oldest work in the exhibition, The White Vine, a folio from a dispersed manuscript of Dioscurides’ pharmacopoeia On Medical Materials in Arabic. It dates to 1224. “The manuscript really represents the consciousness about the production of knowledge, the transmission of knowledge, the reception of knowledge and then forwarding and advancing of knowledge over time,” Heather Ecker, The Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art, said.

Two paintings are featured in the gallery dedicated to “Landscape, Struggle, Color.” Frederic Edwin Church’s The Icebergs previewed to the public eight days after the Civil War began. It represents man’s struggle with the natural world. Lorna Simpson’s Blue Turned Temporal, created in 2019, features a similar icy landscape with strips of words and images of black women breaking through the natural landscape.

To Be Determined Landscape Color Struggle
John Smith/Courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art
"Landscape, Color, Struggle" at the Dallas Museum of Art's "To Be Determined"

Simpson’s work speaks to the struggle of black women challenging the landscape of society. “It’s poignant in a way that this painting that was created on the cusp of the Civil War brought on by the issue of slavery, is juxtaposed with a work by a black woman who is speaking about black voices, specifically those of black women, breaking through, bringing light to the darkness,” Sue Canterbury, Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art, said.

Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (America) illuminates a gallery focused on “Language, Belonging, Communication.” The neon sign spells America backwards. Coupled with Adam Pendleton’s Untitled (We Are Not) and Mel Bochner’s Language Is Not Transparent, the work investigates what it is to be American.  “Part of that is questioning the legibility of our national identity right now. We are in a very divisive moment and America means different things to people right now. It is questioning how language shapes the national project,” Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, said.

To Be Determined Language Belonging Communication
John Smith/courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art
"Language, Belonging, Communication" at Dallas Museum of Art's "To Be Determined"

Spanning seven centuries, this exhibition captures the emotions of this contemporary moment. “’To Be Determined’ explores how amidst so much uncertainty art can be both a stabilizer and a provocateur,” Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, said. “Art invites us to process and understand what’s happening around us, and as our personal and collective circumstances change, we can all find relevance and uncover new meanings.”

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