Art From A to Z

The DMA's great American paper chase

Anyone who has visited the Dallas Museum of Art over the years has a favorite from the permanent collection. The space around Jackson Pollock's "Cathedral" is like a time warp, halting passers-by with swirling spatters of orange, white and black paint on a cream- and gray-colored canvas. The first time I saw Frederic Edwin Church's transcendental landscape painting "The Icebergs," I was agog, fascinated by gleaming whites, greens and ambers glowing in the sunset on the vast frozen goliaths. A wildly colored Dale Chihuly blown-glass sculpture climbs the soaring windows in the atrium and has a constant circle of people dining below. These works are the popular kids in the class, the ones that shine the brightest and get the most attention, but the museum's assemblage is more expansive than that.

A new exhibit of American works on paper in the main hallway shows off more than three dozen prints, drawings and watercolors from the permanent collection. The theme of From Albright to Zinnias is as broad as it sounds: American art, on paper and spanning about 200 years. They're displaying well-known artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper as well as lesser-known artists from the American collection. A large color lithograph by Norman Rockwell is everything you'd expect from this master of Americana. "Law Student" appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1927 to celebrate the 118th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. An earnest-looking young man studies as two portraits of Honest Abe keep vigil. But beyond the expected, many of the works by famous names display unanticipated talents and styles. Mexican artist Diego Rivera's work is associated mostly with his murals, but this exhibit displays "Autonetrato (Self-Portrait)," a lithograph that showcases his talent as a portraitist. The Works Progress Administration employed drip-paint master Jackson Pollock during the Great Depression. The exhibit presents "Hayride," a lithograph by the artist that depicts a man shoveling hay as a child sits atop a hay-filled cart. It's an unusual instance of representational work by Pollock, who shortly thereafter began working in the style that defined his career. A preparatory sketch for "That Gentleman" by Andrew Wyeth works out the details of one of the museum's most treasured paintings with pencil lines marking where a crossed leg should be and tempera creating the painting's soft feeling. One of the most visually arresting prints in the exhibit captures the movement of the inventor of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, in ink on paper. Russian-born American artist Abraham Walkowitz made thousands of drawings of Duncan from 1906 to 1927, and these three are vibrating with movement. You can't really walk away from the exhibition and talk about any unifying theme--it's a wild collection of styles, impressive in its breadth and variety and for the unusual look at familiar names.

 
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