The Dallas Museum of Art Had a Killer Year

Frida Kahlo look-alikes attend the 110th birthday celebration the Dallas Museum of Art threw for the artist in July.EXPAND
Frida Kahlo look-alikes attend the 110th birthday celebration the Dallas Museum of Art threw for the artist in July.
Hannah Ridings

Agustín Arteaga can consider his job very safe. In his first year as the Eugene McDermott director of the Dallas Museum of Art, he's played an instrumental role in attracting 802,870 visitors to the museum, its best attendance in a decade and second highest in history.

More than a sixth of this figure can be attributed to the Mexico 1900-1950 special exhibit, which closed July 16. Arteaga, who was most recently the director of Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, curated it for the Grand Palais in Paris and brought it to the DMA on short notice.

The only exhibit that has done better was 2008's Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, according to a press release issued by the DMA this week.

When the Observer spoke with Arteaga in March, he expressed that Mexico 1900-1950 was in keeping with the museum's history of exhibiting Mexican art and also jibes with a new initiative to make the DMA more accessible, particularly to non-English speakers.

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Mexico 1900-1950, which featured 189 works from more than 60 artists and made its only U.S. visit to the DMA, was presented in both English and Spanish. The exhibit also represented women fairly well, with 10 included, and spawned a number of fun events that brought new people to the museum.

A 110th birthday party for Frida Kahlo drew 5,000 people, DMA's Late Night event in May drew 2,700, and 37,000 people visited the exhibit during this year's Sunday Family Days, when special exhibits (normally $16) were made free through sponsorships.

"The most important is that we want to reinforce, and to grow, and to let people know that the Dallas Museum of Art is really the city museum, and therefore everyone in the city should feel ownership of it," Arteaga said in March.

One of his main challenges when he took the position at the DMA was to increase the museum's visibility and revenue while continuing the free general admission policy that his predecessor, Maxwell Anderson, reinstated during his tenure.

Arteaga seems to be walking this difficult tightrope through the sponsorships he's secured and his choice of programming, which has resulted in a 10 percent uptick in attendance from last year.

"This was the first time [I curated for the DMA], and I would very much like to have the opportunity for a second time," Arteaga said.

Somehow, we have a feeling he'll get the chance.


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