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For Art's Stake

Matisse's "Ivy in Flower," a paper collage from 1953

The Dallas Museum of Art's new exhibit, European Masterworks, The Foundation for the Arts Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art, contains more than 100 works produced between 1700 and 1950 by Europe's great masters.

These paintings, sculptures and works on paper by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec have been pulled from the museum's vaults and permanent galleries, dusted off and reinstalled in the large, downstairs J.E.R. Chilton galleries in the order in which they were produced.

There are new placards connecting the themes, styles and relationships of the work and adding context to the brushstrokes, line drawings and dried clay.

All in all, it's the kind of history-based exhibit for which those who love viewing great (and famous) art usually give a museum a pat on the back. Too bad the museum started giving itself the high fives and backslapping before the show even opened.

The exhibit, as the part of the title following the comma suggests, is a self-congratulatory display to kick off a two-year celebration of the museum's 100-year anniversary in 2003. It shows the kind of art that benefactors' money can buy when it's thrown at a foundation with a thirst for big names.

Along with honoring the included artists and their work, European Masters pays equal tribute to the foundation and the people behind the money. But the aesthetic value of the art could speak for itself. And it should.


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