The uncertainty in the current climate has us all seeing life, and art, through a new lens. The Dallas Museum of Art invites us to examine these challenges — along with the hope and resilience born from them — through their new exhibition, To Be Determined, which opened this week.
Drawn from the DMA’s own encyclopedic collection, the cross-departmental exhibition is the collaboration of the museum’s entire 12-person curatorial team led by Sarah Schleuning, interim chief curator and The Margot B. Perot senior curator of decorative arts and design; Dr. Mark A. Castro, Jorge Baldor curator of Latin American art; and Vivian Crockett, the Nancy and Tim Hanley assistant curator of contemporary art.
Organized virtually during the DMA’s five-month shutdown, To Be Determined unconventionally pairs works from past and present, spanning time, geography and culture in open-ended ways, encouraging viewers to experience the works through a new perspective.
Pre-COVID, exhibitions were typically based on historical themes or single artists. To Be Determined is a reimagining of what art looks like in this new era.
“I think like a lot of museums, our museum was interested in drawing an exhibition out of our own collections,” Heather Ecker, the Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W Lentz curator of Islamic and Medieval art, says. “It has to do with the fact that it's very difficult now to work on loan shows; all of those shows have been pushed back. We also wanted to speak to the moment.
"All of the curators felt very strongly that we wanted to do something that was relevant to our times and everything that's happening because we're all affected by the same things.”
On view in the museum’s Chilton Galleries, the collection explores themes relating to the ongoing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as systemic racism. Works by historic and contemporary artists —including Frederic Edwin Church, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Mel Bochner, Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, Adam Pendleton and Hiroshi Yoshida, among others — are loosely grouped into seven chapters relating to endurance, resilience, struggle, belonging, love, discord and balance. The presentation includes recent DMA acquisitions by Thornton Dial, Jeffrey Gibson, Glenn Ligon, Isamu Noguchi, Lorna Simpson, Matthew Wong and Charles White.
Included in the collection is a reconceptualized version of Ini Archibong’s "theoracle," an interactive sound installation originally commissioned by the DMA pre-shutdown for speechless: different by design. In To Be Determined, the originally bright, touch-activated installation is transformed into a dimmed, untouchable response to the pandemic and racial tensions as experienced by Archibong.
Three new works from Dallas-based artists Oshay Green and Jammie Holmes are also on display in To Be Determined. These are the first acquisitions for the museum by Crockett, who joined the DMA in March right before it shut down. The two large-scale paintings by Holmes displayed in the center gallery, "Four Brown Chairs" and "Tired" (2020), were commissioned by the DMA during the museum’s closure. A self-taught artist raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Holmes’ work explores what it was like to grow up Black in the South, drawing strength from family traditions and culture but also exhaustion from racial persecution.
Crockett sees the challenges of curating a collection during the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new ways of experiencing art.
“It was an invitation to be more experimental,” she says. “I think for museums to remain relevant we need to think of new ways of doing our work — and doing it thoughtfully. We're not just throwing things together for the fun of it. Some of it there's more risk-taking than in other scenarios, but there is logic behind these choices. You can do bold, innovative pairings but still maintain the rigor and the complexity of why things are in dialogue."
"I think that's the piece that we need to move toward," Crockett continues. "Encouraging new ways of thinking that are still rooted in art history can still be educational but have this potential to open up new conversation. I hope we got some of that done here.”
Due to the pandemic, To Be Determined also has a virtual component that allows audiences to view the exhibition online. The companion website offers an interactive tour and resources to explore the themes of the work.
For those who prefer to see To Be Determined in person, the exhibition will be on view through December 27, 2020. Tickets can be reserved online at DMA.org/visit.