Visual Art

Three Exhibitions at Dallas Museum of Art Offer Glimpse Behind the Curtain

To step into the Dallas Museum of Art this summer is take a peek into the mechanics of a large-scale museum operation. Curators at the DMA are airing out vaults, scouring private collections and presenting new acquisitions, allowing visitors to take pride in the masterpieces in Dallas, but also to glimpse how a museum works.

The latest in this behind-the-curtain exhibition series is Mind's Eye:Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne, which explores the sketches and watercolors by some of history's most well-known artists, including Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Edouard Manet, many of which have been museum holdings for more than 20 years without hanging on the DMA's walls. The special exhibition opens June 29 and runs through October 26.

Certainly the museum is always on display in the permanent collection halls, but these recent exhibitions are putting the museum in front of the public in new ways. Earlier this year, the DMA opened Never Enough: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, which demonstrates the museum's penchant for seeking new art and keeping the collection fresh by curating the latest works to be donated or purchased by the museum. Often when a museum acquires a new work of art, it is given a resting place in the appropriate hall, or stuck into storage until it's sent out on loan or considered appropriate for a specific exhibition. If it's important enough, a press release might be sent out about it and a few magazines might acknowledge its newfound home, but then it's just one more piece a museum owns.

What Never Enough signals is not just the continued commitment to a fresh collection, but also the acknowledgment of the museum as collector - an entity that evolves. Then, The Museum is History, which explores the museum's collection of artworks from 1950-1990, including lesser known works by artists like Jenny Holtzer and David Hammons, alongside the museum's well-known pieces by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

The first project of Gavin Delahunty, The Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, The Museum of History reminds visitors of the important works at the DMA, as well as the scope of the museum's collection. For the exhibition, Delahunty also borrowed from private local collections, demonstrating the importance of relationships between museum and collectors.

Similarly for Mind's Eye, co-curators Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan delved into the museum's holdings, as well as private collections to piece together a stunning exhibition of drawings from some of the 19th and 20th century's most important artists. The works range from preparatory drawings for large-scale paintings we now consider masterpieces by Van Gogh or Degas -- many of which Meslay says he was surprised to discover in the DMA's collection.

While the narrative of the exhibit's organization offers insight into the functions of a museum, the curation takes keen interest in demonstrating the artist process, giving visitors insight into the tools used, as well as the historical context for pieces. Many of the works you'll recognize and others will seem out of character for the artist. Perhaps most interesting is the Piet Mondrian pieces in the exhibition's final room, which include both abstract and concrete pieces.

Perhaps these exhibitions only exist due to lack of traveling exhibitions, but they offer Dallas residents ample reason to take pride in the city's museum and see the collection in a new light.