Art is really about how someone else makes sense of the world and their place in it…the viewer connects with the artist in such a way that the two agree to share their humanity, their hopes, their fears.
– Robert Hoffman, art philanthropist
I flew into Dallas yesterday late afternoon for a morning executive roundtable event to cover and will be hopping on a plane to go back home in the afternoon – a very short business trip. It was fortuitous that I flew out on a Thursday because the Dallas Museum of Art (1717 North Harwood Street, 214.922.1200) is open until 9pm on this day of the week. It was a short walk from the Omni Hotel to the museum district, and a much-needed one after a bumpy descent and landing.
Cindy Sherman: Self-portrait of women
DMA offers free general admission, which is really a gift. Admission to the two exhibits currently on display, Cindy Sherman (through June 9) and Chagall: Beyond Color (the only U.S. venue, through May 26), were $16, which is a bargain in the museum world. I will admit that I didn’t know who Cindy Sherman is, though she is “widely recognized as one of the most important contemporary artists of the last 40 years, and is arguably the most influential artist working exclusively with photography.” Throughout her career, Sherman has taken self-portraits that are a commentary on women in society. She is known for a series of black-and-white self-portraits called “Untitled Film Stills,” in which she portrays herself as various B-grade film characters – the vamp, the housewife, the actress, and so on. The exhibition included a series of recreations of her in famous paintings, as well as a series of beyond-life-size portrayals of the one-percent women in their wealthy splendor. It reminded me a little of Diane Arbus, who is famous for having taken photographs of “marginal” people in our society, because I came away from this exhibit feeling spooked and discomforted, which I’m sure Sherman would feel is a compliment to her art.
Marc Chagall: Way beyond color
I’m familiar with Marc Chagall, but seeing his paintings in person has given me a greater appreciation for his sense of color. Indeed, Picasso once said in the 1950s that when Matisse died, Chagall would be the only painter who understood what color really is. Chagall’s intense reds and blues have a life of their own. I sheepishly admit that I didn’t know Chagall did costume and set decorations for plays and ballets, both in his native Russia after the turn of the century and in New York City during WWII. I also didn’t know that he turned to pottery and collage later in his long career as another way to express himself. One quote of his was particularly moving to me: “Every artist has a homeland, a native town, and though other environments and spheres will exert their influence on him, he will remain forever marked by an essential trait: The scent of his homeland will always live in his work.” I was particularly drawn to his “Nude over Vitebsk.”
Art really does matter
I had the good luck to be in town on this particular Thursday. Locals Quin Matthews and Sharon Benge presented a 45-minute montage of interviews they had conducted with actors, writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, conductors, architects, dancers, and so on for their Art Matters radio show, a local show aired on WRR Classical 101, which debuted in October 1988. They are donating their more than 25,000 interviews and 100 hours of film spanning 25 years of covering the arts to DMA. One of DMA’s executives noted that it’s the single largest media gift, and DMA intends to make these available and searchable on the web so that these historic treasures are accessible to everyone. Stay tuned. (Attendees were given free CDs of interviews with various artists, which I look forward to hearing!)
I’ll share a few inspiring quotes that I got out of the snippets of interviews that were included in the montage. First of all, Quin Matthews is a filmmaker who devotes his life to telling stories. What I noticed right away in the interviews was that he is a good editor. He knew what to keep and what to leave on the cutting floor. It truly is an art to edit – what you leave out is just as important as what you show. How lucky for Matthews and Benge to have spent a quarter century learning about all of these artists and recording the artists’ own words for prosperity. And how lucky for their listeners through the years and now for everyone. Since college, I’ve harbored a secret desire to be a filmmaker, documentary and otherwise, as another medium for storytelling. For now, though, I’ll admire those who have really made filmmaking and storytelling an art.
Matthews and Benge didn’t just focus on local artists. They went to the ends of the world – The Czech Republic, Bolivia, China, Russia, and many other countries – to bring art to their listeners in North Texas. When I listened to the chamber choir, I was reminded of my time in choir in high school. I had forgotten how moved I could be, how my whole body responded and rejoiced when we sang Gregorian chants, Bach, even show tunes from the 1940s. I got the same shot of adrenalin and exuberance listening to classical music performed by the Dallas orchestra and other musical groups.
Happily, I was introduced to artists such as Rusty Scruby, who talked exuberantly about how math and the landscape that numbers make excited him. If you take a look at his art, you will understand how math and numbers are a part of his art. Vernon Fisher talked about how art is a way of understanding the world, how man makes maps, counts things, tries to make sense of the world, as a way to avoid death. Jean Lacey talked about how she wants people to look at art and respond. Dorothea Kelley, a musician who championed chamber music in Dallas, talked about how music can help your life by giving you joy, helping you out at times, and feeding you spiritually.
I came away from DMA nourished on a spiritual and creative level. Not a bad deal for a 36-hour business trip!