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Dallas sheds new light on art treasures.

On September 26, 1993, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) celebrates its ninetieth anniversary by inaugurating The Museum of the Americas, and with it a unique vision of the history of art in the Western Hemisphere. This new wing is housed in the Nancy and Jake Hamon Building, designed by the architect of the original 1984 building, Edward Larrabee Barnes, and constructed in response to the phenomenal growth in the collections of the DMA, which doubled in number between 1984 and 1990.

Two monumental works by modern Mexican masters, both made for Dallas in the early 1950s, greet visitors to the Hamon Building and announce the theme of the Americas. Miguel Covarrubias's glass mosaic mural Genesis, originally commissioned for the Stewart Title Company Building, has been moved to the DMA and placed outside in the grove opposite the Hamon Tower Entrance. Just inside, the great Atrium is dominated by a single work of art, Rufino Tamayo's moving mural on the subject of human aspiration, El Hombre, which Stanley Marcus commissioned for the Museum.

The three-story, 140,000-square-foot Hamon Building fulfills several important functions. Visitors now enter the DMA from underground parking through the handsome Tower that takes its place on the skyline of the modern city. They are received and oriented on the ground floor of the building in the soaring three-story Atrium. Also on the ground floor is a grand new temporary exhibition space. At 14,000 square feet, it can easily hold two normal-size exhibitions or accommodate a mega-show.

The second floor is given to education, which lies at the heart of the DMA's mission. Fully half of those who attend the Museum annually are children and adults who have come for a formal program of one kind or another, including concerts, lectures, and guided tours. Innovative in its conception, the Education Resource Center brings together for unrestricted public access all of the documents, tools, and personnel that can assist visitors in learning about works of art. The Mayer Library, Visual Resource Library (slides and photographs), and collection records (both on computer and in hard copy) are here, open to the public for consultation. There are several classrooms, where groups can meet prior to or after their sessions in the galleries.

The DMA has been reorganizing its collections into a series of museums within the Museum. The brainchild of the Museum's former director, Richard Brettell, this scheme is ideally suited both to the broad range of cultures in the permanent collection and to the modular structure of Edward Barnes' building, which is a sequence of pavilions linked by stairs. Works of art made before 1945 are first grouped geographically, then within those groups they are installed chronologically. Thus the DMA presents, through holdings in the permanent collection, a series of histories of art in galleries labeled, respectively, the Museum of the Americas, the Museum of Africa, the Museum of Asia, and the Museum of Europe. The last of these, the Museum of Contemporary Art, brings together art created around the globe since 1945.

The Museum of the Americas, on the third floor, crowns the Hamon Building, literally and figuratively, with a dazzling, dramatic display. Visitors to the DMA can travel in time and space through the Western Hemisphere, seeing art that represents three thousand years of human culture throughout the Americas. That the indigenous arts of the Americas are brought together with the arts of European-American civilization as a continuous story already distinguishes this installation. Even more unusual is the fact that visitors to the DMA begin their journey through the entire history of art not with ancient Egypt or Greece, but with ancient America.

The first gallery of the Museum of the Americas is thematic, rather than chronological. Nine works of art dramatically installed in the intimate American Visions Gallery confront visitors with the visual, spiritual, and emotional power of native American objects. Each was made by a different indigenous culture, and each has a different function from the others. Yet each--whether the Jalisco terracotta seated figure (Mexico, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250), the Maya ceramic peccary pot (Mexico, A.D. 200-600), or the late nineteenth century Inuit seal or sea otter mask--tells a compelling story in the mythology of the culture that produced it.

Then the narrative proper begins. The next two galleries celebrate the artistic traditions of ancient Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama. The first is devoted to two Peruvian cultures from the first millennium B.C. Here, and throughout the galleries of indigenous American art, only the most remarkable objects from our large holdings are displayed; others will be shown in a Study Gallery nearby. Seven superb black ceramic vessels associated with the Chavin culture are arranged in a small temple-like structure within the room. The rest of the space is held by masterpieces from Paracas, including an extraordinary embroidered alpaca mantle from about 300 B.C., which survives intact.

Moving through the galleries and through historic time, the sensitive visitor will notice that each room is larger than the last, and has a higher ceiling. The ever-expanding spaces reflect the expansion of art-producing peoples as time progresses. The large cases that subdivide the later Andean gallery were specially designed so that we can install changing selections from the holdings of ancient textiles that are just one outstanding aspect of the Nora and John Wise Collection. Thus, Nasca and Huari weavings can be juxtaposed with the ceramic arts of the same peoples. Other treasures here include a Chimu featherwork collar also from Peru, as well as a gold pectoral from ancient Ecuador and ceramics from Costa Rica.

The arts of Mesoamerica, including the present-day area of Guatemala and Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador, and most of Mexico, fill the last and largest gallery of ancient American art. From Tikal, to Teothihuacan, to Tenochtitlan, ancient Mesoamerican civilization is associated with monumental architecture. In ascending the grand staircase of the Hamon Building from the Atrium to the Museum of the Americas, visitors may well recall climbing such pyramids. On arrival there, they are greeted outside the Mesoamerican gallery by the great ceramic Mixtec rain god Tlaloc, which was originally part of an architectural ensemble. For the most part, however, our Mesoamerican objects are relatively small in scale.

Within the Mesoamerican gallery is a large enclosure, the walls of which are pierced with niches in which individual objects are displayed, dramatically lit with fiber optics. Texas is an important center in the field of Maya studies, and a superb collection of Maya works occupies the center of this enclosure. Advances in decoding Maya glyphs has enabled researchers and anthropologists to interpret the stories inscribed on objects of all sizes--from a tiny incised bone, a talisman depicting a royal accession scene, to a monumental wall panel, which was an architectural decoration. Among the other extraordinary objects in the collection is an eccentric flint, carved masterfully to represent a creation myth of royal descent into the underworld. The outer walls of the enclosure display other treasures of ancient Mesoamerica: Olmec jadeite objects such as the handsome mask; lively ceramic figures and animals from the tombs of the Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima in western Mexico; and objects from the major centers of Teotihuacan and Monte Alban, as well as from the Mixtec and Aztec peoples whom Cortes encountered in 1521.

One emerges from the sequence of ancient American galleries into a great Processional Gallery. Adjacent to the arts of ancient Mesoamerica are textiles of the modern Maya from Guatemala, a strong point in the collection. The rest of this gallery is devoted to the later native arts of North America. One moves north through both narrative and actual space. Here, the Museum has enhanced its own collections with some outstanding loans to better represent American Indian heritage. Also on view are the finest among important holdings in the ceramics of the Hohokam, Anasazi, and Mimbres cultures, made in about 1000 in the present-day Southwest U.S.A. These are displayed adjacent to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Pueblo ceramics, some on loan from the School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a blanket of the modern Navajo, from the same region. A child's beaded shirt from the Northern Cheyenne represents the DMA's nascent collection of Plains Indian art. Important loans from the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, focusing on the Southern Plains to which Texas belongs, constitute a unique representation of the ornaments of masculine hunting culture versus those of feminine domestic life: all are splendidly decorated. Finally, we arrive at the arts of the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic, including a marvelous group of spirit masks that were used by Inuit, or Eskimo, shamans.

The Processional Gallery terminates in the most dramatic room of all, the Treasury Gallery. The square exterior profile of the Hamon Tower conceals a barrel-vaulted space 43 feet high, containing a treasury of ancient America, one of the finest collections of Pre-Columbian gold in the United States. Acquired in 1976 from Nora and John Wise, the collection represents, with high-quality examples, most of the major gold-producing cultures of ancient Peru, Colombia, and Panama. Key works of the Sican culture from ancient Peru include the funerary mask of a Sican lord, and a group of gold cups, also part of a burial cache. Fine pieces from Colombia and Panama, including a Calima Pectoral with two heads in relief are also present.

The objects in the final part of the Museum of the Americas trace European civilization in the Americas from colonial to modern times. The first gallery is dedicated to the arts of the Spanish colonists, principally in Mexico, or New Spain. This installation is centered on a new acquisition, a magnificent inlaid cabinet, made for Don Melchor Portocarrero, viceroy of both Mexico (1686-88) and Peru (1689-1705). This exotic piece of furniture, with its tortoise shell and mother-of-pearl inlay, was probably made in the Philippines, at that time a Spanish colony governed by Mexico. The Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City loaned other important examples of high-style Mexican colonial production--furniture, silver, and talavera. The Spanish colonial gallery leads into an immense square room with coved ceilings which is centered on an outdoor courtyard, a plan based on the Roman-inspired courtyard houses of Latin America. It has been subdivided for the presentation of the art of the English colonies and of modern times in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The extensive Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection, acquired in 1985, lies at the heart of the DMA's holdings in colonial and U.S. decorative arts. Colonies from Salem to Charleston are represented in outstanding examples and ensembles. Equally impressive are the selections, such as the New York sofa of 1820, that scan the nineteenth-century movements from neoclassicism to the revival styles of the Rococo and Gothic. Frederick Church's Icebergs, probably the single most famous work at the DMA, is the centerpiece of a history of U.S. landscape painting, including major works by Thomas Cole, Alfred Bricher, and George Inness. Louis Comfort Tiffany's water pitcher is just a sample from our strong holdings in late nineteenth-century silver. Paintings by artists living abroad, such as Henry Tanner, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, attest to the increasing integration of painters from the U.S. into an international art scene at the turn of the century. That thread is picked up in the twenties and thirties with painters such as Stuart Davis and Gerald Murphy, but their cool modernist works are hung near others that look unflinchingly at daily life in the salons and the saloons of New York, or in the drought-parched farms of the Dust Bowl. In the last gallery of the Museum of the Americas, paintings from artist Lawren Harris, one of the Canadian Seven, join O'Keeffe, Hopper, and Mexicans Tamayo and Rivera to give a picture of modern North American art on the eve of World War II.

Although the Museum of the Americas is highly finished in appearance, it is a work in progress. The collections will increase in number and improve in quality. Objects will be interpreted in myriad ways, encouraging visitors to return to further explore and better understand our extraordinarily rich, visual heritage, the great legacy of art in the Western Hemisphere.

Susan J. Barnes is Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Dallas Musuem of Art.
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Title Annotation:Gallery Place; the inauguration of The Museum of the Americas in Dallas, Texas
Author:Barnes, Susan J.
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Pupusas and potpourri.
Next Article:Convening for conservation.

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