Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Perhaps the greatest fear a regional arts institution harbors is that it will be left in the dust by the flurry of continuous activity in New York or Los Angeles. Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art is a sigh of relief on the part of one North Texas institution, proof that it won’t find itself moaning, “I could have been a contender!” No, this museum has been given a major boost and is now running in step with some of the best collections in the country.
Fast Forward includes work promised to the DMA by a consortium of collectors, most notably Marguerite and Robert Hoffman, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky and Deedie and Rusty Rose. Combined with previous holdings, it charts a comprehensive vision from Abstract Expressionism to the present. But Fast Forward also tells stories that are not so obvious: stories about museums, public and private giving, building an archive, the act of collecting and communities that are not only affected by—but also create and shape—institutions.
Even in the first rooms of the exhibition, we witness the mirroring that occurs between collecting and collectivity. As the show is organized chronologically, we begin with paintings by New York School artists such as Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. All of these artists emphasized the self as a source from which art was made. At the same time, many held socialist beliefs and enacted their collective impulses. Also included is Double Objects by Joseph Beuys, a vitrine containing fourteen objects. This cabinet of curiosities about the healing of both body and mind includes vinyl records, soap, washbasins and X-rays. Beuys uses the archive and the act of collecting as a method of artmaking. These two instances—one that highlights collectivity and the other the act of collecting—distill the main idea of this exhibition: a group of individuals engaged in the private and subjective act of collecting brought together to create a collective that in turn chooses to serve an even wider community.
A work by Louise Bourgeois furthers this idea, acting as a window to and from an interior world. A kind of self-portrait, this piece is essentially a cage with a combination of found and crafted objects inside—a marble stone with hands anxiously wringing themselves over and over again, a perfume bottle and mirrors tilted in multiple directions. This is a space that is at once public and private. It reveals the contradictions inherent in artmaking as a practice of both self-knowledge and expression. It reifies an aspect of the self in its physical form, but this act is also made public—performative even—displaying aspects of the self that had once only existed in solitude. In this sense, we are voyeurs.
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2001-2002
Digital chromogenic print
48 x 60 inches
The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art: DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction fund, 2002
Could this also be true for collectors? Are we voyeurs of the private act of consumption and ownership? Indeed, privacy is a mark of prestige. To some degree, these artworks bear the record of not only their maker but their provenance, and this exhibition is meant to highlight both as inherent to meaning. By taking objects from private homes into the public space—a museum that expends a great deal of effort to attract a wide-ranging and diverse audience—these objects also shift in terms of the social class they inhabit.
Minimalist works engage the museum as an architectural space. Works by Dan Flavin and Robert Morris both echo a slit in the arch of the DMA’s Barrel Vault Gallery, and Donald Judd’s boxes sit beautifully within the white walls of the museum. Thanks to a Rachofsky gift, there is also a major representation of Arte Povera, which usually doesn’t get much attention in museums. In this section, however, a few things strike a discord. As with the exhibition in general, the objects seem to be treated as things, crowded together like trinkets in order to mark ownership rather than meaning or effect. (This was, after all, the very reason Judd retreated to Marfa, to gain control over the context of exhibition.)
There also could have been more thoughtful curatorial relationships developed between certain holdings. Why not set up an Achrome by Piero Manzoni in relation to a stunning room of white paintings by Robert Ryman or even Ad Reinhardt? While the intention here was to follow a linear chronology, the window of time this exhibition highlights is precisely at the moment in which linear history exploded. How can we understand an abstract Philip Guston next to Franz Kline on one side of the museum and a figurative Guston opposite Cy Twombly on the other—or, for that matter, Brice Marden split between monochromatic and gestural work?
Thomas Demand, Model (Model), 2000
64.75 x 82.75 inches
Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 2001
A room that pulls together the work of Vija Celmins and Joseph Cornell does an exceptional job of showing curatorial choice in action. We can start to see the starry skies, the slow-lapping waves and spider webs of Celmins as a kind of fetish—archived and reproduced. This activity is put in direct relationship to Cornell’s little boxes, which open up worlds of poetic thought and reverie.
A series of rooms that seem to ghettoize photography in cramped quarters nevertheless have some great examples of contemporary attempts to push and complicate the medium. Thomas Demand and James Casebere use trompe l’oeil to play with questions of craftsmanship and scale. Gregory Crewdson and Nic Nicosia create filmic worlds of surreal unease, while Olafur Eliasson and Hiroshi Sugimoto approach landscape through grid systems and the sublime.
A room combining Twombly’s blackboard paintings and white emaciated sculptures with works by Jasper Johns is beautiful, heady and haunting, but a room dedicated to painting in the 1970s reveals the ideological inconsistencies of the era. Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park, an exercise in formal restraint that milks the tension between abstraction and representation, Agnes Martin’s adamant explorations of the metaphysics and poetic possibilities of the grid and Frank Stella (who famously said, “it is what it is”) all share the same room, giving the false impression that verisimilitude somehow allows for shared meaning. Additionally, a room full of Gerhard Richter’s paintings—both abstract and representational—could have been set up with predecessors like Guston or Diebenkorn, who dealt quite differently with questions of material versus pictorial reality. These are all beautiful and powerful images, but some of this power is sapped by their context.
Towards the end of the exhibition, relationships between the works become less and less clear—the direct result of the point in time each work was created. Some grand examples include Matthew Barney’s piano sculpture and photographs connected to Cremaster 3 and Tony Oursler’s sculpture of a man hung from his suit on the wall. Oursler’s piece acts like a tragicomic docent trapped in the galleries, muttering about how fitful his sleep is. It is the only piece of art in this area that seems to have an identity and voice. As a result, the homeless transience of certain objects, made by artists but passed along to collectors and then to an institution as if in foster care, is anthropomorphized by Oursler’s sculpture.
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3: The Cloud Club, 2002
57 x 108 x 84 inches
Dallas Museum of Art
© Matthew Barney
Doug Aitken, these restless minds, 1998
Three laser discs in three-channel video installation
Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 1999
Doug Aitken’s video installation of auctions almost jokingly calls attention to the similarity between cattle—a peculiarly Texan commodity—and art, which both share auction houses as points of definition. Likewise, the show ends with paintings made by Peter Doig, Laura Owens and others, which have become wildly popular over the past few years as collecting has become more and more of a contact sport. These paintings do have something in common: they don’t hold an adamant belief in their own supremacy like their chronological predecessors. The market now does that for them.