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Small Sculpture in Texas ©1993, 2000 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Our New Museum

The new Dallas Museum of Art opened to the public Sunday, January 29. The brand new DMA not only is in, but forms the very heart of the official Dallas Arts District.
The museum's policies-especially in regard to local artists-will continue to be occasionally controversial, and the Revue'll be reminding of these as time goes on.

Meanwhile, the new building is magnificent.

The strongly horizontal boxiness of the pristine, low slung Indiana limestone design by Edward Larrabee Barnes is offset by a single soaring barrel vault that punctuates the not-altogether-unique architecture with a distinctive, rounded focal point.

Inside, a brightly lit, great sweeping long, high and wide hallway forms the spine of the mammoth building. On the east side, progressing south in chronological order are: the Pre-Columbian, Classical, Asian, African and Ethnic galleries on the third level, over the offices; the European and American collection on the second floor; the contemporary galleries under the curved vault; and the sculpture garden.

On the other side are: the Education Courtyard, a plush new theater, expanded shops and the Gateway Gallery. Then the Flora Street Courtyard, elevators, restrooms and lockers downstairs by the temporary show space, upstairs to the restaurant and the Ross Ave. Plaza.

There's lots going on in this dynamic new building. So, finding your way can be confusing-until you figure out that the entrance hall forms a central "spine" from which everything branches out and that the galleries are arranged chronologically, back to front. But it's still a big place, sprawling down the hill over what had been two city blocks. So wear your walking shoes. Both expressive and impressive, the soaring vault has already become the DMA hallmark, and the giant arched room below has some of the contemporary collection's most spectacular pieces, including an immense collage by superstar former Texan Robert Rauschenberg.

Specific tastes and interests will likely determine your favorite parts of the new museum, but director Harry Parker promises that the art on display will not be salted with loaned pieces. "What you see is what we got," he said at the press opening.
One of the founding purposes of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts was to promote local artists. But over the years this principle has slipped some. The sculpture garden features several local works, including Dalton Maroney's boats and a fine piece by Mac Whitney. Inside, an entire wall is devoted to Richard Shaffer's 9 x 16' Platform With Stairs oil. But there's no discernible emphasis on local art.

Except for the Gateway Gallery. In the Education Wing on the northeast corner. This space was designed as a children's "gateway" to the museum. Both free and fee classes and events will be offered. In addition to two large studios, a library with audio-visual resources and educations modules, are two opposing walls, salon-style crammed full of two-dimensional pieces by contemporary Texas artists, mostly from Dallas.
Displaying form, line, texture and color to youngsters, the borrowed art in this inaugural exhibition curated by Waco Art Center director Paul Rogers Harris, is a remarkable, if crowded, testament to Texas art.

Unfortunately, that glorious feeling of unbounded spaciousness found throughout the building is missing in these close confines. The almost-hidden local display is too close to the room's participatory and high-tech educational apparatti to be leisurely viewed by adults, and too high on the wall for kids.

One very special Gateway piece is long-time Dallas artist David McManaway's delightful Once Upon a Time adult/child mural, an extensive Jomo Board collage of fun and punning found art objects by and for children. Also fun are two whimsical murals by Houston artist Jack Boynton.

Dallas has much to see and to be proud of in our new museum. And a few things to work on. Check it out for yourself in the weeks, months and years to come.

originally written for the 
Dallas Arts Kazoo on KNON radio,
then published in 
Dallas Arts Revue #13,
May 1984 


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