Since it opened in 1961, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art has always had a commitment to exploring the breadth and complexity of American creativity through its collections and exhibitions. Evaluating Texas art’s importance in relation to the museum’s collection and the larger canon of American art has been one of my focuses since 2013. Though I started to work on a potential exhibition on Texas artist Everett Spruce (1908–2002) that year, the museum world’s ever-changing nature redirected my attention to other urgent and pressing projects. Although it may not seem the case, scheduling exhibitions is like solving a Rubik’s cube—there are millions of combinations and only one solution. Changes to the permanent collection, timing and availability of an exhibition according to a lending museum’s guidelines, and the complexity of each installation (are there videos or special cabinetry needed? etc.) are only some of the factors affecting an exhibition’s timing. In 2019, all the colors aligned on each side of a Rubik’s cube for a summer 2020 exhibition of Spruce’s work. I had a shorter period than usual to curate the exhibition and write the catalogue for Texas Made Modern: The Art of Everett Spruce (August 18–November 1, 2020). Because many of Spruce’s works were available to see regionally in private collections, I thought my task would be much easier than I imagined. After meeting with the artist’s daughter, Alice Spruce Meriwether, who graciously shared the inventory she compiled of her father’s artwork, I discovered that Spruce had painted over 800 artworks during his lifetime, many of which are either lost or in unknown locations. Continue reading “Research in the archives: Texas Made Modern”
Footage Found was a collaborative project between students in the Video Art course (ASPH 3315) in the Meadows Division of Art and the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection at SMU. The students were provided footage from the WFAA TV News Film archive, part of the Jones Collection’s holdings, to create new works from and which resulted in a screening at Top Ten Records hosted by the D/FW Experimental Film Society (DEx). This project was a fascinating opportunity for students to gain experience of working directly with an archive while also learning what it can mean to make a new artwork from existing materials. The results were provocative and enlightening on a number of levels.
While watching Tom and Jerry (or Beavis and Butthead, or Ren and Stimpy), I sometimes wondered if the animated mayhem turned truly physical, if the anvils dropped from upper floors landed with the effect those anvils would have on the unfortunates below in reality, what would be the shift in tone in the cartoon? What if the tone had been originally slapstick, but then turned real? How would I as the viewer react to the change? How would I receive and process this shift, this altered tone?
In Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-hoo, I have at least a partial answer. The film examines two, and then three families. The first and principal focus is on the quartet of father, Kim Ki-taek, mother, Chung-sook, son, Ki-woo and daughter, Ki-jeong. They live in a dank basement apartment, searching for a free wireless signal in the apartment, cursing the neighbor who adopted a password and crowing when a signal from a coffee shop is located by Ki-jeong while crouched next to the toilet. They fold, badly, cardboard boxes for a local pizzeria to support themselves, but receive a windfall when a school chum of Ki-woo offers him a reference as an English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple. With a forged diploma, Ki-woo secures his position, and the rest of his family soon secures employment at this same household. His sister, Ki-jeong, spouting art therapy language learned through Google, lands the position of art therapist for the couple’s son, while father, Kim, becomes the family chauffer and mother, Chung-sook, the maid. Each displaces the prior occupant of that position through stealthy dirty tricks and expert lying. All four conceal their family relationship (not to mention their fraudulent credentials) from the wealthy Parks, who seems blissfully unaware (“they are not nice despite being rich, they are nice because they are rich”) that something seems not quite square about their new assistants.
The third family is that of recently discharged maid, Moon-gwang, who returns to the home while the Parks are away to reveal that her husband Geun-sae, has been living in a secret bunker, unknown to the Parks, under the Parks’ palatial home. The bunker was constructed years before, to allow the owner “to hide from the North Koreans, or his creditors,” and Geun-sae has hidden there, fleeing loan sharks seeking funds due from his failed bakery. Father Kim Ki-taek has his own failed bakery in his past, and his own reasons for concealment, and each character knows his or her own relative comfort and security rests unfirmly on a series of lies, and the desperate evasions made to conceal those lies.
The slapstick begins as the violent but at first harmless struggles of the two families to wrest control from and force the eviction of the other from the Parks’ home before the parks return from a picnic. The families race up and down from the home into the bunker, seizing household items as makeshift weapons in the increasingly brutal struggle to remain.
To this point the film has whizzed by, surfing on a froth of sharp dialogue in a comedy of manners. The remainder of the film likewise whizzes by, but while clever dialogue continues, the circumstances and fate of both families, and then later the Parks, becomes gradually grimmer and darker. There was no one moment when I was certain that the comedy had shifted to horror, or that the slapstick would not return, but the last of the film works like a film by Luis Buñuel, from a script by Goya.
The film is expertly done, with actions echoing earlier events without drawing attention to the parallels, and characters stripped second by second to their hard interior core. No one is good, no one is blameless, including the less than affable Parks, and darkness descends into the most innocent and banal family gatherings. At the end the fate of each character is fixed and inescapable, all lies and illusions are dissipated, and something like, but just like, a cruel justice comes to each family.
In describing the film, I would be remiss if I did not note the themes of class, both the thoughtlessness and self-assured barbarity of the wealthy and the self-abasing cunning of the poor, throughout the film. Each facet of this interrelationship is carefully and coldly examined, with no quarter given to any party. Indeed, the primary theme of Parasite is the cold dance of class acted out on the bodies and souls of the trapped participants.
As a fervent admirer of Bong Joon-hoo’s Snowpiercer, I found this work clearer in purpose and more focused in its course than the earlier film, which did tend to linger too long on doomy exposition by Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton. This is a nasty piece of work, in all the best meanings of that phrase, and a near-flawless film by one of the world’s strongest working directors. I was left wanting more, and looking forward to the next film, which I hope will demonstrate the ever-deepening artistry of Bong Joon-hoo.
Review: Courtesy of George de Verges.
Image: Director, Bong June Ho and actor, Song Kang Ho on the set of Parasite; US distributor, Boon.
The Jerry Bywaters Special Collections at SMU has a good archive of Wingren’s materials, which is so appropriate considering that he graduated from SMU, taught at SMU, and he was greatly admired by Bywaters. However, Wingren’s SMU connections are a small part of his distinguished career as an excellent painter and as a highly respected professor of art and art history. Dan Wingren was one of my professors at SMU in the mid-1970s. By that time he had an extensive resume of major exhibitions of his paintings, of teaching at important museums and universities, and of numerous publications and critical reviews of his art. However, Wingren was modestly quiet about his accomplishments.
As a graduate student in art history, I was fortunate to have Wingren as a professor of art history when I took his courses on the history of photography and surveys of modern art. He was a demanding professor who challenged his students to think critically about art and art history. He asked me to view art “as though I had no eyelids,” admonishing me to not only look closely at art, but more importantly to look critically, without preconceived notions or assumptions. Wingren’s courses required memorization of details of names of artists, titles, and dates of artworks, as well as the larger more substantive understanding of stylistic analysis, cultural context, and visual literacy. I found his courses difficult, but highly rewarding. I admired Wingren for pushing me to move from art appreciation to connoisseurship, and I credit him for beautifully preparing me for my own successful career as an art history professor, a museum educator, and a museum director.
Blog post courtesy of Francine Carraro, Ph.D., Retired Museum Director.
Image credit: Dan Wingren, photograph by Beau and Martha Mood, San Antonio, Texas; Gift of Dianne Schlies and courtesy of the Dan Wingren Collection, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.
Exhibition, Dan Wingren: The Image and Magic, on the 2nd floor, Hamon, continues to May 31, 2021.
I met Dan Wingren in 1980. That’s when I began modeling for his and other classes at the Meadows School of the Arts. I was also attending a Dallas community college, knocking off prerequisites for some sort of humanities degree. In 1986, I realized I wanted to teach studio art. So I quit modeling and attended UTD, got a bachelor’s degree, then applied to and got into SMU’s MFA program.
Larry Scholder, who chaired the Meadows studio art department at the time, assigned me to Dan, and for two years I was his teaching assistant. This anecdote illustrates the auspicious start to our partnership: in January of 1988, Dan and I met for lunch in the design studio to discuss the upcoming classes. We sat next to one another at one of those long tables, opened our identical paper lunch sacks, pulled out our identical lunches (peanut butter and raisins on whole wheat and a red delicious apple) and we cut our apples with our identical Swiss Army knives, which we discovered were gifts to us on our recent identical birthdays. We had a good laugh over all that.
Dan stood out in the Meadows School because, of all the teachers there at that time, he seemed to have the fewest prejudices. His knowledge was so vast that he effortlessly found significance in virtually every type of art. His highly structured demos, his presentations, and his gallery talks offered students new ways of thinking – as most teachers will. But Dan’s approach was very different. He looked at art from several angles that not only included the expected formal and stylistic aspects, and the history, but relative literature, music, politics, ethics, alchemy and more.
In the summer of 1997, I learned I’d soon be teaching college level 2-Dimensional Design in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I still live. Struck with fear, I called Dan. He assured me that I’d find my own way. And he was right. I did. That course became the most cherished of my teaching career.
When I envision Dan now I see his broad toothy smile, suspenders against a clean crisp shirt, the way he stood tall with his hands in his pockets, head held back a bit as he thought, particular moments teaching together in the design studio, and the final years of his life when he was undergoing treatment yet managed to keep his keen sense of humor—and so my memory of him returns to that smile.
I’d like to leave you all with something Dan said during one of my graduate committee meetings. Exasperated, I asked why it was so important to “draw from nature.” Dan replied, “Because the human mind can be so tedious and nature never is.”
Image: Dianne Schlies, Strength/Delicacy Contrast/Subtlety, Dan Wingren during lecture demonstration, 1988, ballpoint pen on stained paper, 12” x 9”.
Courtesy of Dianne Schlies.
Exhibition, Dan Wingren: The Image and Magic, on 2nd floor, Hamon continues to May 31, 2021.
Mary Vernon, professor emerita of art, SMU, was a colleague of Dan Wingren. As such, she contributes this blog piece on the artist and further commentary in the exhibition, Dan Wingren: The Image and Magic, on view at the Hamon Arts Library, 2nd floor, until May 31, 2021.
“My head is somewhere near the intersection of the fields of art, history, psychology, engineering, and religion.”
Dan Wingren, (Daily Campus, Southern Methodist University, June 21, 1988).
One of our names for Dan was The Wizard. Dan Wingren – the experimenter, the rationalist, and the reserved man of wisdom, seemed to stay ahead of us, his colleagues. His self-assurance seemed mixed with introversion. In his handsome loft on lower Greenville Avenue (the whole top floor of a commercial building), he painted and developed photographs, listened to music on the finest audio system, and built his own computer as soon as the components were available. Dan wanted to know things, and the reasons behind the things, all the way down to first causes.
He was particularly kind to me, a true gift, since he suffered no fools lightly. He grasped that my cluelessness was well-intentioned, and he saw over my head to the work I could do as a colleague. His fierce protection of his privacy was not simply a foible of character, but rather the survival strategy of a gay man in the mid-20th Century. He loved his partner Hal, but they lived, apparently, in separate houses. They traveled, and talked and dined together, watched the stars through a telescope in Hal’s backyard, and never spoke of their lives to the ordinary world.
Dan Wingren’s devoted students, hundreds of them, could speak of his insightful lectures and critiques, his remarkable knowledge and his advice. He valued honesty more than empathy, and, in that way, clung to an old model of the university teacher. In many of the artists he taught, one can see the influence of Dan’s way of thinking and of painting. He could be kind, as he was to me, or he could show a haughty impulsivity, a state in which concepts ruled and people suffered.
How he saw himself I will never know. He knew he was a gifted researcher in the history and workings of design. He held to a rationalist and scientific understanding of ideas, and eschewed mysticism. He loved to explore the oddities of Manly Palmer Hall or Madame Blavatsky, more because they shed light on our taste for murky quackery than because he might agree with them. Yet he respected shamans, declaring them to be the real thing. It is in his painting that I understand him rather than in his other scholarship. Wingren’s compositions draw from the models of the 1930s – the salient form is a near-central block that sails or floats among a rectangular set of proposals. The lovely news in a Wingren painting is connected to the salient block – to its being more saturated in color than other forms or distinguished by strong contrast of light against dark. Even when Dan Wingren employed photographs as prompts for his paintings, his compositional choices remained. His photo-based paintings were demonstrations of what paint could do even more than they were comments upon a modern way of seeing. Each painting grew as an adjustment of geometric plot, practiced tricks of illusion, and exact observation of color. Dan Wingren had mastered, as well, the taut but flexible surface of properly prepared canvas, its leanings toward opaque paint and a texture of right angles.
Dan Wingren’s instinct was to turn to general or popular culture, fleeing elitism. He found the latter, by way of contradiction, both silly and weak, and way too powerful. Where could we find the vital and new ideas? In the vernacular and in science. In his last days, while he made studies of fractal geometry and continued to do very fine drawings.
Blog post: Mary Vernon, professor emerita of art, Southern Methodist University
Image: Photograph, Dan Wingren in his studio on lower Greenville Avenue, c. 1970s, Gift, Mary Vernon
Courtesy of the Dan Wingren Collection, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.
John Lunsford’s passing marks not just the loss for many individuals of a beloved colleague and former professor but also the loss of a living link to an earlier era. As pre-Columbian curator at the Dallas Museum of Art for thirty years, director of the Meadows Museum, and professor of art history at SMU, John was indispensable in the cultural history of Dallas over the past sixty years. Always self-effacing, he skillfully passed on this vast reservoir of knowledge and experience to those of us fortunate enough to have known him. For example, John proved to be an invaluable resource for me and the other staff members of Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Ellen Buie Niewyk and Emily George Grubbs. Mr. Bywaters had been instrumental in launching the careers of John, Ellen and me. But John had a slight head start, having been hired as an assistant curator at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the DMA) in the 1950s when Jerry Bywaters was its director. Having worked with him for so many years, John definitely had helpful thoughts about organizing the collection, a collection development policy and, of course, exhibitions; his ideas proved to be especially valuable after Mr. Bywaters’ death in 1989.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma begins quietly and thoughtfully with the character, Cleo, played beautifully by Yalitza Aparicio, who serves a well-to-do family in their home in a suburb of Mexico City. Her life, seeming so insular and placid, will expand to engulf the film’s universe. Every action and word of hers has a hidden meaning, and minor gestures seen early in the movie will be echoed by more serious and violent actions later.
The news seemed so odd – what relevance does Bob Dylan have now? Is his work literature? Which work, or works, merit this prize? If the prize is in recognition of a body of work, where is the corpus? The collection?
What does Dylan mean to those interested in what was, at least in the past, known as the fine arts? How is his work different from the horde of largely forgotten singers and songwriters, back to the Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley? Continue reading “Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature”
The Bywaters Special Collections staff are happy to announce that SMU’s Central University Libraries is now a part of the Google Cultural Institute. BSC staff, Ellen Buie Niewyk, curated the first GCI exhibition with archivist, Emily George Grubbs. Octavio Medellin: Maya-Toltec Temples and Carvings, 1938 is an exhibition curated from the holdings of photographs and documents of the artist from Bywaters Special Collections. Take a look!
Thank you to Emily George Grubbs, Archivist, Bywaters Special Collections, for this post!
Image: Courtesy of Octavio Medellin Art work and Papers, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University