There was skepticism when Dallas Museum of Art director Agustín Arteaga proposed bringing a major exhibit of Mexican masterpieces here from Paris and allowing families who were not regular museum visitors to see it for free.
But since the exhibit’s arrival in March, so many people have seen it, its attendance ranks as the second highest for a special exhibit at the DMA. More than half of its viewers are first-time museum visitors and many are Latino.
“I’ve haven’t seen this many brown people in the museum before,” said José Villanueva, 28, a Dallas artist volunteering as a docent with the museum’s “Yo Soy DMA” program formed around the exhibit to promote attendance from the community.
From raising the money to make it happen, to making Dallas its only U.S. stop to encouraging families to the downtown museum, the impressive exhibit has been a community affair.
It has acted as an invitation to members of the public who may not have felt welcome at the museum or given it much thought, to see it and other public spaces downtown as theirs, exhibit organizers told NBC Latino.
It features the works of some of Mexico’s most celebrated, as well as lesser-known, artists with almost 200 artworks displaying the country’s creative soul of the modern 20th century.
There are many highlights in the exhibit that ends July 16: seven murals; a long forgotten piece by David Alfaro Siqueiros that was found in the museum’s vault and the iconic “Las Dos Fridas,” painted by Frida Kahlo after her divorce from Diego Rivera. The painting rarely leaves Mexico and may not again any time soon, exhibit organizers said.
Taking up a full wall in the exhibit is Saturino Herran’s “Nuestros Dioses.” The painting was in a private collection, kept in a 24th floor penthouse residence. Because of its size, it wouldn’t fit in the elevator to be brought down and had to be lifted out by a crane to make the journey with the rest of the artwork, Arteaga told NBC Latino.
For the exhibit, the plates bearing the artist’s name and the objects’ title are in English and Spanish and Arteaga is doing the same with the rest of the art in other exhibits and the permanent collections throughout the museum.
The exhibit starts with Mexican art that leaned more to the nation’s European roots.
“Then you can quickly walk in and see where mixture started happening … after the Revolution, artists are able to explode with having the indigenous people and indigenous experience in art,” said businessman Jorge Baldor, founder of the Latino Center for Leadership Development and one of the exhibit’s financial backers.
“This art we are seeing in this exhibition was the first time people (in Mexico) could understand their history and their culture and understand the progression of what was happening,” said Baldor. “So Mexico developed its national identity through this art.”
Getting the exhibit from Paris to Dallas was not an easy task. Arteaga had just started as the Dallas museum’s director, arriving from Mexico City where he had been director of the Museo Nacional de Arte.
When Arteaga told museum donors at a luncheon he wanted to bring the exhibit, he did not get eager responses for help with the cost. But Baldor, who was at the luncheon, was interested and offered to contact people he knew on Arteaga’s behalf. After two weeks of working his contacts, however, the money still was not coming in.
“I saw that he was really getting discouraged,” Baldor said. “I said, ‘Agustín, I’ll write you a check for $200,000’… When he had that commitment, we were able to go back to all the people that were on the sidelines and the commitments came, one right after the other.”
But Baldor and Arteaga knew that even the most revered art wouldn’t be seen by Latino families, many of Mexican descent, who couldn’t afford the $16 per person exhibit price.
With the corporate sponsorships, they were able to include free entry for more than a dozen designated “family days” and create the “Yo Soy DMA” campaign to promote the exhibit in neighborhoods such as Pleasant Grove, Oak Cliff and in the city of Garland, along with other targeted areas.
The exhibit was promoted through businesses and churches that serve the Latino community, along with other places.
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