Face to Face: International Art at the DMA

Face to Face: International Art at the DMA is a wonderfully imaginative idea for a show from the DMA’s permanent collection. 

The show's concept is that great art is universal.  Art is informed by those who have gone before; artists often reach similar conclusions about what subjects, forms, and materials are worthy of recording. The DMA's smARTphone tour is available with audio narrating the exhibit. 

The DMA’s permanent collection is unbelievably deep in African, Asian, ancient American, and Indonesian art - as well as American and European art.  Curating this show must have been great fun.  In fact, the show is, in part, a celebration of over a century of art collecting by many major donors.

The show space is cleverly designed so that viewers compare two or more works of art at a time.  To facilitate movement throughout the heavily partitioned space, individual geometric staging “sets” have been built and painted in bright saturated colors to frame the art pairs.  The exhibit stagecraft is interesting and effective.

Each set space also contains a title word identifying the characteristic or attribute the pieces have in common with one another.  Some of the most effective are PLANES, CALLIGRAPHY, BEAUTY, MOTION, and LUXURY.  The show is comprised of sixteen of these compositions.

Some of the pairs are better than others in illustrating the concept.  Some read simply as work of a similar genre, medium, or subject matter.  Stop cards are generally logically placed and informative – with one exception.  There is a wonderful display case titled LUXURY that contains various gold objects – Peruvian figure cups, jewelry, and the like.  The stop cards are simply lined up at the bottom of the case and it’s impossible to tell which object is which.

The pair of pieces viewers see when entering the show set the stage for what’s to come.  On the left is a beautifully simple large rectangle divided into four identical quarters.  The quarters are each yellow or blue feathers in a checkerboard pattern.  The Peruvian panel dates from 650 - 850 A.D.  Next to it is a large twentieth century Ellsworth Kelly painting entitled Sanary.  The painting is subdivided into 36 colored squares.  This vignette is entitled GEOMETRIC SHAPES.

In other vignettes, viewers compare a 20th century Kirchner painting, Four Wooden Sculptures with an Indonesian funerary figure over one hundred years older or contemplate Naum Gabo’s Constructed Head No. 2 next to a two thousand year old Nigerian Male Figure.

Finally, an Egyptian mummy mask from the first or second century is paired with a gorgeous Modigliani portrait. Against a deep aqua background that complements both objects, the viewer is struck with the idea of artists recording of beauty since time immemorial.

The similarities are the magic of the show.