February 4, 2009
By Joan Arbery
It’s hard to find a cemetery in this town. The dead are tucked away in secret gardens here. Of course, most of us don’t mind. We don’t want to think of dying, or of what we will leave behind. It’s odd, then, that so much death has come to Dallas lately: first the Crow Collection’s “Tending the Afterlife,” then the DMA’s “Tutankhamun,” and now the Meadows Museum’s “From the Temple and the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany.”
The last one is perhaps the oddest. Why is the SMU museum—which contains, says its director Mark Roglán, “one of the greatest” collections of Spanish art outside of Spain—hosting an exhibit about Etruscans, who came from ancient Italy and Corsica? For one, it’s cashing in on the city’s current fascination with ars moriendi—“the art of dying.” For another, SMU archeologist Dr. Greg Warden has been digging at an Etruscan settlement site, Poggio Colla, in Tuscany, for the past 15 years. The exhibit dovetails with his work there. And although “From the Temple and the Tomb” doesn’t hail from Warden’s dig site—it’s from the nearby Florence Archeological Museum—a downstairs exhibit at the Meadows, “New Light on the Etruscans: Fifteen Years of Excavation at Poggio Colla,” features some of Warden’s work.
Yet there’s a greater question here about the Meadows and its role. At its spot on Bishop Boulevard for only eight years, it’s already on its third director. Coup-ridden countries rarely undergo such quick executive shifts. The Meadows’ changes are partially due to SMU’s desire to reinvent itself. But when Ted Pillsbury stepped down as director in 2005, outcries from university professors lauded Pillsbury, who had professionalized the Meadows. The museum was certainly at a crossroads. That dissent eventually faded once Roglán, a native Spaniard, was brought in to head the museum.
This is partly because of the way Roglán interprets the museum’s mission. When I ask him if the Meadows’ location outside the Arts District obscures its visibility, he says that, to the contrary, it connects the area’s museums. Its 2007 exhibit “Balenciaga and His Legacy” borrowed works from the University of North Texas’ Texas Fashion Collection. Earlier last year, the Museum of Nature & Science hosted an exhibit on a Meadows show of Fernando Gallego’s medieval altarpiece panels. The Kimbell had examined the panels under infrared for two years, and the science museum then used them to discuss “the science of art.”
In fostering such connections, Roglán clearly appreciates exhibits that give a “broader context.” Pieces should be seen universally, since no culture exists in a vacuum.
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