Brewing Up Art in San Antonio

SAMAI didn’t quite know what to expect from the San Antonio Museum of Art, but if the charm of the city was any indication I may be again surprised. The museum sits in an industrial area removed from the downtown tourist district. It is connected via the River Walk, however and a leisurely stroll could have led us there. Not knowing that, and perhaps not having the energy for it, a city bus seemed like a good option. The museum known as SAMA, which I pointed out to the person at the admissions desk is the same acronym used by the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, is located in an old brewery where they once made Lone Star beer. A large Pabst Blue Ribbon sign is also visible from an upstairs window.

We started on the fourth floor where there is a minimal amount of European art. My initial thought was “this won’t take long.” One floor below begins a small, but very well curated collection of American works. If I was going to build an American collection and didn’t have the space the Met has or the money Alice Walton has, this would be close to what I might come up with. There’s a portrait by Sargent, a work by Bannister, one by Henri, an monumental unfinished work by Benjamin West (I enjoy is drawing more than his finished paintings) and an array of portraits by Sully, Inman, Copley and members of the Peale family. There’s a curly pine table made in Texas, a Belter chair and a Philadelphia Chippendale Chair made of Walnut with a curious knot in the back splat.

From there we enter a floor of modern and then a substantial collection of items from the ancient world. Up another elevator and we find the largest collection of Asian art in the Southwest.

I would also like to note that this has been one of the few times a museum had available a catalog of their American collection, and it just so happened all the books in the gift shop were half price. I didn’t make it to the café on the River Walk, but that could have been an added treat.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage.

When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city.

With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s.

The result will be a book with a video component.

We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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