Tonal Impressions at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Home of the Heron by George Inness

A visit to the Art Institute of Chicago over the weekend provided some new discoveries including a mesmerizing painting by Ralph Blakelock titles The Vision of Life (also known as Ghost Dance) 1895-1897. Blakelock is one of those artists who can be quite hard to get a grasp on. Most are very dark treed landscapes, but this one incorporates what look to be unfinished figures, yet the painting is boldly signed as if it were a completed work. Many of Blakelock’s paintings depict Indians, but they are usually not given a central position. Blakelock had traveled west in 1869 and 1872, but did not return. When he painted The Vision of Life, he was 20 years removed from such scenes. Here, Blakelock could be a commentary on the disappearance of the American Indian from the landscape, or perhaps a personal commentary on a fading memory.

The Vision of Life by Ralph Blakelock

George Inness’s The Home of the Heron also appears at first glance to be an unfinished work. Like the Blakelock, however it is clearly signed. This may not mean as much for Inness as he always reserved the right to make changes to paintings, sometimes making significant revisions even after they were sold. Compare it to Blakelock, however and we find that artists of the period were often exporing the interaction between people and the landscape and sometimes animals and the landscape. Many works by Inness include misty figures. When we look at them we’re not quite sure if they are there or not. To me they represent the humanness that’s imprinted on a place, a humanness which remains after we are gone.

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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