Senior Curator of European and American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, Oliver Meslay told a crowd of docents assembled at the museum Monday that it wasn’t the easiest exhibit to put together, nor the most obvious.
Rather the need for Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy took some convincing. First, it’s difficult to talk about the Kennedy’s in Dallas. The art put together just a few days before the president’s arrival at the hotel suite, might seem on the surface a mishmash.
In taking on the exhibit, it was decided the focus would be on the art, and not so much the history. And there are ties that bind.
Organizers, who included Ruth Carter Stevenson (then Ruth Carter Johnson), chose art that would appeal to the tastes of the room’s important occupants. The Master Bedroom, which was designated as Jacqueline Kennedy’s bedroom, was adorned with impressionist masterworks, per her well-known affinity for the genre. Other works related to Massachusetts. And the assemblage provides an interesting overview of the work that was in Fort Worth at the time.
The President and Mrs. Kennedy arrived late and likely didn’t notice until morning the art on the walls was anything other than the usual bad paintings found in hotels. It’s then they spotted a pamphlet on the desk which lists works by sixteen artists including Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Claude Monet, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and others. One account says Mrs. Kennedy was so pleased she phoned Mrs. Johnson and said she would like to spend the day in the room.
Of the pieces in suite 850 at the Hotel Texas, three could not be located for the exhibition. None were refused. One of those is Portrait of the Artist’s Grandaughter by Claude Monet, then in the collection of Mrs. J. Lee Johnson, III. While in the hotel suite, it was set in the Suite Parlor with Angry Owl by Pablo Picasso, then owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ted Weiner.
The suite included several works by American artists including John Twachtman, Geyser Pool, Yellowstone. That work was then owned by Mr. and Mrs. William M. Fuller.
One Western work, Meeting in a Blizzard by Charles M. Russell was included, then owned by the Amon Carter Museum. Lesser known however is the fact that the hotel suite of Vice President Lyndon Johnson was also decorated, and featured exclusively Western art.
While the hotel is existent (now the Hilton), the suite is gone. That’s nothing to be bothered about, however. The time and place will surely come alive in the exhibition. And as much as the exhibit is less about the history, the fact remains that this contains the components of the last exhibit the President and Mrs. Kennedy- who were huge supporters of the arts, saw together.
Meslay ended with a quote from Kennedy.
“We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”
Click to hear the remarks: http://www.arts.gov/about/Kennedy.html