DMA Insight

The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art: An Overview

_The following is an excerpt from the 2013 publication _The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art.

At the time of this publication the South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Near Eastern collections at the Dallas Museum of Art con­sist of over 450 works, ranging from fine examples of the Islamic arts of Turkey, Syria, and Iran to important works of Indian, Himalayan, Khmer, and Thai art. The path to this impressive col­lection, which we now celebrate with this publication, has been far from gradual and predictable. It has grown in fits and starts, with much collecting activity over the last fifteen or twenty years. The Museum now cares for an important collection that contin­ues to grow exponentially.

For much of its history, interest in Asian art at the Dallas Museum of Art centered on special exhibitions. The first exhi­bition of Asian artworks was shown in 1938, entitled Chinese Ancestral Portraits and Japanese Landscape Prints. Between 1939 and the present time, numerous exhibitions or gallery installations have been devoted to Asian art, and the subjects have ranged from Chinese tomb figures to Indian miniature paintings. In this array of exhibitions, a seminal presentation was The Arts of Man (October 6, 1962–January 1, 1963). The exhibition was conceived by former board president Margaret McDermott, one of the DMA’s most significant patrons and a leading voice in building the Museum’s collections, and former director Jerry Bywaters. The exhibition was a watershed moment for the Museum’s display of arts from around the world. The fact that the DMA’s collections today are as distinguished in Pre-Columbian, African, Asian, and Oceanic art as they are in traditional Western arts is frequently cited as due to this groundbreaking exhibition. Several works in the exhibition subsequently enhanced the DMA’s collections, including the fine Vishnu and attendants sculpture [1963.29], and the Durga [1959.159] and Vishnu wooden festival sculptures both gifts from the Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Foundation.

In the 1960s and 1970s, other important Asian art exhibitions at the DMA included Masterpieces of Japanese Art (organized by the DMA in 1969), Indian and Southeast Asian Stone Sculptures from the Avery Brundage Collection (organized by the Center of Asian Art and Culture, City and County of San Francisco, in 1970), The Sculpture of Thailand (organized by Asia House Gallery, New York, in 1973), Oriental Art in Dallas Private Collections (organized by the DMA in 1976), and Chinese Export Porcelain from the Reeves Collection at Washington and Lee University (assembled by the High Museum of Art in 1973 and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1974–1976). The last two exhibitions directly affected the collection of the Museum, since several of the works from private collections were eventually given to the DMA.

Former director Harry Parker was very interested in Asian art, which led to several major exhibitions in the 1980s, includ­ing The Shogun Age (organized by The Shogun Age Exhibition Executive Committee in 1984) and Life at Court: Art for India’s Rulers, __16th–19th Centuries (organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1986). Two Japanese print exhibitions involved collections that were eventually acquired by the Museum: Hiroshige: Fifty Three Stages of the Tokaido, from the Stanley Marcus collection, and Views of Japan: Modern Woodblock Prints by Hiroshi Yoshida, which included some of the Japanese prints given to the Museum by Juanita and Alfred Bromberg. Harry Parker’s interest in Asian art was fittingly honored with the 1987 purchase of the Chinese Tang- dynasty pair of lokapalas [1987.360.1-2.McD], a spectacular set of glazed earthenware tomb guardians, which were acquired by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Ellen and Harry S. Parker III.

In 1989 noted scholar of Japanese art Emily Sano joined the Museum as Deputy Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Senior Curator of Non-Western Art. She was responsible for several important exhibitions as well as the acquisition of sig­nificant artworks. Objects of Elegance and Whimsy, an exhibition that presented works from John R. Young’s collection of Meiji-period Japanese vases, sculptures, and decorative arts, led to the Museum’s acquisition of the Young collection in 1993. The collec­tion includes an array of important examples of late-19th to early-20th-century Japanese craftsmanship, often produced for Western markets, (see [1993.86.11.FA]). Other major Japanese works, including the Arhat sculpture, a gift of the Roberta Coke Camp Fund and Lillian B. Clark [1991.381], the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup screen [1989.78.a-b.McD], a gift of The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and a lacquered wood saddle from the Edo period, a gift of the Boeckman-Mayer Fund, Foundation for the Arts Collection, came to the Museum during this time. Other prominent works of East Asian art were given by Museum supporters, including Mrs. Alex Camp, Stanley Marcus, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Kahn, and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Pollock, and works were acquired through the Museum League, the DMA General Acquisitions Fund, and the Junior League of Dallas. As a result of these early gifts, the DMA’s Chinese and Japanese collections now include 234 works.

As late as 1990, South and Southeast Asian art at the DMA con­sisted of only a small group of important works. In addition to the Vishnu and attendants sculpture mentioned earlier, the small holdings included the majestic bust of a bodhisattva, a gift of Margaret J. and George V. Charlton [1973.81]; a gilt bronze Manjushri sculpture from Mrs. E. R. Brown [1955.19], and several works from the Arts of Man exhibit. James and Lillian Clark, best known for their gifts of modern art to the Museum, gave an exquisite small Thai seated Buddha [1966.31].

The state of the South Asian collections changed dramatically in the 1990s. In 1993–1994 an exhibition of works from a private collection entitled East Meets West: Selections from the David T. Owsley Collection proved to be the beginning of a productive relationship between Mr. Owsley and the Museum and a defining moment for the South Asian collection. After the close of the exhibition, former director Jay Gates suggested that Mr. Owsley leave the works at the DMA, to form the core of a new gallery space, and in 1996 the Museum debuted the new Asian galleries, providing a home for Mr. Owsley’s collection of South Asian art alongside the Museum’s core group of masterworks.

In addition to expanding its collections in the South Asian area and opening new gallery spaces devoted to the arts of South Asia, the Museum presented several important Asian exhibitions. Notable are The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India (organized by the American Federation of Arts and appearing at the DMA from April 6 to June 15, 2003) and Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterpieces of Indian Painting, drawn from the Binney collection at the San Diego Museum of Art (November 18, 2007– January 27, 2008). Associated with Domains of Wonder were two smaller exhibits: When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection, organized by the American Federation of Arts, and Indian Miniature Paintings from the David T. Owsley Collection, which displayed all of Mr. Owsley’s miniature paintings.

In 2003 Mr. Owsley signified that he would leave his personal collection to the Museum in his estate. The South Asian galler­ies, which were part of an extensive remodeling of the Museum’s third level in 2004, were then named the David T. Owsley Galleries of South Asian Art. Thanks to his generosity and connoisseur­ship, the South Asian collections have become an important part of the Museum’s encyclopedic display. David Owsley has worked in partnership with Dr. Anne Bromberg, the DMA Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art, and the directors of the DMA in the long-range planning and development of this impor­tant collection. Former director John R. Lane devoted much time and consideration to how the South Asian collection could best be expanded and how the Museum could work with Mr. Owsley most effectively. During his tenure a donor campaign resulted in the acquisition, in 2000, of the Chola dynasty 12th-century bronze sculpture of Shiva Nataraja from south India [2000.377]. This purchase, spearheaded by Margaret McDermott and also funded by the Hamon Charitable Foundation, an anonymous donor, the Cecil and Ida Green Foundation, and the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, is one of the Museum’s most important works and was given in honor of David Owsley. Bonnie Pitman, Director from 2008 to 2011, brought her extensive knowledge of and experience with Asian art to this area and strongly supported new acquisitions in South Asian art. In 2012, director Maxwell Anderson continued this enthusiastic collaboration. Utilizing Museum acquisition funds such as the Wendover Fund, the Cecil and Ida Green Fund, and the General Acquisitions Fund, the Museum has often been able to acquire important works that expand the scope of the collection, and the Owsley family contin­ues to support art at the DMA through the contribution of funds from the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation.

The most recent acquisitions in the South Asian area, to which Mr. Owsley has contributed, include the dramatic Pala-dynasty relief showing the goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon [2009.17], a gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation and a gift of the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund; the charming Chola dynasty stone sculpture of Shiva’s bull mount, Nandi [2010.6], a gift of the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund and gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation; and the rare late- Gandharan sculpture of a Thinking Bodhisattva with a forceful contrapposto composition and a brooding spiritual intensity [2010.17]. The Thinking Bodhisattva was given to the Museum by the Wendover Fund, David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, and the General Acquisitions Fund.

From a modest starting point with a few interesting pieces, the collection of South and Southeast Asian art has expanded to the extent that the DMA can offer its audiences a fine cross section of the spectacular arts of these rich and diverse cultures. While the collection continues to grow, this publication is intended to document the amazing holdings now in the DMA’s possession and to thank all of the many donors, especially David Owsley, for their efforts on behalf of the Dallas Museum of Art. The collection enables visitors to experience the riches of South and Southeast Asia’s long and remarkable artistic history. The countries of southern Asia have been not only the source of sev­eral major world religions, but also the source of some of the world’s finest and most diverse works of great art. Thanks to our many donors, the museum visitor can appreciate these beautiful, sensuous, and visionary artworks firsthand.

Excerpt from

Anne Bromberg, "The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art: A History" in The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013: 13-18.

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