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Dickson Reeder, “Conversation Piece,” Amon Carter Museum

Tyler Green in his blog, Modern Art Notes has been reflecting piecemeal on the Amon Carter’s Intimate Modernism exhibition, the museum’s current look back at Fort Worth’s circle of pioneering artists in the ’40s and ’50s. In Dickson Reeder’s “Conversation Piece,” Green sees what seems fairly obvious; hence, perhaps, the lack of extensive comment in the show’s catalog: The painting is intended as a gentle but not-so-subtle protest against the period’s extensive segregation. It puts his son and a young African-American girl together, playing with paper cutouts.

But Green also spots a rather startling reference: Reeder seems to have modeled his painting on Manet’s famous, once-shocking Olympia, the 1865 nude-with-a-black-maid that caused such outrage at the Paris Salon that precautions had to be taken to protect it. If Reeder did so, which seems doubtless, it’s ironic, considering that Olympia caused a stir not for its racial mixing but its frank treatment of nudity/sexuality and its clear suggestion that its subject is a prostitute waiting for a client, a subject/tradition that Picasso picked up for his Demoiselles d’Avignon.

But as Green has noted in previous installments of his series and as the exhibition makes plain, this kind of borrowing and transplanting of a wide variety of European models with American subjects was a chief modus of the circle, trying to find the right hybrid of modernism that would flourish here.

Or see the always-amusing, always-enlightening Dave Hickey in the think video clip above on the Fort Worth Circle’s “genteel surrealism” and early abstract expressionism and the fact that it always helps if you’re wealthy.

  • AMariani

    Re: the painting’s intent.

    Even if Dickson Reeder had run through the streets of Fort Worth half-naked and wild-eyed in protest of segregation every day, no one – no critic, no historian, and not even Reeder himself – would be able to specify with any great confidence his TRUE intentions for painting “Conversation Piece,” much in the same way that no one knows what is behind any painter’s, or songwriter’s or writer’s, creative handiwork. Sure, we may get talking points from the artist (or, in many cases, his or her publicist) but rarely the existential truth, which is fine for armchair philosophizing but not for criticism. Critics who lean – even just a little — on biography and, even more dangerously, on intent are only perpetuating the gross celebritization and/or romanticization of otherwise normal people who happen to possess some manual dexterity and have access to paint, paintbrushes, and canvases.

    Interesting sidebar: In “Halloween Party,” another Intimate Modernism piece and one in which the Circlers are depicted in costumes, Reeder is in blackface.

    Thanks for listening, Mr. Weeks, and also for keeping KERA’s eyes on Fort Worth’s dynamic institutional arts scene.

  • SSteel

    I knew Dickson Reeder and I don’t know if he considered it a comment on racism, but I seriously doubt that the Ft. Worth society people which I have known would have been shocked by it. It shows nothing more than an intimate domestic scene, and one that would not have been uncommon in the south even during the segregation days. The subject really has more to do with personal tragedy I think. Art critics seem to me way to concerned with political themes and “concepts.” This I’m afraid is one more unfortunate legacy of political correctness. Sometimes art is just about art. It’s a visual language. Art has subjects, but it doesn’t have to be “about” things. The Circle artists, most of whom I knew quite well, were certainly very open minded in their attitudes and were not at all racist in their attitudes