Remembering forgotten moments: Hotel Texas and JFK

Franz Kline_Study for Accent Grave

A new exhibit in Dallas – but coming to Fort Worth later this year – will commemorate a moment in time that preceded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As part of the observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy- – a collaborative effort between the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Dallas Museum of Art – will be on display in Dallas, from May 26 through September 15, and in Fort Worth, from October 12 through January 12. This exhibition features the works of Thomas Eakins, Franz Kline, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh, among others, and it will mark the second time in history these particular pieces of art have been seen together. Olivier Mesley, associate director of curatorial affairs at the Dallas Museum of Art and the man who first conceived of this unprecedented undertaking, commented, “In reuniting these works of art and unveiling this story, we hope to inspire some historical reflection about the Kennedys’ impact on the arts and the significance of providing them a space complete with such a wide-ranging group of masterworks. Our presentation includes new scholarship surrounding the original installation and helps further celebrate the Kennedys’ impact on American culture.” The night of Nov. 21, 1963, the president and the first lady stayed at Hotel Texas, which remains located on Main Street of downtown Fort Worth, now the Hilton Fort Worth. Many residents of the area at the time, however, deemed the suite “inadequate” for the president and his wife. In response, Ruth Carter Stevenson, former president of the Amon Carter Board of Directors and daughter of civic leader Amon G. Carter, along with a small group of local collectors accumulated an unmatched installation of art with which the suite would be decorated. Masterpieces were arranged in each room purposefully, to complement the president and his wife, Jacquelyn Kennedy. Doing so proved to be ironic, as the president and his wife, switched rooms at the last minute. The collection of art was eclectic, in and of itself, yet deliberate. One of Picasso’s sculptures, Angry Owl, graced the entryway while Feininger’s Manhattan II accented the living area. Eakins’ Swimming, an American masterpiece on regular display at the Amon Carter Museum, hung above what was supposed to be John F. Kennedy’s bed. To recreate the mood of the suite, the artwork is organized according to room, as it was in 1963. There are three parts of the exhibition in total: In the first, photographs and memorabilia chronicling the Kennedy’s arrival in Fort Worth layer the walls. In the second, the works of art that decorated the president and Mrs. Kennedy’s suite are displayed, arranged by location either in the parlor, the master bedroom, or the second bedroom. In the final segment of the exhibition, a short film narrated by Bob Schieffer, graduate of Texas Christian University and legendary CBS news anchor after whom the university’s school of journalism is named, documents the president’s historic and fateful visit. Also in this segment, a book asking patrons to record their memories of the historic event remains open, waiting to receive stories. Produced by Alan Govenar, an accomplished Dallas filmmaker, Listening Hard – Remembering JFK on Record will be open for viewing in the C3 Theater throughout the duration of the exhibition. The film follows songs recorded and distributed in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. These songs memorialize the iconic American figure in the form of blues, corridos, calypso, gospel and country. Govenar will speak about his project at the July Late Night, which will be held at the Dallas Museum of Art on July 19. “It’s a rare intersection between the arts and a national tragedy. Hotel Texas, an exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, is a very moving tribute to their interest in art, as two individuals with two forms of taste, and a fascinating opportunity to look from a different perspective at the fateful visit to Texas,” said Maxwell Anderson, the Dallas Museum of Art director. “The works of art reunited for the first time in half a century provide an extraordinary glimpse into the worldview of Fort Worthians at the time, and all of us at the time nationally, to think about a setting suitable and sufficient for the first couple.” Seeing these pieces exhibited together is sobering, to say the least. Until now, this moment in history had been overshadowed by the tragic events of the following day. In his address honoring Robert Frost, John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” The Hotel Texas exhibition simply highlights the truth of a moment that has been forgotten in the tragedy that would follow. – J. Parker Ragland

Local artist brings home national art prize Fort Worth artist Marshall Harris won the $50,000 Hunting Art Prize for 2013 for his life-size graphite drawing, Round Up, B.F. Smith & Son Saddlery, c. 1940-1942. The drawing of a vintage saddle was selected from among more than 100 finalists nationwide in the 33rd annual award program, which is sponsored by global oil services company Hunting PLC of Houston. “Being recognized through this platform is such an extraordinary honor, and I couldn’t be more thankful to Hunting for all they have done to expand and broaden the reach of so many artists through the course of this competition,” Harris said. Harris explores subjects related to history, humanity and social dynamics by creating elaborate, life-size drawings as well as large sculptural installations and assemblies using found objects, lighting, motors, sound and video.