People know The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza as a resource to learn and explore the times and events surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. But some people may be surprised to learn that the museum also has works of art in its collection.
The pieces were created by artists across nations, across generations, and spanning five decades and all inspired by the life and legacy of President Kennedy. Now, they’re on view as part of this year’s Dallas Arts Month exhibition, “Art Reframes History.” (The show was originally scheduled for last year, but delayed due to the pandemic.)
In addition to its donated artworks, the museum has also worked with living artists and composers to commission new works. More recently, the museum worked with Texas composer Jesus Martinez for a musical composition to commemorate the museum’s 30th anniversary. Martinez was born 24 years after the assassination.
History is not meant to be stored away, said Nicola Longford, Chief Executive Officer at The Sixth Floor Museum.
“Historical events are meant to be discovered and interpreted through time with new generations,” she said. “Our job is to make it accessible and available. We present the context in which some of these works were created and how the events unfolded.”
“We want to show that poetic works, musical works, artistic works, theater, and plays are being created even now. This generation and many different generations make their own meaning out of this tragic history so a lot of it is very inspiring.”
Visitors can still go up to the 6th-floor exhibit and see “John F. Kennedy and the Memory of a Nation,” the museum’s main exhibition that visitors from around the world come to see. But move past that gallery and you’ll see a colorfully adorned stairwell inviting visitors up to the 7th floor.
“We wanted to sort of dismantle the barriers of looking at a piece of work that may not immediately seem approachable,” said Longford.
The bright and colorful paintings and photographs pop against the dark black gallery walls. To encourage visitors to explore the images more closely, the museum created a set of questions and placed them on large decals on the floor in front of the works. There is a bilingual self-guided mini-tour guide to provoke conversations about the works. They have made staff available to answer questions and to help visitors discover things they may not have normally looked at.
Digital offerings include musical performance clips, virtual artists’ conversations, and gallery talks with museum curator Stephen Fagin looking at two specific pieces – “21 November,” the photographic triptych by photographer Paul Sokal and “Conspiracy Theory 7,” by Piet Wessing.
“Although some works can be dark, we challenge people to look at the works and think about what each artist’s perspective was when the work was produced. The exhibit shows that history is living and breathing. That there’s always something to discover and it can continue to provoke and inspire people creatively.”
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