DALLAS — It’s been five months since anyone stared into the background of Fredric Edwin Church’s The Icebergs and tried to imagine the feel of the frigid Canadian waters. More than 150 days have passed since a visitor considered the intricate connections of time in Gerald Murphy’s oil painting, Watch.
But on Friday, these and other paintings were back in focus as some 600 visitors were expected at the reopening of the Dallas Museum of Art.
Dallas Arts District is reopening this weekend with several venues, including the Dallas Museum of Art, allowing a limited capacity of visitors on a shortened schedule to explore city museums for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in March.
For many of the city’s art enthusiasts, the reopening was a celebration. Tanya Kruger, a volunteer docent, or guide, at the museum, said Friday felt like a reunion. She had reserved her ticket for the first hour of the museum’s opening at 11 a.m.
“It’s like reconnecting with an old friend,” said Kruger, who had paused in front of The Icebergs to reflect on the piece, her favorite in the museum. “The more you learn about these paintings, the more you feel like they are friends, not just artwork.”
The Icebergs is one of the museum’s most well-known pieces, both for its size – it’s 5.5 by 9.4 feet – and for its history. The oil painting, which Church completed in 1861, once graced the corridors of a British mansion. But after the mansion turned into a school for disadvantaged boys after World War I, the painting was kept largely forgotten in the building’s storage area. It was rediscovered in the 1970s and made its way to the Dallas museum in the 1980s as a gift from Lamar Hunt, the former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs football team.
The painting’s unusual rediscovery and the fact that it was painted by Church from sketches he did on a month-long expedition up the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador has captured the interest of Dallas school children visiting the museum for decades, Kruger said.
“It makes the painting a lot more interesting for kids who might normally think art is boring once they learn the history of it,” Kruger said.
Other museums opening in Dallas this week and in the coming days include the Dallas Holocaust and Civil Rights Museum, which also opened on Aug. 14. The museum focuses on the history of the Holocaust and advancing human rights. Its exhibits seek “to combat prejudice, hatred, and indifference.” The museum will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $16, and there are special hours for select members and senior citizens.
The Nasher Sculpture Center will open on Aug. 20 and the Crow Museum of Asian Art on Sept. 18. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which examines the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy has not set a date yet but is planning a mid-September reopening.
The decision to reopen the museums was not made lightly, given the resurgence of COVID-19 infection rates Texas had in late June and July, representatives of the museums said when announcing their reopenings.
"The past five months have been times of significant change," a joint statement from the museums said. "As cultural institutions, we each recognize our unique roles as places for visitors to find solace, joy, and connection. We are excited to finally reopen our spaces to the community."
Visitors to all of the museums will be required to wear a face-covering and maintain social distancing. Museum of Arts visitors are encouraged to use the museum’s app to do self-guided tours of the building’s extensive offerings.
The Dallas Museum of Art has been free since 2013 and will continue to be for its reopening, but visitors will need to reserve their time slots online ahead of time. Tickets are good for two-hour visits. The museum will be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until further notice.
Like other Dallas art venues, the Museum of Art continued to offer virtual tours online during the city’s pandemic lockdown. Even so, returning visitors to the building was the ultimate goal, and the reopening was done with careful consideration and planning, said Ingrid van Haastrecht, the museum’s communications director.
“The city is beginning to reactivate, and we’re excited to be part of that,” van Haastrecht said. “Art has the ability to heal, and we want to be a place that is reflective as well as being a space of compassion and healing.”
The museum will allow 600 visitors a day. Van Haastrecht said ticket reservations for the reopening weekend’s first three days were already nearly sold out by Friday morning.
“I’m a total groupie,” said Susan Fisk, who has been a docent at the Dallas Museum of Art since 1994 and was at Friday’s reopening. “I almost cried when I saw the parking lot attendant because I’ve missed this place so much.”
Fisk said she’s always favored Watch, an oil painting by Gerald Murphy, an American artist who quit painting after losing two out of his three children.
But, before moving on to her favorite piece around the corner, perhaps taking a moment to gaze at The Icebergs’ depiction of the frozen waters of the Labrador Sea had a cooling effect on a summer day, when temperatures in Dallas were expected to reach 102.