In 2019, Sarah Schleuning, curator from the Dallas Museum of Art, invited me to a breakfast meeting to discuss an exciting opportunity to work with the museum. Over my delicious ‘full English’ breakfast, I first learnt about the museum’s special annual fund-raising event, the Silver Supper.
The donations raised from this event pass directly to the Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund which enables the museum to purchase new objects for its collection. Sarah wanted to explore how the museum could reinvigorate the event, following a short hiatus and the idea of commissioning new work inspired by the museum’s historical silver collection was born.
‘Family Matter’ would be the result, comprising of 75 silver pieces generously given by 36 families from the Dallas community.
About the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is one of the largest art museums in America, located in the Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas. It is home to more than 24,000 works of art from all cultures and time periods spanning 5,000 years of human creativity, including significant examples of historical European and American silver.
DMA, is also known for its innovative approach to engaging contemporary artists to activate and reinterpret its collection.
To be invited to work with a large arts institution is both exciting and challenging in equal measure. But how would I get a deep understanding of the organisation, its collection and communities when I’m based in London? How to move beyond the obvious and historical to make something genuinely reflective of today’s Dallas and connect with its local people?
I decided that the new piece would be entirely determined by objects donated by Silver Supper patrons and the wider community and pitched this idea at a series of events hosted at the museum and in private homes.
Thankfully, ‘Family Matter’ really triggered people’s curiosity and enthusiasm to donate pieces of family silver that would be used as material within the finished centrepiece. Nothing would be rejected and an element from all the donations would be incorporated into ‘Family Matter’, enabling anyone who contributed to be recognised as a donor and patron of the museum.
“Clarke created a unified vision of our extended communities reminding us that the past and present continue to be connected, often in new and unexpected ways”
Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Dallas Museum of Art
Once all the donations had been gathered together, they were shipped to my workshop in London. Unpacking the two large wooden crates filled with everything from ice buckets, wedding gifts, and mother-in-law hand-me-downs; it was almost too much to comprehend.
However, spending time with the individual pieces and getting to know them enabled me to identify how these random items might come together to form something new and surprising.
Conversations with the Conservation team discussing whether it’s OK or not to leave silver to tarnish inspired the blackened, spray-painted pieces, whilst Dallas’s flat landscape and few trees, informed the salt piece and the city’s wealth and prosperity brought in elements of opulence and the Baroque.
It was essential that donors and their families could easily see their own donated pieces of silver within the final centrepiece – even if it’s a bit of a treasure hunt. This adds another layer to the overall story and creates a powerful connection between the DMA and future generations.
An extremely joyous curator.
To acknowledge the families that donated silver and to recognise their generosity and willingness to participate, a special gift was presented to each of them at the Silver Supper event.
The gift was made from pewter and each pot was designed to serve a tipple or snack or to display flowers.
“I hope the way David has played with these pieces in really different ways, sparks people’s desire to bring out their own great pieces, to polish them, to think about them, and to use them in new and inventive ways”