A long time gone: Art, the Kennedy years, and the Hotel Texas

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, May/June 2013 |

On the eve of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy's visit to Dallas in 1963 a group of Fort Worth collectors gathered sixteen mas­terworks of European and American art and installed them in the presidential suite in the Hotel Texas. Fifty years later their gesture is bound to strike us as astonishing, improbable, and wonderfully utopian. 

In restaging that exhibition on the anniver­sary of the assassination, the Dallas Museum of Art and Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum of American Art will recapture and com­memorate a brief moment in our history when art and artists seemed to be a part of everything else in American life. 

The following essay by Olivier Meslay, Associ­ate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Dallas Museum of Art, is taken from the exhibition's catalogue, published by Yale University Press. Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy will be on view at the Dallas Museum of Art from May 26 to Septem­ber 15, and at the Amon Carter Museum from October 12 to January 12, 2014. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will provide films and documentation of the president's trip to Texas in 1963.        

The Editors

"We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth....In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society -in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having "nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope."

President John F. Kennedy, Amherst College, October 26, 1963

It was perhaps this speech, or at least its central theme, that gave the citizens of Fort Worth the idea of preparing an art exhibition for President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, who spent their last night together among the objects thus assembled. During his New Frontier campaign, Kennedy had featured art significantly in his political discourse: "And the New Frontier, for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art."1 A year later, in a letter to Leonard Bernstein, the president wrote: "I am hopeful that this collaboration between government and the arts will continue and prosper. Mrs. Kennedy and I would be particularly interested in any suggestions you may have in the future about possible contributions the national government might make to the arts in America."2 One of the most beautiful manifestations of this continuing interest was the concert given by the great cellist Pablo Casals on November 13, 1961, at the White House. It was a striking demonstration of the young couple's interest in the arts and their ability to attract the most principled artists (Fig. 3).

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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