The Kimbell Art Museum occasionally dips its toes into the deep pools of fashion and printmaking – but rarely. (Neither is represented in the museum's permanent collection.) So, it is with excitement that we see a pairing of two great Spanish artists – couturier Cristobal Balenciaga and painter/printmaker Francisco Goya – that reveals all the subtleties and powers of the color black.
I remember as a child learning that black is all colors, while white is none (pure light), and, fortified by this maxim, a trip to the Kimbell for the two new exhibitions – "Balenciaga in Black" and "Goya in Black and White" – reveals the sheer varieties and densities of black.
For Balenciaga "black" ranges from various grays to what seems to be true, saturated blacks, but each as subtly different as the dyes used to transform the fabrics.
Black sequins, shiny embroidery and satin give luster to some black dresses, suggesting the heavily embroidered costumes of Spanish matadors, but in gender-bending ways.
When color is constant, we notice the weight and texture of the fabric and the fineness of almost-sheer overlays without the distraction of blues, greens, reds and purples.
Balenciaga's cutting expertise creates certain dresses that envelope the upper part of the woman's body with voluminous folds and also chaste dresses with tiny waists and tailored bodices. The variety of shapes, contours, and, dare I say it, color give the viewer a visual feast of sewn drapery.
The Kimbell's deputy director and chief curator, George T. M. Shackelford, saw the Balenciaga exhibition in Paris at the new space designed for that capital of couture, the Palais Galliera. He was so moved – and so convinced – by the artistic quality of the works that he negotiated to have the exhibition travel to Fort Worth.
Not content to do only a major exhibition of Balenciaga, Shackelford approached his former museum home, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, to curate a selection from its superb collection of Goya etchings and lithographs that the Kimbell would showcase simultaneously. Shackelford knew, of course, of Balenciaga's interest in his countryman, resulting even in certain shapes that Balenciaga called "Goyesque."
And, if different completely in medium, the two exhibitions rhyme in the richness and varieties of their blacks. If Balenciaga used shiny and sheer materials to bring light into the darkness, Goya used the whiteness of the paper to create dramatic contrasts of light and shadow, day and night.
Dallas art lovers might remember that the Meadows Museum has hosted exhibitions of both artists; Balenciaga more than a decade ago in 2007 and Goya prints four years ago. But, even if you pored over those earlier exhibitions, there is more to be learned about both artists at the Kimbell.
The Meadows Museum owns lifetime sets of each of the major print cycles by Goya as well as a few trial proofs for these works. What makes the Boston loans different is the number of trial proofs by the artist, rather than a professional printer from the plates or stones. Certain prints are also shown with impressions of various states, as Goya himself printed and then reworked the plate or stone and printed again, to achieve his desired effect.
The blacks are blacker in most of these impressions than the Meadows cycles because the plate had not yet been subject to editioned printing. And, seeing Goya's blacks with Balenciaga's is a kind of visual and figural dance, as one moves from one exhibition to the other – and, hopefully, back and forth.
IF YOU GO
Both "Balenciaga in Black" and "Goya in Black and White" run through Jan. 6 at the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. Admission to the Goya exhibition is free; tickets are $14-$16 for non-Kimbell members for Balenciaga. www.kimbellart.org