FD Luxe Magazine

June/July 2014

Maxwell Anderson is everywhere, bringing the world home to Dallas. In Sao Paulo last year, he and Mayor Mike Rawlings announced that the third annual New Cities Summit would convene in the Dallas this June. As a prelude to the Max and Mike Show, the Association of Art Museum Directors will converge on Dallas two weeks earlier and the Conference of Mayors will gather here a day after the Cities Summiteers depart. “Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest, ” said Alexander Pope. He might have been writing with this metropolis in mind and certainly the omni-active Max Anderson, who chairs the Arts District along with directing the Dallas Museum of Art.

As if June were not bustin’ out all over quite enough around here, Anderson also has welcomed to its inaugural offices on North St. Paul another group he co-chairs, the Global Cultural Districts Network,

just in time to mingle with the New Cities delegates—800 or more from 20 countries —at the Winspear.

In this fever of activity, Anderson resembles Richard Fisher, president of the regional Federal Reserve, in his vast ability to project a savvy and sophisticated Dallas to a wider world. This is a city, after all, that doesn’t always fare as well as it deserves in popular culture. Claire Underwood of “House of Cards” on Netflix grew up in Highland Park. Tyne Daly plays the mother in Terrence McNally’s “Mother and Sons,” now on Broadway, who rolls into New York from her home in Dallas, wearing “a big blocky fur coat,” according to one reviewer. In “Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz, at Theater Three last year, another bitter, brittle mother had left Dallas years before to wind up in Palm Springs.  

So this Mecca of the Southwest, too often misunderstood, benefits mightily from Anderson and Fisher with their enormous intellectual agility, fantastic powers of articulation and canny ability to dramatize their work in a way that also dramatizes Dallas.

Max Anderson, grew up in a theatrical family. His grandfather, for whom he is named, was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who started an artists’ colony in the countryside near New City, New York. There he surrounded himself with his sons and grandchildren plus neighbors such as Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, Burgess Meredith, John Houseman and a painter named Henry Varnum Poor.

It was Poor who did the still life above Anderson’s desk at the DMA. It has for him, he said, a “Proustian” quality, saturating his sensibility with remembrance of things past.

His father, Quentin Anderson, was a professor of English literature at Columbia, his mother, Thelma, an advertising executive with J. Walter Thompson, and his brother Brom a future scholar of Immanuel Kant at Sarah Lawrence. Theirs was a house devoted to the “life of the mind,” but Max’s heart was not made for metaphysics. He loved things, objects, such as the imposing gong in his office, a gift from the ambassador to the U.S. of Indonesia with which the museum hopes to develop a reciprocal loan agreement (it also a major collection of Indonesian art), or the clock on his bookshelf by Michael Graves, who did the invitations for the wedding of Max and Jacqueline Anderson, or the exquisite bowls, Quran and other unexpected treasures in the current Islamic art exhibition called “Nur,” Arabic for light.

Max Anderson did not go seeking the spiritual in this show, but that is a part of what can be found in it. “Light,” after all, has long been the animating understanding of the numinous, not just in ancient texts like Genesis or the Gospel of John, but also, more recently, in the opera, Death and the Powers, in which Robert Pinsky wrote, “From the light I came, to the light I have returned.” “Nur” brings the light, in objects both ceremonial and ordinary, with subtlety, surprise and joy that was heretofore believed to be impossible.

It’s all part of the Anderson ethic, which leaves no holy grail un-quested for, no gaps in the DMA’s encyclopedic mission unfilled for long, if he can help it. Is there a tomb for some Etruscan mogul in the land around Ferrara, adorned with Greek vases from the Fifth Century B.C.? Max Anderson brought some of them to Dallas under an agreement with the Italian government. (Ever the diplomat, he earlier had returned some artifacts to their rightful owner, Italy, which kindly allowed them to remain on extended view at DMA, and also sent things back to Turkey.) A classicist by training at Harvard, he wrote the wall text for the Greek pieces himself.

What about American art? Is it properly honored in its own country? To be sure, Anderson agreed to head Art Everywhere, an audacious effort of the Outdoor Advertising Association to blanket billboards, buses, subways, airports, every available public surface with 50 American masterpieces during the month of August. They will have been chosen by popular vote on-line among 100 entries from five museums—The DMA plus the Whitney in New York, National Gallery in Washington, Chicago Art Institute and Los Angeles County Museum— and announced during the Conference of Mayors in Dallas this month.

Happily, Anderson not only has submitted a Pop Art work by James Rosenquist (Paper Clip), too long gone from the walls of the DMA, \he also plans to reinstall it in the atrium, a welcome return of a painting never meant to go missing. Another entry is Razor by Gerald Murphy, forerunner of Pop and also a Lost Generation pal of Picasso, Leger, Cole Porter, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1920’s France. (Fitzgerald drew upon Gerald and Sara Murphy for his novel Tender Is the Night.) It was the Dallas Museum of Contemporary art, now a part of DMA, that gave Murphy his only exhibition during his lifetime, in the late 1950’s. Murphy loved the show and, in return, gave the museum two pictures, including Razor which appears now on a Forever postage stamp, and possibly, soon, all over the nation.

A friend of Murphy observed, according to the New York Times, that the artist “always became a native of where he was.” The same could be said of Max Anderson, and he knocks himself out, always, to improve wherever he is, whether it’s Atlanta, Toronto, New York or Indianapolis, and he’s lived in all of them. His favorite cities are Rome, where he taught for a year, and New York, where he was born and largely grew up. “There’s no downtime there,” he explained, “unless you plan for it. It’s impossible to avoid surprise. You have to work to find surprise in Dallas.”

That is exactly what Max Anderson means to do. “We’ve got to get more crowded,” he said, “in the way we connect. At the DMA people see others they wouldn’t ordinarily see.” As for the Arts District which he will show off to cultural leaders from Doha, Hong Kong, Berlin and Amsterdam, to name a few, he “wants to awaken Dallas [not just foreign visitors] to what it has at its core.”

No one knows better than Max Anderson that a city caught in the fever of commerce must also be a city refreshed by the consolation of art. Otherwise its people will degenerate into those described by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” Max Anderson is determined not to let that happen.