Unfortunate Tensions: Maynard Dixon and the BYU Museum of Art

The recently opened exhibition of work by Maynard Dixon, I told Sam as we walked in, offers food for the soul. On loan from the Smithsonian, for instance, one painting explores the dimensions of fear.

Among the treasures, another painting drew my attention from across the room:

The Plains 1931-1933

The clouds! The light! That dark horizon!

In the first art museum I ever entered, the Walraff Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany, a painting drew me from across room in a similar way:

Vincent Van Gogh, Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888

I had never heard of the artist, I knew nothing about late-19th century European art. But the painting inspired feelings I hadn’t felt before. Dixon’s “The Plains” reassured me that even at my advanced age I was still susceptible to inspiration.

In 1937, Dixon sold most of his work done in the early 1930s to Brigham Young University.  Harold Clark, dean of the BYU School of Business, acquired 85 works for $2700, the equivalent of approximately $56,000 today. Several of the paintings on display in this show were done during and soon after the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. The strike drew violent, even lethal responses from the police, some incidents of which Dixon and his wife Dorothea Lange witnessed from their San Francisco studio. The strike lasted for 83 days and resulted in the unionization of all of the west-coast ports of the US.

As a founding officer of the BYU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and then of the UVU Chapter of the AAUP/AFT, I have long identified with people oppressed by institutions. See my recent Dwelling in the Promised Land as a Stranger: Personal Encounters with Mormon Institutions for a collection of essays growing out that inclination.

Dixon’s paintings from the maritime strike and the Great Depression in general worked powerfully in me in yesterday for two reasons: one related to our UVU AAUP/AFT chapter’s recent struggle with our administration over due process in tenure and promotion decisions; the other because of how BYU’s professors have been put at risk by administrators acting as corporate managers.

Dixon’s “Free Speech” raises questions about rights exerted by labor organizers under threat by the police who support the oppressive employers.

Forgotten Man, 1934

Depression-era despair.

While the rich and powerful defend their corporations with the help of the police, the strikers are forced to “Keep Moving”:

1934

Imagine these paintings in a museum owned by a Church/Corporation that generated a piece in today’s in The Salt Lake Tribune reporting that the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office fired “employees”/professors at BYU-Idaho for failure to demonstrate loyalty to teachings (including those on marriage, family, and gender), practices, and leadership of the LDS Church. The ECO employee contacted by one of the fired professors explained that firing without giving reasons is common practice: “I can tell you that any other corporation . . . might say reasons for firing are confidential. This is a common practice at corporations.”

Corporations, as Mitt Romney once explained, are people too.

No they aren’t. My friend Bonner Ritchie, professor emeritus of Organization Behavior at BYU, says it best: “All organizations are evil.” Not all people are evil.

ADDENDUM

Around the corner from the Maynard Dixon exhibition, an exhibition on Monumental Art, features….no!…a monumental work by Anselm Kiefer!

Untitled, 2016
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Prose in Two Voices: Žarko Radaković, David Albahari, Scott Abbott, and Peter Handke

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Aleksa Đukanović, PROSE IN TWO VOICES, interview with writer Žarko Radaković, November 5, 2022. Co-writing, is it really possible? “Four-handed writing” is an inadequate term. Because writing is always confinement in a cell and acting alone… It started a long … Continue reading

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Nous sommes embarqués

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The final line of Wim Wenders’ magnificent Der Himmel über Berlin / Wings of Desire serves as the opening line of our announcement: Zarko’s and my book is here. You can buy the book on Amazon’s site and, when Elik … Continue reading

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Award for Zarko Radakovic’s and David Albahari’s “Book about Photography”

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Zarko just emailed this good news. His book with David Albahari, another remarkable Serbian writer and life-long friend, has just been awarded the prize for best non-fiction book of the year in Serbia. From the jury’s explanation [google translate version]: … Continue reading

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The Farmington, New Mexico Third Ward: A Stranger’s Home

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A week ago I spent a long weekend with my friend Doug Moeller in Farmington. His wife of 52 years, Tyra, had succumbed to cancer after a long illness, the family had gone to their homes after the funeral, and … Continue reading

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Handschmeichler: A Sabbatical Report

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August 1, and the report on my sabbatical is due. My thanks to the Department Chair, Dean, Provost, and University President who authorized what policy requires in any case, even though following policy is not their strong suit. A formal … Continue reading

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A Revelation: Three Muses Appear in a Dream

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I have been suffering from writer’s block for most of a month now, two months maybe. Part of the problem is that I’m working on four different projects: a book on the standing metaphor (almost impossibly broad and perhaps beyond … Continue reading

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Matthew Wickman’s “Life to the Whole Being”

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Good morning Matthew,             A copy of your book arrived on Friday, fast work by your distributor. This Sunday morning I have just finished reading it, testimony to how intrigued I was by your thoughts.  I write to you sitting on … Continue reading

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Pride and Pain

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The early days of June, month of Pride, overlap with John’s birthday on the 3rd. He would have been 71 this year, making him one year younger than me until my August birthday reestablished the difference at two years. I … Continue reading

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Reading Peter Handke, Part 2

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30 May 2022 My Bookmark (from Tübingen’s Osiandersche Buchhandlung, in business since 1596!) takes me to page 40 of the new book Inner Dialogues. Handke never ends a note with a period; these thoughts open to new thoughts: I don’t … Continue reading

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