Dallas Museum of Art Organizes Retrospective for Artist Octavio Medellín

The Dallas Museum of Art is organizing the first-ever museum retrospective for Octavio Medellín (1907-1999), an influential Mexican American artist and teacher whose work helped shape the Texas art scene for six decades. 

Medellín was a noted sculptor who mastered a wide range of media, engaging with modernist trends in both his native Mexico and the United States. Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Form will include approximately 80 works, exploring the evolution of Medellín’s sculptural practice, his public art commissions, and his legacy as a beloved and respected teacher.  

During the more than 40 years he lived and worked in the Dallas area, Medellín influenced generations of students as an instructor at the school of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, now known as the Dallas Museum of Art, and as founder of the Creative Arts Center.  He taught previously at the University of North Texas and SMU.

Many of Medellín’s public works can be found throughout Texas, and especially in Dallas.  His mosaic murals depicting the stations of the cross are located at St. Bernard Clairvaux Church near White Rock Lake, and a series of stained-glass windows for the now-demolished Trinity Lutheran Church of Dallas are now installed at the Moody Performance Hall and Love Field Airport. He also created a stained-glass window at the University of Texas at Austin.

“This recognition for Octavio Medellín, an important artist in the history of our city and Museum, is long overdue,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director.  “We are elated to honor his career and contribute new scholarship on his significant and diverse bodies of work.  Medellín’s grand legacy can be attributed to both his incredible talent and his enormous influence in our community as a mentor to so many. We hope this exhibition cements his place among the most important artists working in Texas in the 20th century.”  

Octavio Medellín, Moses, 1955, direct carving in black walnut with lead fills, Lent by the Estate of the Artist

The exhibition will include 30 sculptures, dating from 1926 to 1995, and will trace Medellín’s evolving interests in material and form.

The monumental Spirit of the Revolution, made in Texas limestone, responds directly to his experiences of post-revolutionary Mexico. The Hanged, perhaps his most iconic work, alludes to the violence he witnessed as a young boy during the Mexican Civil War, but also has undeniable resonance with scenes of the lynching of Black and Brown men in the United States.

Over the course of his career, as his work became increasingly abstract, Medellín experimented with metal and glass and expanded his artistic practice into other mediums, such as printmaking, pottery, mosaic, and stained glass. 

There will also be an accompanying publication, the first monograph dedicated to Medellín, at the exhibit. The 104-page catalog includes a lengthy essay by curator Dr. Mark A. Castro examining the artist’s life, as well as grouped object entries featuring the works in the exhibition and others from throughout the artist’s career. Published by the Dallas Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalog will be available in early 2022. 

“Medellín’s career was characterized by an intense drive to expand his knowledge of materials and techniques, to share that knowledge freely with his students, and, above all, to create compelling works of art,” said Dr. Castro. “I remain in awe of his personal tenacity and the dynamism of his sculptures. We are thrilled to present the first museum retrospective of this important artist in the city that he called home.”

Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Form opens February 6, 2022, and is curated by Castro, the Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art. The exhibition is included in free general admission and will be on view through January 15, 2023. 

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