Wednesday, September 27, 2023 Sep 27, 2023
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Can SMU’s Meadows Museum Become the Prado on the Prairie?

A 40-year-old dream of collaboration with Spain's greatest museum brings it a step closer.
By Peter Simek |
photography Trevor Paulhus

If you ask Mark Roglán about the three-year partnership between Spain’s Prado museum and SMU’s Meadows Museum, he will describe his role as a minor one. Sure, Roglán, the Meadows’ director, spent part of his curatorial career working in the Prado, one of the world’s greatest museums, bringing to the Meadows valuable personal connections and relationships. And Roglán got the top job at SMU in part because of his track record of orchestrating high-profile loans of priceless works of art, including exhibitions from the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, the Patrimonio Nacional, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

Roglán, however, insists the Prado partnership, which will bring to Dallas works by Spanish masters El Greco, Jusepe de Ribera, and Diego Velázquez, is the accomplishment of the museum’s founder, Algur H. Meadows. Meadows was an oil tycoon. In the 1950s and ’60s, oil exploration took Meadows around the world, and on the Iberian Peninsula he developed a deep appreciation for the great Spanish painters. He began buying art voraciously, amassing one of the world’s foremost collections of Spanish art. “It is rare when you go to Madrid and there is an exhibition in the Prado that you don’t see a Meadows painting exhibited,” Roglán says. That collection is the bedrock of the Meadows Museum, and Roglán says it was the most instrumental factor in securing the Prado connection.

“This is what I found incredible,” Roglán says. “He goes two months a year, and he falls in love with Spanish art. He is quoted in the Houston Chronicle in the 1960s that he was adamant about making a small Prado for Texas. Imagine the vision of this gentleman. This is the best of the American spirit, the kind of people who have these dreams.”

Meadows called his small university museum the Prado on the Prairie. It’s a phrase that could be brushed off as the usual Dallas boosterism, or another case of this city trying to measure its cultural worth through comparisons to the great artistic institutions of the world. But when El Greco’s Pentecost, the first of three major works of Spanish art, arrives in Dallas this September, Meadows’ dream will be realized in a tangible way.
“In some ways, it is like mission accomplished,” Roglán says.

The loans of the masterworks are exciting for the museum, but most significant for the future of the Meadows—and the realization of Algur Meadows’ dream—is the long-term relationship between the two museums that the loan program promises to forge. The arrangement will extend beyond the three seminal works of Spanish art—Pentecost, Jusepe de Ribera’s Mary Magdalene, and Diego Velázquez’s Philip IV—that are being shipped internationally for the first time. The collaboration will include an academic exchange that will send SMU curatorial fellows to Madrid to study at the Prado, and the Meadows School of the Arts will welcome Prado scholars to North Texas.

“Our missions are aligned,” Roglán says of the two museums. “Therefore we could both take advantage of the best of each institution. It started with an ambassador loan program, but rapidly that grew to be more ambitious.”

A bilingual publication will accompany each exhibition, and the research it contains will be multidisciplinary. For example, with the first painting, El Greco’s Pentecost, the publication will include an essay by an expert on the theology of Pentecost in Spain in the early 1600s who was sourced through the Perkins School of Theology. It is this scholastic collaboration that may prove to have the longest-lasting effect on the future of the Meadows Museum.

“I think we saw in Atlanta with the High Museum’s relationship with the Louvre, and other institutions that have forged these kinds of alliances, that long-term relationships, especially with institutions that are so close to your mission, are the future of many museums,” Roglán says. “Having a long-term partnership helps build a solid bridge that can only bring better things in the future, instead of just one sporadic loan. If you just do one or two exhibitions, those exhibitions come up and come down, and that is the end of the story.”

Although the Prado and the Meadows will collaborate intensely over the next three years, Roglán hopes that when that initial period is over, the museums will extend the relationship indefinitely into the future. He says, “What is wonderful is to see the future ahead and see this relationship that has now become a reality when it was just a dream 40 plus years ago.”

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