Don’t Blink: Dallas Museum of Art stares down race, gender, and identity with ‘When You See Me’

The Dallas Museum of Art recently acquired several new works from TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, and it was this expansion of its permanent collection that inspired When You See Me: Visibility in Contemporary Art/History, on view now through April 13, 2025.

The exhibition features nearly 60 works in various media from a diverse, intergenerational group of 50 artists, most of whom are people of color, women, and queer artists. Their works explore both what it means to receive attention and be ignored, and the ripple effect each has in history, society, and personal spheres.

It’s co-curated by the museum’s entire contemporary art department: senior curator Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck, curator Dr. Vivian Li, assistant curator Ade Omotosho, and curatorial assistant Veronica Myers.

“With this recurring theme about visibility and representation, it only made sense for every voice in the department to be heard on this complex topic,” says Brodbeck. “My team is already very collaborative, so it was important that everyone get to add their own nuance and specialization.”

Held in the museum’s Barrel Vault and adjoining Hoffman, Rachofsky, Stoffel, and Hanley galleries, the exhibition is sectioned into each curator’s vision.

Brodbeck opens the exhibition with a face-off between Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits and Samuel Levi Jones’s 48 Portraits (Underexposed). The former is a photographic series of white European and American men who were prominent in politics, culture, and academia from the mid-19th to mid-20th century. The latter is a 2012 response that reminds us how much work is still needed to make history more inclusive of Black people.

The DMA’s debut of America can also be found here. The 2019 film by Garrett Bradley intersperses newly shot vignettes with excerpts from the 1913 silent film Lime Kiln Field Day to reimagine aspects of Black life—because, as Brodbeck points out, cinematic evidence of these lives just simply did not exist.

The section curated by Li explores the double-edged sword of visibility. The BIPOC artists here celebrate representing themselves and their own narratives, but only by simultaneously recognizing the historic and continued surveillance of their identities. Works include William Pope.L’s iconic The Great White Way, Pacita Abad’s How Mali Lost Her Accent from Abad’s “Immigrant Experience” series, and Shigeko Kubota’s video sculpture Video Haiku – Hanging Piece.

“Ade is really interested in Black American life, but he took the opposite approach to what you see a lot now in museums and galleries,” says Brodbeck. Omotosho’s section collects found-object assemblage that breathes new life into overlooked and discarded materials, all the while subtly resisting visibility, defying the pressures of the art market, and confronting political conditions.

It was important to Brodbeck that the freshly post-grad Myers get to add her younger perspective. Her section solely features queer artists whose works reimagine queerness as an evolving interpersonal dialogue and act of community-building rather than as an innate, static identity. Artists range from late-20th-century photographers Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz to Dallas native Puppies Puppies (Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo), whom Brodbeck hopes to bring in for a gallery talk.

The Barrel Vault combines each curator’s perspective and includes Cupboard, Simone Leigh’s 2022 monumental gilt bronze sculpture; Pocket Rocket, a 2020 mixed-media work by Tschabalala Self; and a ceramic vessel created by David Drake, a literate enslaved potter who made stoneware in the Antebellum era.

The exhibition takes its name from Austin-based Deborah Roberts’ 2019 mixed-media collage, showing seven Black boys walking, some eyeing the viewer while some look ahead or down. “Her work is about challenging assumptions; in this case, we have to confront the threatening assumptions we may layer over these adolescents,” says Brodbeck. “It’s incredibly important that we are bringing artists like this to the museum, just as we are going through the archives and finding people who have been left out in the historical conversation and rectifying those outright erasures.”